Sunday, June 27, 2010

Today's Sermon: 2 Kings 2:1-2,6-14 “Legacy”

In our Old Testament reading today, we hear the story of the great prophet Elijah, at the end of his life serving as God’s prophet in difficult times. His protégé, Elisha, is with him, as the great prophet tries to get some “alone time.” Elijah keeps trying to get Elisha to stay put. Elisha keeps insisting on accompanying Elijah on this final journey. So Elijah goes first to Bethel, with Elisha tagging along much like an overexcited puppy. Then Elijah announces that he is to go to the Jordan River. He says, “Elisha, stay here!” Of course, Elisha insists on accompanying him.

Poor Elijah! If he had hoped for a quiet solitary moment to reflect at the end of his ministry, Elisha is determined to prevent it. They come to the edge of the Jordan, now accompanied by a group of men from the company of the prophets – you might call them the professional prophet’s union - and Elijah is determined to go across the river. He wraps up the mantle and touches of the water with the bundled cloak, and - shades of Moses crossing the Red Sea! – the water parts so that Elijah and Elisha can cross.

Elijah knows that the time of parting is near, so he looks at this young prophet-to-be who insisted on accompanying him on this final journey and says, “Before I go, what do you want me to leave to you?”

A difficult question, isn’t it, when you don’t know what your successor will ask for? A difficult question, when you don’t know what your forebear will be willing to give? Each of us wants to leave a legacy that will be cherished, and when we ask that sort of question, we hope the person we ask will request something that is meaningful and representative of the relationship we have. We want to leave a legacy that makes sense, that is truly a double-portion.

The news earlier this week was of another kind of legacy. A woman who was dying of cancer was quite wealthy. After her death, it became known that she was leaving the bulk of her estate to her little Chihuahuas – many millions of dollars to keep the dogs in ridiculous luxury – and then substantial bequests to her bodyguards and housekeepers, and then a very small bequest to her son. The son is now claiming that the bodyguards and housekeepers manipulated her into including them in her will – oddly, he doesn’t dispute the gift to the dogs – and that the will should be broken.

It is still unclear what will happen in this particular case. Will the dogs get the millions? Will the bodyguards who prevented the son from seeing his mother at the end of her life be proven to have coerced her somehow to include them in the will? Will the son be shown to be a venal grasping fool?

I wonder what would have happened if things were a little different. If, perhaps, he had been able to spend time with her, if he had asked her what her wishes were, what her hopes were for the vast fortune that she had. Might she have said, “I’m worried about the dogs. Who is going to care for them?” Might she have said, “I don’t want everyone to fight over the money – I just want to reward those who have stuck by me through this terrible illness.”

What would have happened if she had said to him, “Before I go, what may I do for you?”

Somehow, I doubt his request would be for “a double measure of your spirit.” Something so ephemeral, so difficult to measure or count – this doesn’t seem like the thing that this particular young man would be interested in. The only legacy with which he was concerned was the one that goes away quickly and with little result – cash.

But that ephemeral spiritual gift was what Elisha was asking for. He was not asking for twice Elijah’s power. What he was asking for was Elijah’s blessing indicating that Elisha held the position of his firstborn son, because in ancient times, that is what a double portion inheritance would mean. He wasn’t asking for more of everything so he, Elisha, would be enriched with power. He was asking for his spiritual father’s love as he knew Elijah would soon leave him. And Elijah, willing as he was, could not guarantee it, because the spirit comes only from God. Elisha might receive it, if he saw Elijah being taken by God, but even if he was present, would it really happen? Elijah departed in a whirlwind, in a fiery chariot, not knowing what would happen to this young man whom he had grown to cherish, this Elisha who was now crying out for him, “Father, father – abba, abba!”

Nor did Elisha know what the future might bring. He crumpled to the ground, tearing his clothes in mourning. But then he got up and picked up Elijah’s cloak, which had fallen to the ground when the great prophet was lifted up in the chariot. He walked to the edge of the water. Would the mantle work? Had he been given the double portion of the spirit from Elijah and from God.

He hit the water with the cloth, and it parted, so that Elisha could cross over.

The gift that Elijah gave to Elisha was not power…it was a double portion of faith in him, that he could continue the work that God had commanded, work that Elijah would not live to see. For that matter, it was work that Elisha would not be able to complete. It was the legacy that would only be fulfilled when Jesus came, the Paschal Lamb who would redeem us all. It was a transition of hope, that moment when Elisha took up the mantle and struck the water with it, and crossed over. He had received the legacy he had requested.

It is an odd thing, this religion business. So much of what we do has to do with transitions and with hope. Whether we are talking about changes of leadership in the parish, or planning for building, it usually involves self-sacrifice, challenges, problems that may or may not be resolved. Think about the Cathedral of St John the Divine in New York City. Our young people will see that when they go to New York on their mission trip next month. It was begun in 1892. It is nicknamed “St John the Unfinished,” because it still is not completed. It has had its setbacks – a terrible fire in 2001 that required much restoration was just the most recent – but it has continued, a work of human hands to the glory of God.

