Before And After: Transfiguration 2015

Exodus 34: 29-35
II Peter 1: 13-21
Luke 9: 28-36

This morning’s Old Testament story of Moses’s face shining with glory after coming down from the mountain of God happens shortly after the incident of Aaron making the golden calf that was worshipped by the former slaves, causing Moses to smash the tablets of law that God gave him the first time they met on the mountain. This morning’s gospel story of Jesus shining with glory happens the day before his disciples fail to heal a boy of demon possession, a failure that Jesus attributes to their perverseness and lack of faith. So in these two stories, we have the glory of God shown both before and after major instances of human faithlessness.

Though not specifically stated in these scriptures, it could be inferred that the glory of God shining from Moses’s face was meant to reassure the people that even after their infidelity, God was still in their presence and was still guiding them. Similarly, it has often been assumed that the incident of Jesus’s transfiguration was meant to strengthen the disciples and prepare them for the crucifixion, even though they would be unfaithful many times before and after it.

So it is still with us. Like Aaron, we make our own gods out of the things we can accomplish, rather than trusting in the true God to guide us. And like the disciples, we often lack the faith to cast out the demons that hurt us and those around us. But even with all that faithlessness on our part, God still loves and cares for us, and gives us signs to strengthen us and reassure us of his presence in our lives. We may not see Moses or Jesus shining with glory, but we can, if we choose, see God’s glory in the wonderful universe around us. We can see God’s love and care for us in our family and friends, and even in strangers who treat us with kindness. Sometimes those signs are hard to see and understand, especially when it seems that the universe is being cruel to us, or when those around us abuse us or are lost to us.

That is why Jesus gives us another sign of God’s glorious presence in our lives. Every time we gather at the table up here, God shows his presence in our lives by feeding us with himself. We not only gather together with Jesus to share a meal with him, we partake of his being as he freely gives his body and blood to us. The very life of God is given to us, and since we gather together with others at the table, we are assured not only of God’s presence in our own lives, but also of God’s presence in the lives of all those who share in the meal. The meal we are about to consume at this table is not merely some kind of symbol of our life with Jesus (although it is that); it is a tangible conduit of his presence in us and in our world. We are what we eat, and as we partake of the life of Jesus, we grow ever more into his likeness as we take that likeness into our own small corner of the universe, bringing God’s shining glory to those who need it.

We will still be unfaithful many times before and after this meal, just like the people in our scripture readings. We might not be very good at seeing God’s glory shining on the faces of those who gather here with us, and they might not be able to see it in ours. But the more we know the glory is there, the more apt we are to see it and show it to others. We will fail many times at seeing and showing God’s glory, but that must not stop us from our slow growth in trying to do so. The glory is not our own, it is God’s, but it is freely given to us. May we take it with joy and assurance that, instead of the short glimpses that we catch now every once in a while, one day we will see it fully and forever. AMEN

 

Proper 12 Year B: More Than This

II Kings 4:42-44
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

We have so much already, and God wants to give us more. The only thing stopping us from receiving all that God has for us is our own stubbornness in wanting something other than what God gives. God gives us the universe, but we want so much less.

Yes, the world is full people who have no food, no house, no clean water, no reliable compassionate government. The reason that is so is because somewhere down the line, someone or someones have not gratefully received what God has given them and have instead greedily and fearfully taken more than they needed, keeping it from other people who do need it. Natural disasters can happen, but most often human want and misery is caused by other humans.

That is completely unnecessary. There is no need for fear or greed. God gives us the universe. But, we want so much less, so we create misery in the world. We all do it to some extent – we are all caught in the web of sin and we all contribute to the web of sin.

But we can all do things to untangle the web of sin. Jesus, of course, has ultimately dissolved it, but right now we are still feeling its effects. We know we can all give to charity organizations and volunteer to help people and vote responsibly and recycle and waste less. But we can also be good to the people around us – cleaning up our messes and griping less about petty things and sharing work.

We can’t save the whole world all at once – that is God’s job and he has already done it – but we can make our little corner of the world better and we can make the entire world a little better with the help of others around the world. Like the gospel story, we can give our fish and bread and let God take care of the rest. We can let go of fear and greed and, as Paul says in our second reading this morning: “be filled with all the fullness of God.”

It is not easy. We are like the disciples in the boat – worried about life and even more worried when we see Jesus coming toward us because we know that he will ask us to do something that we think can’t possibly do us any good.

