Sunday, April 29, 2012
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Good news around here: The Diocese of Virginia and Truro Church (Anglican), one of the largest of the breakaway groups, have come to a settlement. The litigation has gone on for five years, and was decided in favor of the Diocese, so in some ways this is more of a tidying up and a symbolic gesture than anything else (N.B. I am not an attorney, so I may be understating this.)
One of the elements of the agreement is a covenant of mutual charity and respect.
So for all who wondered if this litigation thing was a bad idea and unChristian, this gives an insight into one way the Holy Spirit works through us poor dumb humans. Yes, it was right and just that the property should come back to the Episcopal Church. It is in accordance with our polity, as it has been since the late 1700s. But it was also about working through all that pain and struggle to a place of grace.
May grace continue to light the corners of our conversations with those who have theological differences. It's been happening since 33 C.E. and, God willing, will keep on happening until the end of days.
Sunday, April 15, 2012
A couple of weeks ago, the MegaMillions prize was up to something over $600 million dollars. Well over the half-billion – with a B – mark. Everyone and their brother was buying tickets, using whatever method of choosing the numbers that they could think of. True confessions: I must admit that I bought one as well, using the ages of my children and the number of years I’ve been married as the numbers.
No, I didn’t win.
But I had a fun conversation with my daughter about what we’d do if by some stroke of cosmic irony I won. We talked about the tithe to the church, then paying off some school loans, then enjoying a new car and such. She talked about setting up a foundation to do charitable things…it was silly fantasy, but it reminded us of the days when we didn’t have much money and would fantasize about how wonderful things would be if we won such a prize.
Doug, of course, believes that winning the lottery is the worst thing that can happen. He may be right. It does seem that every time someone hits the big one, they end up in bankruptcy or divorce, with a hundred heretofore unknown relatives asking for funds and decrying them if they don’t share. It seems that getting something amazing usually has implications that we couldn’t have predicted.
Sure enough, after it was announced that there had been winners, one woman claimed she had it, then couldn’t find the ticket, and her co-workers started yelling that they had a deal to share any winnings. Turned out the lady didn’t have the ticket after all. Some folks who had a shared ticket made sure they lawyered up and had a financial consultant before revealing they had one of the three winning tickets. They wanted to remain anonymous, no surprise there, and they wanted to protect some semblance of their life before it was changed.
They understood that getting something amazing usually has implications we couldn’t have predicted, and they wanted to protect themselves as much as they could, to keep some part of their past life intact. It doesn’t always work out, though.
Those disciples huddled in the upper room after Jesus’ crucifixion and death, his burial, and his disappearance from the tomb most likely spent many hours thinking, “Oh, if Jesus had only lived. If he had been saved by God, by the angels, if he were still among us, it would be alright.”
They had heard from Mary Magdalene the fact that Jesus was no longer in the tomb, that the angel had told her Jesus was risen, and then she had seen Jesus in the garden, but who knows if those disciples really believed her?
All they knew was that they were terrified. Their great teacher and Lord had been killed and was now missing from the tomb, and the people who were responsible for Jesus’ death were most likely looking for Jesus’ disciples, too.
So they were hiding, wondering what would happen next, wishing that things could go back to the way it used to be, before the awful things happened.
Wishing, perhaps, that Jesus was with them again, explaining in that wonderful way of his, what they were to do next.
And then, suddenly, Jesus was with them. Standing right there in that locked room. Smiling gently as he always did, looking as he always did, except for the nasty mark of the spear in his side and the nail holes in his hands and feet.
They talked, and Jesus calmed them down, and they felt better. And he left them, as mysteriously as he had appeared.
There was only one problem. One of the disciples was not in the room when Jesus was there. Perhaps he had been sent out for some food, or to go talk to other followers of Jesus, but he wasn’t there. Brave Thomas, who was fearless when it came to volunteering to do things and who always asked the questions that people had in their minds but were too afraid to say out loud.
When Thomas got back from his errand, the others told him what had happened, that Jesus had been RIGHT THERE with them, just as it had been before.
And Thomas said, “Hey, wait a minute! We all saw him die. We all saw him wrapped and put in the tomb. Yes, I know what Mary Magdalene said, but it’s all a little too weird for me. You guys are getting cabin fever in here. I say it’s just your imaginations running wild, a little bit of mass hysteria.”