I wonder if the people who helped begin construction on the great cathedral – the donors, the clergy, the workmen, had any idea what that place would look like when it was fully built? I would expect that they had hopes and dreams of what that massive house of God would someday be. They knew, like Elijah, that they would leave before it was completed. They did not know how the design would be modified from the original plans over the decades. They did not know that the fire would require that the building be closed for repair for several years more than a century after the work first started. But they knew that God intended this work for God’s purpose, and they knew, like we do, that God has a different sense of time than we human beings do. So generation to generation of laborers, of priests, of parishioners, each did their part, and said to the next generation, “tell me what you would like me to leave to you?” And the answer was always the same, “give me the spirit – the double spirit – to continue this work, to complete the work that God has set for us.”

This was their answer not because they thought they would be around to see it finished, or that their families would benefit from it as a completed building.

No, they knew that they were working in God’s time, so that the work and the building were a legacy for future generations.

Such a different view of legacy, and what is truly important, than that of the woman and her dogs and her son!

In the two months since I first came here, I’ve heard so many stories about this beloved parish, and of its various transitions. The move from Haynes Avenue out to Lakeside, the various rectors who have served here, the various building projects, the plans for the new playground…and the remarkable thing about those stories are that they are not so different from the story of the Cathedral of St John the Divine.

Faithful people of God, laypeople and clergy alike, worked and continue to work together to build this place, not as a building project anymore but as a place where we grow into ever-deeper relationship with Christ, and where we invite others to become part of the Body of Christ. People of God hope for continued strength – a double portion of the Spirit – to guide us in that work. And the remarkable thing is that we do not do it because we think it will personally benefit us. It may not even benefit our children, because the work is marked in God’s time, not human time. But it will benefit future generations. Our work together, you and I, is to build this parish in the Spirit, so that each person who walks into those church doors for the first time will say, “I feel something here – something special – and I want to participate in this!” So together we will put our hand to the plow. We will not look back, except in a prayer of thanks for those who have gone before, and who have bequeathed us that double portion of the Spirit. And each of us will do our part in the work of building this parish and the kingdom of God, and then we will pass on a double portion of the Spirit to the next person who will take up the plow.

This is the legacy that we leave. It is not measured in mere numbers. It is measured in the depth of our faith and our love of God, in the work that we do to make this parish, this community and this world to be all that God has planned for it. There will be no battles over this legacy, there will be only joy in the knowledge that this is the work we are all called to do.

So my question now is this: how will you live this legacy today and tomorrow and in the years to come? You’ve been given that double portion of the Spirit. How will you use it?


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Still Here

It has been another extraordinarily busy week, with some sudden hospitalizations amongst parishioners and some other work that needed attention. The secretary's new computer is ordered...the coming week will be taken up with getting it up and running. Fingers crossed and prayers ascending!

In the midst of it, I finally finished the drapes and roman shade for the master bedroom. They look pretty decent. I've still got to do the valances, but first I have to decide what design I'll use for them. Once I figure that out, they shouldn't take too long to finish up. Then I think I'll put the sewing machine away for a while.

I've also started a weight-loss/health management program. Rationally, I know all the stuff I need to do to lose weight, but unless I'm in a program, it seems, I can't stick with it. So I'm hopeful for this one, which is doctor-run and has an excellent reputation. I've already lost eight pounds, most of which I am sure is water, but I'll take it! We do weights and cardio three times a week, and it is intense, although they are very cautious so no one gets injured. We'll see what happens over the next ten weeks (the introductory course). I must say I'm feeling a see bit healthier already!

Time to finish up the sermon - lots of ideas floating around Elijah and Elisha - hope it comes together in a coherent way!


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Today's Sermon: Galatians 3:23-29 "Gift of the Father"

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.”

Dramatic words from Paul in our epistle today, written to the church in Galatia. Paul lived in a time when categorizing yourself as Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, was central to how one lived in those days. So what was it that set Paul off so that he felt he had to write this letter to the church in Galatia?

Paul had traveled to Galatia and had converted people, who then formed the core of what was to become the church there. The people who became followers of Christ were pagans, Greek citizens of the area now known as Anatolia. He taught them about Christ, about how Christ had died to free us from our sins, how their faith in Christ was a great gift from God, and all they needed for eternal salvation. Paul had already had his argument with Peter about converting non-Jews to Christ, and whether it was necessary for non-Jews to convert to Judaism first, and at the Council of Jerusalem, the apostles agreed that it was not necessary. This was great news for Paul, since it’s hard to get people excited about becoming Christ-followers if they have to get circumcised first. And this was the way he had taught and converted Gentiles in his travels.