Of course, what he asks us is the only thing that can do us any good: fear not, share your bread and fishes, let God fill you.   AMEN

Proper 5 Year B: Talking Serpent

Genesis 3:8-15
II Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35

The story we heard in our first reading from the book of Genesis has always puzzled me. We heard only a part of it, but the whole thing is familiar to most people: God puts the first humans in a garden and lets them eat anything but the fruit of one tree (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil), but the humans eat it (they are convinced to do so by a talking serpent), and so are thrown out of the garden. The parts that puzzle me are basically everything in the story, but especially: why did God put that tree there if it was so important that they not eat it? and why did God not want them to have the knowledge of good and evil? The first question is easily answered by saying that it is a Bible story, so we should expect weird things like that.

The second question is what has really always bothered me – a lot. Why did God not want them (and by them I mean us) to have the choice between good and evil? Did God really want a race of infants? Did God want to protect us from ourselves or from others (and even so, could God not have protected innocent people from evil and yet still allowed others to choose it?) Wasn’t it really a good thing that they disobeyed and in so doing made us more fully human by allowing us to be free moral agents? Isn’t it really better for God to have creatures who can chose to do good rather than creatures who have no choice but to do good (and is that really good anyway?)?

I sure am glad that they disobeyed God. Maybe that is what God wanted all along and was finally relieved and overjoyed that after so many prehistoric eons his children finally decided to grow up and look at the world around them (one might say that was not only the day we grew up, but also the day we were born). Of course, we do not yet see the world as it really is, but we have a better view of it now than before the fruit was eaten. Of course, we do not always choose good, but at least now we have a choice, and so when we do choose to not do evil, it really is good.

The Fall (as the tree incident is often called) was not the only day that humans were born or grew up. We have had many births: creation, fall, Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost are all birthdays for the human race as we slowly grow into our vocations as Children of God. In the story this morning, they all blamed each other for what happened. The same thing happens to us – people do things that cause us troubles, but those troubles (as bad as they can be and even if they are not our own fault) can all be catalysts for further growth. When those bad things happen, (just like in the story) God finds us, clothes us, and puts us somewhere we can get to work, never letting us go back to what we knew before. Of course, unlike in the story, God does not force all of that on us now – we can go on living sadly in our broken paradises if we so choose. Or, we can look at what has happened, see the good and the evil (like eating from the tree), and use all of that to grow. It is not easy, but years later it does make for a good story, just like in the Bible.   AMEN

One Table: Corpus Christi 2015

Deuteronomy 8:2-3
I Corinthians 11:23-29
John 6:47-58

There have been too many quarrels about how the bread and wine that is used at celebrations of the Lord’s Supper is or becomes the body and blood of Christ. It is difficult to see much good that has come from all the bickering over this question. The eucharist, which is supposed to be an act of remembrance that serves as a source of unity and joy, is instead (for many people) a source of conflict and division. Why have we not more often followed the example of Jesus on this question? When some of the people asked: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”, Jesus did not answer with explanations and theories, he simply told them to eat.

There are some instructions concerning the proper way to celebrate the eucharist which have come down to us through scripture and other tradition, and we should expect ourselves and other Christians to follow these instructions, but we must do so with the full knowledge that we are not doing exactly the same things as Jesus and his friends did that night. We just don’t have or know all the customs that Jesus and his friends had, but we can do what we can to be faithful to the request that we eat and drink together in remembrance of Jesus. We heard some instructions about how to celebrate the eucharist from Paul’s Letter to Corinth in our second reading this morning. The Corinthians were having trouble in their celebrations of the eucharist, so Paul is trying to help them, and if you read the few paragraphs before our passage this morning, the trouble that he mentions has nothing to do with academic arguments over sacramental theology – the trouble is the fact that poor people and rich people were being treated differently at the meal. Paul tells the Corinthian Christians that this division shows contempt for the church of God, and that their improper celebration of the Lord’s Supper brings judgment upon them. He actually says that they bring judgment upon themselves by eating and drinking without discerning the body. The Body that they were incorrectly discerning is not only a reference to the Last Supper where Jesus took the bread and said: “this is my body”, it is also a reference to the people who were sharing that bread, for in the same letter to Corinth a few paragraphs later, Paul says: “You are the body of Christ.” As Augustine of Hippo once said: “There you are upon the table…there you are in the cup.” (sermon 229) We need to have that in mind when we come together at the table up here – just as the bread that we eat up here is the Body of Christ (how and why we don’t know), so the people around the altar eating the bread are the Body of Christ (how and why, we don’t know).