“No, no, it was real! He was here, I tell you!” they cried.
And Thomas harrumphed and said, “You guys are all a little wacko. I don’t think he came. I think you imagined it. Unless I see it all for myself…heck, if I FEEL it by putting my fingers in the spear hole and the nail holes, I say it was all a figment of your imaginations. Some guy named Freud is going to describe it as mass hysteria a couple millennia from now…you’ll see.”
The others all grumbled a bit – that Thomas could be such a stubborn pain sometimes – but they went back to their praying and arguing about what they should do next, given Jesus’ instructions to them on his last visit.
And a week passed, and they were still in that room, but this time Thomas was right there. And up popped Jesus, as if he were there all along in that locked room with them. Jesus looked around and said, “Thomas, where are you?”
Thomas was sitting off in a corner of the room, and he looked up, and sure enough, there was Jesus.
Jesus said, “I hear you didn’t believe I was here the last time.”
“Well, Lord, it sounded pretty incredible to me when the others told me about it. They can be so, so overwrought sometimes!”
“So you didn’t believe them, even though I told you all in many different ways that I would be back.”
“Well, maybe I thought you were speaking in metaphors or something! You must admit you have a habit of doing that.”
“This is no metaphor. I’m real. Come on over. Put your hands into these holes in my body. Feel for yourself.”
“Hey, wait a minute…you don’t need to do that. I don’t need to do that. I can see it’s you.”
“No, go ahead. I don’t want you to think that you’re in the grip of some – what did you call it? Mass hysteria?”
So Thomas went over and hesitantly touched the flesh of the Son of Man who was also the Son of God. He put his fingers into the holes.
He was overcome with embarrassment at his doubts.
And Jesus said, “I’m glad you understand now. I know you had doubts. Many people have doubts, even when I’ve told them exactly what to expect. Others simply believe, and are blessed by that. I didn’t want you to have doubts and I cared about you, about your soul, enough to visit again to put those doubts to rest. I love you, all of you, even you, Thomas, and I want to be sure you’re sure about following me.”
Something amazing had happened. Jesus was truly risen from the dead. He came back to his followers, not once, but twice, to make sure everyone understood and believed what had happened, how he had conquered death.
He did not simply come once and say, “Okay, everyone who got it – you folks are all saved. If you have doubts, tough luck.”
No, he loved them, and us, enough to respond to our imperfect faith by making that second visit, by letting Thomas and all of us test out our doubts and perceptions.
When amazing things happen, they challenge us even as they transform us. We may wish that things would go back to the way they were, but they cannot and should not. Instead, we get more than we bargained for, and we must learn to live with what we’ve received. In the case of the lottery winners, I pray that they can be happy with what they’ve received, that their lives will only be transformed for the better by this windfall.
In the case of those of us who follow Christ, the risen Lord and Savior, I pray that we recognize how we have been changed, even if we fear we believe imperfectly, by Christ’s gift of salvation. I pray that the unexpected consequences for each and every one of us, whether we have doubts or not, will be joy in the knowledge that he will not let us go until he is sure we understand who he is and what he is and what we are as a result.
Thanks be to God for unexpected gifts and unexpected consequences!
Friday, April 13, 2012
It reminds me once again how addicted I am to reading, and how grateful someone is making sure my vision remains strong as I get older. It also reminds me how grateful I am to have vision insurance. My glasses will be pretty expensive, but they would be even more expensive if I didn't have that insurance. I could function in terms of driving without glasses (albeit not as well as I would like), and I could read with those cheap drugstore readers (albeit not as well as with the prescription lenses), but it is much better with the right glasses.
I've given up on contact lenses. I liked how I looked without glasses, but the risk-reward ratio is shifting. It felt less useful and more of an annoyance to wrestle them into my eyes. Glasses will work fine, and I'll be glad for them.
II. The house seems quiet with no house guests. I loved the visitors, but I also cherish the quiet. Of course, I'm not as motivated to do any cleaning when no one but PH and I are here, but that's not a big deal. The "Hoarders" guys wouldn't come in and sigh over our messes, since they are relatively minor.