Now, Paul was a traveling sort of pastor, a circuit-rider, if you will, so after he got a group of people converted, he helped them set up an informal church community, and then he was on his way to the next place where he felt the Spirit leading him. But you and I both know that conversion is not a one-time fix. And churches, even though they are of God, are human institutions, and sometimes they can get off-track, can’t they?

Well, after Paul had left Galatia, some other people came in, preaching a different version of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and they said you had to become a Jew before you could be a Christ-follower. And so someone in Galatia wrote a letter to Paul telling him about these people…you can imagine the letter, can’t you:

“Dear Pastor Paul-

Greetings from sunny Galatia…well, it’s not so sunny because winter is setting in, but we certainly wish you were here. All is well here, except for one little thing. There are these new preachers passing through and they’re preaching all about Jesus, too. That would be just fine and dandy with us, but they’re saying that we have to become Jews first if we really want to be good followers of Christ, because Scripture says that it is the children of Abraham who are the ones who are saved, and that you are wrong about the whole no-circumcision thing. Some of our folks are getting a little worked up, because they really want to be good Christians, and these preachers are saying their baptism isn’t worth a single thin denarius because they didn’t become Jews first. It’s causing all sorts of arguments around here. So could you please write to us and clarify, once and for all, if we need to do the whole circumcision thing if we want to be saved?

Many thanks – yours in faith,

Your disciple, Anatolius.”

Paul gets this letter and is pretty frosted. These strangers, these ones who neither walked with Jesus or had the dramatic conversion experience that Paul did, how dare they teach so wrongly? How dare they say Paul is off-base? Didn’t he go and argue with the apostles at the Council of Jerusalem to get this very matter settled? Didn’t he win that argument? So he sits down and writes Anatolius and the rest of the Galatians a letter in response. And the heart of the letter is this:

“No. They are wrong. Remember what I taught you.

Before Jesus came, we all had to follow the Law of Moses, plus a thousand other little laws that told us everything from what kind of food we could eat to how we would pray. All that stuff about circumcision, the original covenant that God made, all of that was part of the deal between God and Abraham and all Abraham’s descendents. But the whole thing changed when Jesus came. Jesus, God’s son, who died on the cross as part of the new covenant. Suddenly the central point of the whole covenant wasn’t following the law, it was following Jesus, who wasn’t about what kind of food we could eat and what shape the ark would be. Jesus died. We are all God’s children because of that. In the old days, we would have to be children of Abraham by following the law. Now we are children of Abraham by following Jesus. So you don’t have to worry about whether you’re a Jew or a Greek or a slave or a farmer….those categories, and the rules that go with them, are no longer important. Got it?”

Yes, Paul was given to pressing the send button after writing out a dramatic and emotional response, just like we sometimes send out emails a little too quickly. But as dramatic and emotional as this statement is, it is sound theology.

And it’s all about our relationship with our heavenly Father.

Yup, it’s Father’s Day, so how could I not talk about the Father that we all share? God, our Creator. The giver of all good things?

Let’s talk a little bit about fathers, and their relationship with their children.

When you’re tiny, your dad does everything for you. Feeds you, protects you, maybe even changes a diaper now and then, teaches you to ride a bike…and he also is often the person who sets down the rules in the house. Not always – sometimes Mom is the rule-maker in the house – but pretty often. And you know that you’d better follow those rules, rules that your dad made because he loves you and wants to protect you and wants you to grow up to be a good person. If you don’t follow the rules, what happens?

I ran into a friend at the seminary one day. He was with his little daughter, Ella. Ella was four years old. She was looking pretty blue, so I said “Are you having a bad day?” She sighed a long, four-year-old sigh. “Sort of. I pushed Jamey (her baby brother) and Daddy got mad. He yelled at me. I got consequences.” “What?” “Daddy says when I do something bad, I get consequences.”

Consequences. Yes, when we break the rules, there are consequences to our actions, whether it is a speeding ticket or a broken marriage or being put in the time-out corner.

Now, the rules are important for little children, but as we grow, things change. When we become adolescents, we feel constrained by the rules. We want to do what WE want to do. We fight them, and we fight the father who has set the rules. Staying out a little past curfew, smoking a cigarette, hanging out with bad kids…we rebel. And while some fathers try to clamp down even harder, others step back a little bit and say “Okay. You want to get a little more freedom? Let’s test that out and see what happens. Let’s see how it affects your schoolwork, or your participation in the sports team, or your relationships with your friends. And if you make the wrong choice, you will have to bear the consequences. I won’t bail you out.” That father loosens the reins a little, lets the teenager or young adult start to make his own choices, and deal with the consequences of those choices for good or for ill. Eventually, the father hopes that the teen or young adult will figure out for himself what is right and what is wrong. After all, for sixteen years the father has been enforcing the rules and teaching the values behind those rules. Now it is time for the young person to live those values without the highly structured rules that were necessary when he was younger.