We treat the consecrated bread from the altar with respect and reverence, as we should. However, if we do that, we should also treat each other with just as much respect. Reverence toward one form of Jesus is mocked by disrespect toward the other. We know we don’t always reverence each other as we should, but we also know that we are trying to grow so that we do. We also have the sure hope that the more we come together and believe together at the altar, the more we will be changed from the inside so that our outside actions match our desire, and that hope is met with grace.

We can also work from the outside in order to help our inward desires become more Christlike, and that outward work is also met with grace. There is some help in this regard from our reading in Deuteronomy this morning. Moses is speaking to the Hebrews as they prepare to cross the Jordan into their promised land. He asks them to keep all the commandments – not out of fear of God, but because those commandments will help them live in increasing joy and prosperity. He reminds them that the hardships they encountered while wandering in the wilderness were a means of preparing them for their life in the promised land. One of the ways of preparation was to allow them to hunger so that they would have to rely on God to feed them. Moses said this was a form of discipline.

Discipline is a means of preparation for something. Maybe if we accept the discipline of treating each other with respect as the Body of Christ, even when it is difficult or when we don’t want to or when we don’t feel like it or when the respect is not returned, then we will be prepared to enter our promised land of life with Jesus. Actually, we will already be there, and our families, our monastery, our nation and our world will truly be a land flowing with milk and honey. So, as God fed the Hebrews with manna, may we now be fed with the living bread from heaven, and may we do our best to see Jesus in that bread and in the people around us. Both tasks are difficult, but all we are asked is to take and eat.   AMEN

Friends of God: St. Benedict’s Day 2015

Genesis 12: 1 – 4a
Ephesians 3: 14 – 19
John 15: 9 –17

We are God’s friends. We just heard Jesus say: “I do not call you servants any longer… I have called you friends… “. It is good to be with friends. When we are with friends, we can be ourselves without worrying about appearances. We can do ordinary, everyday things and find great satisfaction in them: sitting on the couch, riding around in the car with no particular destination, goofing off at work, talking about silly or stupid things, or maybe not talking at all. Friendships thrive on the ordinary, everyday things in life, not on the spectacular. Spectacular things may happen, but they can not be the basis of friendship, because spectacles don’t last, and neither do those things based upon them.

And our friendship with God is meant to last. Right before Jesus calls his disciples friends, he says “abide in my love”. Right after he calls them friends, he tells them to “bear fruit, fruit that will last”. Both abiding and bearing fruit take time and require stability. They can’t be rushed, and they involve a lot of unspectacular, everyday work. We might not think of abiding taking a lot of work, but just think of all the people you know who can’t sit still for five minutes, much less keep the same address for a year or two. We might have a better concept of the labor involved in bearing fruit, not merely from the viewpoint of having a summer garden, but even more so of planting and tending an orchard or vinyard. Abiding in God’s love and bearing fruit are much the same: they take a lot of work, patience, fortitude, and time, and they might not be the most glamorous thing to do, but they are what God our friend has asked of us.

We heard Paul writing to the Ephesians about abiding and bearing fruit when he prays that they “may be strengthened in their inner being… and that Christ may dwell in their hearts… as they are being rooted and grounded in love.” All of that suggests a lengthy process, not a one shot emotional or spiritual rocket to heaven. Rockets may go off every now and then, but they are not necessary, because heaven is not a place we need to get to – heaven is a place we need to cultivate and abide in. If we abide in Jesus, and allow him to abide in us, then heaven can and should be wherever we are, and that is why we need to work so patiently to bring it to fruition.

We bring heaven to our world in simple ways; making God’s love a concrete thing for those around us. A tv preacher once said an unusually smart thing by commenting that people don’t make love in bed, they celebrate love in bed. Love is made earlier in the day by cooking, cleaning, and otherwise earning a living. That’s what we should do as God’s friends – at home, at work, in the monastery or at our parish – making love for and with others by doing our simple, daily round of chores in peace and joy, thereby slowly and surely helping to bring heaven to those around us. Every once in a while we might have the chance to do something spectacular, and of course we should do the best we can when that happens, but we shouldn’t be disappointed if the opportunity never occurs. As Mother Teresa of Calcutta said: “we don’t need to do big things, we only need to do the little things with love”. The big things might seem more important and heroic, but in the end they are much easier than the little things, because the little, everyday, ordinary things never end, and they can easily become drudgery if not done in thoughtfulness and love.