III. Our local Krispy Kreme doughnut store is just about ready to re-open after renovation Part I and renovation Part II. Part I was a converntional sprucing up. Part II was repair after a drunken pastor drove his SUV through the plate glass (his second accident of the day). Don't know whether he thought the doughnuts and coffee would sober him up, or if he was on an anti-Krispy Kremes crusade, or what. They are celebrating their reopening next week with a giveaway of a year's worth of doughnuts for the first hundred people who show up, plus a cake competition, with the cakes being constructed from the doughnuts. Coals to Newcastle? Wretched excess? A little of both? I cannot imagine the number of WW points a slice of such a cake would carry. Since I won't eat it, I don't have to worry.
IV. The nasty green cankerworms are almost gone. They've eaten much of the leaves on our rosebushes, and I hope the roses recover. In some ways, they were a marvel - little apple-green worms suspended by silken threads from trees, wafting along in the breeze until they attached themselves to leaves or my hair and jacket. In retrospect, I can admire their literal and figurative tenacity. In the moment, though, they were yucky. I'm glad they are on the way out.
V. Tonight is Date Night. Off to Carter's Pig Pen for some BBQ. I've got a Groupon and it's inexpensive to begin with, so we should have a nice cheap feast. Groupon does exactly what it is intended to do, which is to get people to go to places they haven't been to before by offering a significant discount. Small pleasures for us foodies!
VI. Tomorrow is up in the air. I could go to a friend's ordination, about an hour away. I could stay home and pay visits to two folks who are homebound. I could do stuff with my husband, which I don't get to do very often. We shall see.
What are you doing on your Sabbath?
Monday, April 09, 2012
Recovering from a busy couple of weeks - I'm still in my jammies at 11 in the morning, doing some odds'n'ends of work and avoiding any big projects.
Yesterday was glorious. We had a total of 260 souls at our Easter services (Vigil plus two yesterday). The church was packed for the 10:30 main service. Every acolyte (I think there were 17) participated, so we had two crucifers, a liturgical kite, banners, four torches, a gospel-bearer, plus some helpers. Chancel choir and bell choir. A family which just suffered a grievous loss this week came, perhaps to provide some Easter joy for the grandkids, perhaps to feel the warmth of hope in the room. Some strangers, some very occasional visitors. Some folks who are always there, happy to see the ones who only come occasionally. Beautiful babies, lively kiddos. A fun children's message, courtesy of Teri P ("Who Rolled the Stone?") and good reception for the rather - ahem - unusual Easter homily, which took people into thermodynamics for a bit.
But the sweetest moment was after it was all over. One parishioner, who hadn't come for several years and is now back again, was sitting on the church porch, waiting for her ride to pull the car up, and said, "I'm glad I'm back. It didn't always feel good before, but now I like the feeling in this place. I won't leave again."
I like the feeling in the place, too. Hopeful and joyful and wanting to help others.
Now if they'd ALL only come to church every Sunday and not only on the big feast days...
Humorous moment of the morning:
As I said, I'm still in my jammies, although I'm about to get dressed to go visit the aforementioned grieving family. The doorbell rang. I didn't spring up to answer it, being in my jammies. It rang again. What to do? So I got up, threw on my raincoat, the only modest thing nearby, and answered. Two lovely Jehovah's Witness ladies, looking to talk to me about Christ. I said fairly early on that I was an Episcopal priest, and knew Jesus pretty well - that didn't sink in, so a couple of sentences later I said I was clergy and was familiar with the Witnesses and wished them God's blessing. It took a few more gentle exchanges to let them know I wasn't converting to their denomination anytime soon. They seemed surprised that Episcopalians can quote Holy Writ with the best of them...I invited them to my parish, but I'd be surprised to see them there anytime soon.
God does have a sense of humor.
Sunday, April 08, 2012
Where does the energy come from to roll the stone from the tomb?
That is the question we just explored a bit with the children…we have figured out that the energy comes from God. How else might that heavy stone be moved from its position blocking the tomb?
But perhaps the more interesting question is where the energy goes…
I was no science whiz in school, but I vaguely recall from my high school physics class the first law of thermodynamics, also known as the law of conservation of energy. Here’s how it goes: energy cannot be created or destroyed. It simply changes form.
What does that look like in science? Take water, apply some heat, and it turns into a vapor. An even simpler example: Rubbing your hands together generates heat on your palms. This is not actually creating energy. The work of your muscles takes the chemical energy of your body, changes it to work energy in your muscles, and then into friction (heat) energy in your skin. You’ve actually moved energy from your body through your muscles and into your hands. There is a fixed amount of energy in a closed system, and while you can change its form, you cannot destroy it.