And that’s precisely the strategy that God is using when he sends Jesus to earth to teach us a new way of being in relationship with the One True God. Jesus preaches and teaches and heals and blesses, and then gives his life for us, so that we might have a more perfect relationship with God. Jesus takes away the need for the highly structured laws and rules that marked the old relationship. God is treating us as his children who have now matured sufficiently, with Jesus’ help, to be able to make our own choices.

And that means that the rules about the food and the curfew and the type of prayer, all the rules and punishments that were part of the old system, now are set aside, because we are now spiritually mature enough to be in relationship with God without them. The parent of the young adult says “you’re going to college now. I won’t be there to watch everything you do. I’ve taught you well, so make wise choices.” God says, “You’ve learned more about me through Jesus, and he has sacrificed himself for you to make sure you will be in good relationship with me. He has taught you well, so make wise choices.”

In the same way, Paul tells the folks in Galatia that they don’t have to revert back to the old rules and categories – don’t we love to categorize ourselves and others – they are now free. He reminds them of the gift that their heavenly father has given them, the freedom to love God not out of compulsion, but because we cannot help but respond to God’s love when we as mature spiritual creatures sense that love in our lives.

And in a few minutes, when we celebrate the sacrament of baptism with little G.G. , we acknowledge that even she, as young as she is, is set on a path shaped by God’s love, a path that will give her the tools she needs as she grows to love God and to love all of God’s world around her, and to make the choices that God would have us all make. She is a child of the heavenly Father who loves her boundlessly, as we are all that Father’s children.

Fathers, whether they be the earthly fathers who have taught us so well that we have matured and learned to make our own wise choices, or the heavenly Father who sent his son to teach us, deserve our gratitude and thanks. We no longer have to be bound by strict laws and rules to know how to live rightly. They have given us the knowledge and the freedom to grow in spiritual knowledge, and we owe them our deepest thanks.


Friday, June 18, 2010

Friday Five: Running Late!

1. Do you tend to be a late person or one who is timely, arriving on time or earlier?

I don't much like it when others are late, and I try to be prompt myself. As I get older, though, I am finding myself always running a few minutes behind. Well, not always, but often enough that it causes me indigestion.

2. Have you forgotten anything of importance lately?

Nope. That's what lists are for, and the Droid. If I didn't have those tools, though, I'd be in deep trouble.

3. Is procrastination your inclination? Why or why not?

This is really about things I don't want to do. Then I vacillate between two poles: I tackle it first thing, before I can procrastinate, or I let it shuffle to the bottom of the pile where I can forget about it. The list thing, though, makes it harder to ignore.

4. Do you like schedules or spontaneity? Which works best for you?

Definitely schedules. Don't much like not knowing what the day will bring, which is pretty ridiculous in ministry. I guess the illusion of control has the same effect as decaffeinated coffee - it tastes enough like the real thing that I can convince myself that it really will have the same net effect.

5. How do you stay on track with the various things you need to, people you must meet, etc., etc.?

Google calendar, on my computer and on my Droid, plus a paper family calendar on the frig at home to coordinate with PH.

BONUS: Whatever comes to mind about forgetfulness or lateness.

I'd tell you about a song that I vaguely recall...something about "but you forgot to remember," but I can't remember enough to retrieve it...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Procrastination Post

I really should be settling in to write the wedding homily and the sermon for Sunday's HE/Baptism, but I'm just sort of blah today. It happens that way sometimes. I should also be editing the content for the new website, but I don't have the energy for that, either.

Part of this is due to the fact that I drove PH to the airport at 4:45 this morning. Cheap flight to the Windy City for a conference, and I promised him I'd drive, since he's doing this one on his own dime rather than having it paid for by the Professional Association of which he is president. I think they should cover this, since it's a related organization, but that's not my business, so I'll hush up about it now. I got slightly lost driving back, since the exit from the airport goes out another road from the entrance. Still, I got to see the sunrise and a couple bunnies hopping across my lawn in the half-light. I also got to do some final cleaning up of our house prior to the arrival of the lovely seminarian friend who is using our place as a halfway point in her journey south to her own diocese. She and I will talk about the General Ordination Exams - she's looking for guidance as to how to prepare, and it really isn't something you can study for or prepare for, other than organizing your resources. That and pray.

The other part of this is that I've been doing a lot. I've been here 45 days, and have done two services each Sunday, introduced a Wednesday service, done a funeral, am about to do a wedding and a baptism, have done 15 pastoral visits or meetings with folks who haven't seen someone in a collar in quite some time, have taken the Vestry on retreat to develop a mission statement, have started up the process of developing the new website, have helped celebrate Eucharist at a nursing home, have redesigned the bulletin, restarted the monthly newsletter....the list continues from there.