And there may be something there for us to explore on this beautiful day when we remember Jesus Christ risen from the dead.
Think about it: Jesus Christ, the son of God, killed on a cross just a few days ago, now conquering death and alive. He is alive! Is it a miracle or simply an expression of that first law of thermodynamics? He is God, after all, the purest form of energy that we might imagine. If God were not energy, could there have been a creation? And if God is energy, God cannot be killed. That primal energy can, however, be transformed, can’t it?
In a sense, this is what seems to be happening as we hear this story.
Jesus died. No one who witnessed it had any doubt about it. His lifeless body was placed in a tomb, washed and prepared as was the custom, wrapped in clean linen, and then the huge stone was put in place, blocking the opening, letting no light or air into that space. It seemed that all energy, all life force, had left him. That body was no more than an empty shell.
I suspect that his mother and his disciples asked the same question we ask, when we behold the body of one whom we loved who has died. Where did he go? His energy, his vibrancy, his soul was no longer there. They felt the absence of that life-energy deeply.
But if energy is neither created nor destroyed, but transformed, it had to go somewhere.
And this is where this idea gets really interesting.
Where did the Jesus that they knew, the teacher, the rabbi, the son, the friend, go?
We hear in the Nicene Creed that after Jesus was buried, he descended to the dead, and on the third day – today, Easter Day – he rose from the dead.
If you look at ancient Russian icons depicting the resurrection, you will see a triumphant Christ standing above Hell with the gates of Hell broken open. Why? Because, by his death, Jesus descends into the underworld to free the captive sinners from their sins. The icons show the broken chains and locks that had held the sinners in bondage. The energy of Jesus breaks the chains of the captives, the dead souls in Hell, and sets them free. In those Russian icons, it looks like he is exploding with an energy that could not be destroyed by death.
And yet we know he died.
This is where his power, his energy is transformed most remarkably.
Jesus Christ destroyed death – the death of those souls – by his own death. His own force of divine love and his sacrificial act infused the captives with his energy, saving them and us from eternal death.
What a powerful kind of energy! No wonder the disciples ran from that empty tomb…a tidal wave of divine energy was rolling toward them.
Now I know that this is pretty heavy going theologically. It is hard to imagine Jesus as a love-charged energy source. But bear with me, because it has a bearing on each and every one of us here today.
If you had a source of energy that could run your car without a trip to the Shell station, wouldn’t that get you excited?
If you had a source of energy that meant that you wouldn’t have to pay the oil company to fill up the tank to heat your home, wouldn’t that get you excited?
Well, imagine an energy source that is so boundless and so generous that you can never use it up. Imagine that its sole purpose is to build you up, to fill you with joy, to save you from the things you wish you hadn’t done, to draw you closer to the one who loves you most.
And now imagine that all that beautiful energy is absolutely free.
Astonishing, isn’t it?
That’s what you get today. The Jesus Christ who walked the paths of the Galilee and Jerusalem over two thousand years ago died on a cross, but his energy was not destroyed on that cross. In fact, in a way it was released. It was made available to all of us, to heal us and to strengthen us, to warm us and to comfort us, to challenge us and to applaud us.
God’s energy may have resided in the life force in a carpenter’s son, but it didn’t remain the same. It was transformed by the death of that carpenter’s son, into the spiritual force of the King of glory. His energy has not been created. It was not destroyed. It has always been and will always be. And it is available to us all, for the love of us by the one who made us.
So today we sing “Alleluia!” There is no better word of thanks for the gift of the energy that fills our hearts and souls and lungs than to say it loud: Alleluia!
Friday, April 06, 2012
If you're as dissatisfied as I am with the offerings on network television, you may spend some time channel surfing through the hundreds of strange shows on the cable channels. I came across one that caught my attention in the same way that a horrific crash on the highway. You know that moment, even if you find it hard to admit, when you see something like that and you just can't tear your eyes away.
That program, that train wreck moment, for me was a program called "Hoarders."
Some of you may have seen it. The focus of the show is on the efforts of friends, family and professionals to help people whose homes have become crammed to the rafters with stuff. Broken things that they think they will someday fix and sell. Newspapers and magazines that they might want to go back and reread one day. Canned goods years past their expiration date. And all these things are useless and unusable, either because they are past an expiration date, or have been nibbled on by vermin, or because they really have no commercial value any more. Even if they did have value, how would the hoarder find them in the mess?