Taking the day off has been complicated by the funeral, the wedding, the Vestry retreat, and other stuff. I try to take some comp time on other days, but it's a challenge right now. Still, the exhaustion I feel is a result of this.

So I'll give myself a little grace today, putter some, get some stuff done, and look forward to tomorrow, my putative day off, until I have to go conduct the wedding rehearsal at 5.

Thank you, Lord, for this call to ordained ministry. Now could you please clone me so I can get everything done without frying myself to a crisp?

Time for a bit of chocolate, I think.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Today's Sermon: Luke 7:36-50 “Which Way Do I Go?”

Pharisees get a bad rap in the New Testament.

These good men don’t want to do anything more than clean up the Jewish faith, making sure that everyone is following the ancient Mosaic Law. They’re reformers.

Frankly, that’s a good thing, because God’s people have gone off the rails and aren’t really in the kind of relationship with their God that they should be.

And Simon, one of those Pharisees about whom we hear in today’s Gospel, gets the same kind of treatment we see in other parts of the gospel….he’s a Pharisee, and he just doesn’t GET what Jesus is about, so he’s some sort of fool. Seems sort of cruel, doesn’t it?

Simon, a devoted man of faith, at least as he himself sees it, is the Pharisee who invited Jesus over to dinner.

The question that sticks in my mind is why a Pharisee would invite this rebel preacher to his house for dinner. Is he curious about this man who has worked miracles? Does he want to hear more about Jesus’ teachings, which sound pretty radical? Does he think he will best Jesus in a theological argument, and will be viewed as a hero by other Jewish leaders? Does he hunger for something that is missing in his soul, and does he wonder if Jesus can offer him that missing piece?

We don’t know, but we do know that Pharisees are the guardians of the law, the zealous enthusiasts for “doing it right” in following the law. So it is no surprise how he reacts when a woman who is a notorious sinner shows up at the table. She has brought oil to anoint Jesus’ feet. She weeps. Her tears wash Jesus’ feet. She anoints his feet and dries them with her hair.

Simon’s reaction is horror. First of all, she is a woman. Second of all, she is a known sinner. In Mosaic law, those are two powerful reasons for Jesus to shrink from her touch. You’re not supposed to touch women who are not members of your family, and you’re certainly not supposed to touch “bad girls.” But Jesus doesn’t push her away; he lets her do this thing.

Simon thinks to himself, “If this man were really someone of God, he would know that this is an unclean woman and would not let her touch him.” But Jesus knows what he’s thinking. His response is a little parable about forgiveness…the person who is forgiven more will love the Lord who forgives more. Jesus knows that the forgiveness he offers the woman is more precious to her than his presence at the Pharisee’s table is to Simon, and he blesses the woman.

Simon may have had a particular direction that he thought the evening would take, but Jesus takes him off that path into a new and unfamiliar territory. Can Simon adjust to the change in route? Can he go with this changed reality? Can he be open to God working in him in new ways, ways that are not marked out by the old Mosaic law?

It’s a question for us as well, isn’t it?

Can we go off the particular map we have in our own heads, the familiar and comfortable path, if the Spirit leads us into a new place? Can we be open to God working in us in new ways that are not marked out by the old familiar landmarks?

That’s a scary proposition. I don’t know about you, but I prefer the familiar and the certain. Things I think I know well enough to control. That preference is exemplified by my love for my new phone. It’s got GPS, with turn-by-turn directions. When I’m going somewhere I haven’t been to before, which is a lot of the time these days, I can tell it where I want to go – “navigate to Gelati Celesti!” – and it gets me there, reasonably efficiently. I feel safe. I won’t get lost. Even if I take a wrong turn, it will say “recalculating!” and will get me properly turned around.

Before I had the phone, I had Mapquest. I Mapquested my way all over the place, and it usually got me where I wanted to go in a way that made me feel confident and secure. Before that, I used the Rand McNally Road Atlas, and was pretty darned good at getting where I was going. Here’s the secret: with tools like these, I felt like I was always in control.

That’s a really different way of approaching getting to a new place than that of my mother. My mother was very good at general orientation. She could always tell whether she was going north, south, east or west. She was notorious for getting into the car and heading off in a particular direction towards a new destination, without a clue as to which roads she should take. We’d leave from northern New Jersey to go to the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts. Road map? Nah. She’d head in the direction she knew was north. As I started squirming in the car, thinking we’d never get there, she’d smile serenely and say “we’re headed north. We’ll get there eventually.” She had much more faith in her basic directional skills than I did, and much more faith that no matter where we ended up, we’d be able to orient ourselves toward the Berkshires and get there somehow, and – oh, by the way – we’d probably see much more interesting things than if we had sped confidently up an interstate that would get us there in three hours instead of seven on the back roads.

I have always been much more heavily invested in controlling my environment, but that’s not how God works. God laughs when I try to control things. God wants to stretch me out of the familiar, take me on some of those back roads into new places that I might not have otherwise visited, into new territory of the heart. Can I be open to that? Can we be open to that? As I asked before, can we go off the particular map we have in our own heads, the familiar and comfortable path, if the Spirit leads us into a new place? Can we be open to God working in us in new ways that are not marked out by the old familiar landmarks?

It’s an interesting question to ask today, for two reasons.

First, your Vestry spent most of yesterday trying to listen for God’s voice, to feel the Spirit working in Epiphany in both old and new ways. We came away from that time together with some interesting insights into who we are and how God is calling us, and you’ll be hearing more about those insights in the weeks to come. We haven’t come up with a new roadmap…we like a lot of the old landmarks and hope to incorporate them into our ongoing journey, but we expect there will be some fresh and new ways of traveling ahead of us as a parish.

Second, today we honor five young people who are graduating from high school. We recognize their involvement in the life of this parish, as acolytes and working in the nursery, and in many other aspects of our common life. They are headed down a new path, and the skills we have taught them in reading the map of their future will serve them when it all looks very new and unfamiliar and frightening.

That is, in fact, one of the challenges when God disorients us when he wants to do a new thing in us. We get frightened and we want to revert back to old familiar patterns. We reach back not only for familiar landmarks, but for all the old familiar ways that feel comforting. Whether it is in how we drive from Lakeside to the Fan, or whether it is how we get from being a small and loving family-style parish to a somewhat larger but equally warm and caring parish, when it feels like we are on unfamiliar ground, we long for the old way, and we want to abandon the path that God sets before us. We don’t want to be part of the new thing that God is asking of us.

Our Pharisee Simon is shook up. God is taking him to a new place in the person of Jesus, doing these radical things that no nice Jewish boy should do, teaching Simon that what he cherishes most, that orderly path of following the Law, is missing the point. It won’t get Simon to where he needs to go. Jesus is pushing him down a new path, a dimly lit one, and Simon is frightened and resists it.

He’d much rather just keep on trying to follow the ancient Law in a more perfect way. It’s familiar, it’s comfortable, and it’s been pretty good so far.

But Jesus has a different message, and a different direction for Simon and for the rest of us to follow. Jesus says: “Don’t try to follow the recipe book that is the old Law! Think creatively about how God interacts with God’s people! Think about God’s great love and generosity as demonstrated by the forgiveness which is offered to this woman!”

Jesus is forcing Simon off the GPS of the Law. He is forcing Simon to get off the interstate and onto the backroads, forcing him to navigate with his wits and his love of God, and with God’s love of him as his only landmarks.

Jesus is working in a new way with Simon. He is working in a new way with these young people, as they step out into a new and unfamiliar world. He is working in a new way with us as we discern how we live as God’s people in this place at this time. There is no roadmap, no GPS for this work. All we have is the certainty of God’s love, the assurance that the wisdom of the Holy Spirit will be poured down on us, and that our true north star is Christ the Lord. Can we trust? As my mother would say, “We’ll get there eventually. We’re headed north. Everything is alright. And we may find some really interesting stuff along the way.” And with Christ, it will be so.


Friday, June 11, 2010

Busy Week, Busy Weekend

A funeral of a parishioner's parent in a neighboring church, three evening meetings plus a dinner gathering, Clericus, Fresh Start an hour north of here, a meeting with another local clergywoman, pastoral visits, redesign of church bulletin, and prep for tomorrow's Vestry has been a busy week. I survived my first Finance Committee meeting - we decided we would not solve all the problems of the world in one meeting.

Tomorrow's meeting is about our vision for the coming year and what we discern is God's call for us in this place at this time. We may even concoct a mission statement. As with the Vestry Retreat I did with my prior parish last January, I will be using the Appreciative Inquiry methodology - I've found it to be very fruitful. Less likely to get lost in the "we don't have the resources to do x..." thing. as well.

I am uncharacteristically waiting to write my sermon until after the retreat, since I hope some of what we do at the retreat can be incorporated into the sermon. We'll see if that works, or if it is a total cluster-fumble. I'm nervous waiting until Saturday night to write a sermon - I normally get them done by Thursday - but this feels like what I'm supposed to be doing.

Today was spent on household and spouse. We slept in, all the way to 7:30 am. I started the process of staining and finishing the footstool for by my bed (it's a high four-poster, and I'm a short person). I also started the master bedroom drapes. The first panel of any project like this is tediously slow. I'm hoping the rest will go a bit quicker. Chocolate damask with seafoam velvet bands around the edge, mitered in the corners (takes a lot more time, but looks so nice). The window where the window seat is will have a Roman shade - oh yes, I need to make a cushion cover for the window seat, but that's down the list a bit - and the other widows will have those drapes, with a tailored valance with an inverted pleat, I think. Dinner at a local BBQ joint after going to see Shrek in 3-D. Wonderful silliness followed by wonderful meat and carbs. Just call me fat 'n' happy!