So there is usually an intervention, because the city is about to condemn the home or because the family is so concerned about their loved one that they know that some of this excess has to be removed for the person to stay in their home.
The hoarders struggle with this - they have saved these items for quite some time and look upon the loss of those 8-track Earth Wind and Fire tapes or old National Geographics as a painful amputation. But slowly, and with help from mental health professionals, they start to strip away the things that weigh them down and cause them so much psychic and physical harm. This process is not without pain and stress, but the result - if the hoarder is willing to fight their way through it - is so much better.
Stripping away the excess that weighs us down - isn't this the very process that we seek to follow in Lent?
We do it in small ways when we "give something up for Lent." Usually it's drinking or chocolate or something small - lately, I've had friends who gave up FaceBook or playing video games for Lent. The common theme, whether what we give up is small or large, is this: strip away the things that are extraneous to our lives, the things that are really unimportant but loom large in our own minds, the things that keep us from being fully who God has made us to be. If you're spending hours glued to FarmVille of BeJeweled Blitz, you're not living into your full potential as a child of God, and you certainly are not doing the work of God in the world. If you're more worried about when you're going to go get your next caramel macchiato (hold the whipped cream, because it's Lent, after all), you are not that fully realized child of God. If you're spending time thinking about that box of chocolates that's in the pantry, calling your name, you're not listening for God's voice.
And so we strip away those things for Lent, partly because we expect to sacrifice something dear to us during this season of self-examination, but also because we realize that the things that loom large in our minds are not about God, they are about our own petty needs.
We realize we need an intervention to remove the extraneous wants and musts that clutter our souls and get in the way of our relationship with God.
Lent gives us the excuse and the tools to do just such a thing, and it also gives us the ultimate model of stripping away.
It is Jesus, of course. He is in this, as in all things, the perfect model.
He has been traveling light throughout his active ministry, and has been advising his followers to do the same (Go, and take nothing with you, not even a second tunic…sell your belongings and give them to the poor). And in this final part of the story, what little he has is stripped away as well.
His companions abandon him. His sense of physical privacy is torn from him as his garments are torn by the whip with which he is flogged. His appearance, always so riveting to those who have witnessed his teaching, is marred by deep scratches from the crown of thorns and bruises from rough handling. The final indignity is the removal of his robes, so that as he is nailed to the cross, he wears only a linen undergarment. Everything is gone, stripped away: the adulation of the crowds as he rode into Jerusalem the prior week, the fellowship and love of his followers at that last supper, the voice of his heavenly father like thunder proclaiming him as his son, the hope for a better life in the hearts of the oppressed Jews of Roman-occupied Israel.
And in his last moments, when he cries out, it seems he wonders if his heavenly Father has abandoned him: “Eloi, eloi, lama, sabachthani! My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The anguished cry of a dying man with nothing left….
…and yet there was something left – that divine spark of love, of willingness to allow it all to be stripped away so that we might be redeemed from our sins.
It was a moment that came back to me as I recently re-read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Papers and Letters from Prison.” Bonhoeffer, was, as our Lutheran friends know so well, a Lutheran pastor whose opposition to Hitler’s regime led to his arrest and subsequent execution. While he was in prison awaiting his death, he wrote, and in the latter letters, he stripped away from himself the extraneous things that he no longer needed. He sent letters to his parents instructing them to give away his clothes. He grieved what was coming – the wish to have a child so that he might not die without leaving a trace of himself – but he faced it. He knew that what he had done, and what was about to happen to him, was what was necessary and right.
And so, the prison doctor said, before he went to the gallows Bonhoeffer removed his prison clothes and knelt in prayer.
Did he ask if the cup could be passed from him? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t doubt it. No one goes to their death without wishing for a little more time. But his process of stripping away that which he no longer needed was the purest expression of his acceptance that only God’s love really mattered.
On this Good Friday, we see Jesus stripped of all except his love. He needed nothing more to complete his work. For us, who sometimes think we can be defined only by what we want to have, by our material possessions, it might serve us better to remember what we really need. Just God’s love, nothing more, nothing less.
Everything else can be stripped away.