The coming week is relatively quiet - wedding on Saturday and Baptism the Sunday after, so there will be a rehearsal on Friday evening and such - but during the week I'll spend my evenings quietly sewing. These drapes may even be done a week from now, but if they're not, it won't take too much longer beyond that. Then it will be on to the next things on the list, and the ones beyond that...

For now, it's time to go to sleep, I think.

Monday, June 07, 2010


this will all be organized and running smooth as a top.

It is clearly not someday yet.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Sermon For Pentecost II Luke 7:11-17 “That’ll Preach”

It is an occupational hazard amongst preachers that we are always looking for material for sermons, and we tend to view our lives as a series of events that can be sermon illustrations. When you get a few preachers together, and they catch up with what’s going on in their lives, invariably, after someone tells a particularly interesting or funny or sad story that one of us will nod sagely and say “That’ll preach.”

Doug and I had one of those moments on Wednesday.

He had gone out for a bike ride – yes, he’s a little crazy to do that on a hot summer afternoon, but that’s another tale – and I was busy working on the computer, working on this sermon, as a matter of fact.

And as often happens in the early stages of sermon writing, I sat there and stared at the screen and thought to myself, as the kids say, “I got nothin’.”

I was about to get up and fuel myself with a Coke when the phone rang. Odd. Not many people have the home number. Had the telemarketers found us already? When I picked it up, I noticed it was Doug’s cellphone number on the caller id, and immediately I thought he’d had an accident and the medics were calling me to tell me about it. But no, it was Doug. He said “I’m out on the back porch, and I’ve got a stray dog here. Can you get something I can use to tie her to the porch? I think I know who’s looking for her. Come out very carefully so she doesn’t get spooked.”

As is always the case when you’ve got to find something in a hurry, I scrambled and couldn’t find the one thing I wanted – a stout piece of rope. All I had was an extension cord, so I brought it out back, where Doug was waiting with bike and dog, and said “Will this do?” He said, “Yes, that will work. I saw the people who were looking for her earlier, at the beginning of my ride, so I’ll go back out and see if I can find them.” He had run into a couple in a car who asked him if he had seen a black dog who had run away, young, about 65 pounds, and he had promised to keep an eye out for her. Little did he know that the dog would be perched on our back step when he came back from his ride! The sweet-faced black dog, Jasmine by name, looked hot and tired, so I brought her out a bowl of water. In a few minutes Doug had returned. Behind him was a weeping young woman, crying, “Jasmine, Jasmine, don’t you ever do that again! You scared me half to death!” She said she was sorry she didn’t have any money to pay Doug – not that he would have taken it – and said “This dog is all I have. We were over here pick up the remains of my pet rabbit – we had her cremated over there – and this dog is my whole life. She’s all I have left.” Of course, I’m not sure the effect that statement had on the young man who was with her….he seemed to be a boyfriend, but who knows? If I didn’t know about the pet crematorium, I sure wasn’t going to hazard a guess about the relationship. It was a strange and wonderful moment. All that she knew was that this guy in the funny-looking biking gear had shown up out of nowhere and magically given her back her beloved pet. She didn’t know how to respond to it. She was grateful and overwhelmed and a little mystified, and clueless as to what she was supposed to do.

When it comes to stories like this, you shake your head. You can’t make this stuff up. Who would have guessed that the same dog that Doug heard about from the woman would decide to come sit on our back porch? Who would have guessed that the woman would still be driving around the neighborhood an hour after she first saw Doug on the bike? Who would have guessed, for that matter, that there was a pet crematorium in our neighborhood, but that’s a story for another sermon….

When strange and wonderful things happen, we have a hard time making sense of them. Preachers, of course, are required to try, and so we tell these stories, so that together we can try to make meaning of the things that cause us to wonder what it is all about.

There is more than a little bit of the strange and wonderful in the Gospel story today, when Jesus raises a widow’s son from the dead. Jesus and his followers come into a town named Nain, and they come upon a funeral procession. People are weeping and wailing over the death of this young man. The evangelist Luke makes a point of noting that this man is the only son of a widow….a widow who is weeping and wailing the loudest of all. Her loss is a mighty one – not only the son whom she dearly loved, but the man who would serve as her support and protection as a widowed woman. She was losing both love and stability in her life. No wonder her grief was so great.

Jesus saw her in all her misery, and knew he must do something. So he stepped forward. He comforted her, saying “do not weep.” He reached out and touched the bier on which the body lay and he spoke to the dead young man. “Young man, I say to you, rise!”

The gospel tells us that the young man sat up and began to speak.

What was the first reaction of the crowd to this miracle? Fear.

When strange and wonderful things happen, we have a hard time making sense of them. The crowd was afraid, because they couldn’t figure out what was going on, and what kind of power this man Jesus had that could cause him to raise someone from the dead. They struggled to make meaning of it, and once they got past their fear, they started to praise him as a great prophet and man of God. And even in an age without FaceBook or webpages, word got out that someone very special was doing very special things in the name of God. The people hadn’t quite figured out that Jesus was, in fact, God, but this was the start to the recognition of how truly strange and wonderful this man was.

Contrast it to the other story we heard this morning, of a widow with a dying child and the man of God who just happens to be on the scene. The prophet Elijah is staying with a poor widow in the town of Zarephath. God has sent him there, specifically so that this particular woman will feed him. An odd choice on God’s part, a strange and wonderful choice, since the woman and her son are on the edge of starvation. They have so little that even if they don’t share their meager provisions with Elijah, they still would probably starve. But Elijah says that God will provide for her. Trusting in her faith in God, the widow is gracious beyond all comprehension. She makes the meal, and they eat. The household had ample meal and oil “for many days.”

Now that would be strange and wonderful enough, this miracle of meal and oil in the midst of starvation, but the story continues and takes a darker turn. Suddenly the son of the widow takes sick. He cannot breathe. Is it a bad asthma attack? Some sort of pneumonia? We don’t know, but it is clear from the woman’s words that her boy, the thing she cherishes above all else, is about to be taken from her by death. And the woman tries to make sense of this difficult thing that is happening, this time not a strange and wonderful thing, but a strange and horrible thing…all she can imagine is that Elijah has something to do with it. Elijah has brought God’s grace, in the miracle of the meal and the oil. Has he now brought God’s fearful judgment and punishment in the illness of this child?

But once again, something strange and wonderful happens. Elijah prays to God to save this child. Unlike the Gospel story, when Jesus himself resuscitates the child, because Jesus is God, Elijah needs God to intervene. Elijah is simply the messenger. Interestingly, Elijah basically says to God, “You sent me here to be with this woman and her son, and things were going pretty well…then you have to mess up the whole thing by taking the boy. Please bring him back to health!” God considers what Elijah has said and brings the child back from the brink. Elijah brings the boy downstairs to his mother, alive, well, restored. A strange and wonderful moment.

The mother skips the step of fear that we heard from the crowd who witnessed Jesus’ raising of the young man from the dead. She immediately takes this as a sign that Elijah is indeed a man of God and a great prophet, and that his words carry truth.

That’s the way these strange and wondrous moments go. They happen. We cannot understand them. We try to fit them into our own human understanding. We react in fear, in pain, in wonderment, in awe. We shape them based on our own sense of who God is. God or his representative may be a hero, or a frightening being, or someone who only delivers the goods some of the time, based upon these moments.

But if we start from the premise that the only way we know God is through Christ, and that even that great gift only gives us limited understanding – remember Jesus saying last week “I have many more things to tell you, but you cannot bear them now?” – our attempts to make meaning of strange and wonderful moments will fall short of the mark. We cannot fit God into a human-sized box. So in those strange and wonderful moments, the one response that makes the most sense is the one that we heard in the Gospel: “They glorified God saying ‘God has looked favorably on his people!’ This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.” So for now, when those strange and wondrous moments occur, we step back from trying to understand. We simply and joyfully praise God and spread the word, and look to the day when we might be able to understand, when we meet God face-to-face. That will be the final strange and wondrous moment, won’t it? And finally, we will not have to work to make sense of it. It will all be before us, with no preacher to intervene. That won’t have to preach.


Thursday, June 03, 2010

My weekend starts on Thursday night... I am sitting on the living room couch in my jammies, with the television on. Feels like the first time I've sat and relaxed in about a week and a half. PH and I have some tasks to attend to around the house tomorrow, and I've got an ordination to go to on Saturday.

The challenge of this time is to try to pace myself. I was with my dean today, doing a service of Holy Eucharist at a retirement home nearby, and she said "are you taking your day off?" Last week, no, because of the death of a parishioner. So her comment was a good reminder to me that I am not superwoman, and that if I don't take days off, I'll burn out. There is the temptation to just plug away endlessly, because there is that much work to do. But the work will still be there, and frankly there are few things that are so critical that I cannot address them in something less than an instantaneous way. Slowly plowing through. I've nearly got the Church Register caught up (nothing had been entered since 2004). I reconstituted the newsletter and am in the midst of putting together the FaceBook page and redesigning the bulletin and announcement sheet. It will get done. A team of parishioners is working on the new and improved web site.

Several very ill parishioners, a funeral of a parishioner's mother, a couple of baptisms, a wedding, a renewal of wedding vows for a couple married for a quarter century, all in the next couple of weeks. The people are more important than the administrative stuff, which will get attended to as soon as I can.

But for tonight, I think it's just watching a little tv and relaxing, not even working on sewing the bedroom drapes. Time for rest.