The story of Abram which we heard today is a good example of patiently abiding and bearing fruit. It may sound strange to say that a man who spent his entire adult life wandering around the middle east is a good example of patiently abiding, but Abram’s home was in God, no matter where he pitched his tent. Abram lived in God’s promise through good times and bad, through doubt and surprise, and because of his constancy, produced fruit that is still blessing the world. A lot of spectacular things happened while Abram traveled (including having his name changed to Abraham), and we read about them to help us in our life with God, but it was the ordinary, everyday work that made those big things possible: pulling down the tents, setting them up again, grazing and watering the flocks, finding suitable places to camp, calming fights between wives and concubines. That’s a lot of hard work, even with all his slaves. We should be thankful for his work and patience, and we should follow his example.

And so today, in that spirit, we remember one of God’s most unspectacular of saints —Benedict. He is not very popular, although he is becoming more so. Most people don’t know what he did. When people look for an icon or medal bearing his image, they usually have to search through pages of catalogues filled with pictures and stories of several other more glamorous saints, and even then are lucky to find anything in his memory (although it is getting easier to do that, also). However, the work that he did in setting forth a way of life based on patiently abiding in Christ and bearing fruit from that relationship has had long term effects that most of those other more popular figures can’t claim. We should be thankful for his work and patience, and follow his example, bringing God’s love to our world as best we can in our own time and place with joy, constancy, and peace. And now in his memory and honor as we continue our festival of the mundane, let us with thankful, ordinary, everyday hearts prepare to meet at this familiar table for yet one more meal with the God who calls us “friend”. AMEN

 

Lent III Year B: People Are More Important Than Rules

Exodus 20:1 — 17
I Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2: 13 — 22

We hear the saying a lot: “People are more important than rules.”, and it is a good thing to hear and remember. Rules are good, but people are always more important. That upsets us sometimes, because we all know how much easier it is to follow a set of rules than it is to consistently love other people and treat them with kindness and compassion. We sometimes forget that the reason we have rules is to help us live richer and deeper lives, both individually and corporately, and instead of using the rules to free us from our more harmful tendencies, we fall into the trap of becoming slaves to the rules, fearful of breaking them.

One area where that commonly occurs is in our relationship with God, or our spiritual life, if you would like to call it that. Human history is filled with examples of hatred, persecution, and even war caused by disagreements concerning religious matters. Sadly, many of these unfortunate episodes are sparked by disagreements over surprisingly petty things: the proper way to hold one’s hand while crossing oneself, the use of musical instruments in public worship services, the wearing of neckties by men. Of course, these minor incidents are only the excuses needed to start the trouble – the real reasons are an abundance of fear and a lack of love. We are fearful of breaking the rules and upsetting God, so we forget about loving other people. Yet, as Christians we say that God’s most complete revelation is not as a set of rules, but as a person – Jesus.

We see Jesus today as he comes to the temple in Jerusalem, which was supposed to be a focal point in the nation’s relationship with God; the place where God and the world met. He sees it filled with people making business deals to help them meet their ritual duties. This story often brings images of corrupt merchants being driven out by a Jesus who is angered because they are taking advantage of the people coming to the temple to worship. However, we shouldn’t automatically jump to that conclusion. It may very well be that many of these merchants were not cheating their customers – they were simply selling them the materials they needed to fulfil their religious obligations. People would travel long distances to the temple, and transporting the animals needed for sacrifice was sometimes not feasible, so they would bring money (no less a sacrifice) to the temple and then exchange it for the prescribed animal. In a similar fashion, those who came to give money could not offer the common currency, since it contained forbidden images – perhaps that of the emperor or a pagan deity. So they exchanged the money they had (once again, often not a small sacrifice) for acceptable temple coins. Of course there probably were some cheats among the merchants in the temple courtyard, and there most likely were some shady business deals going on. But in all likelihood, many of the people were quite sincere in what they were doing – trying to follow the rules as best they could.

If that is the case, then Jesus’s actions might seem a little rash. That notion might make some people uncomfortable, but if we truly believe that Jesus is God in human form, then we shouldn’t be surprised when he acts like a human being. Jesus is frustrated by what he sees: so much worry and fuss over the details of religion, while the essence of it – love – is so easily forgotten. In fact, some of the religious laws that had slowly come into being over the centuries since the exodus from Egypt and the Ten Commandments were so difficult to obey that many of the poorer people could not fulfill them, and the minority of the people who could looked down upon them as sinners. Jesus was witnessing the triumph of rules over people, and he is so grieved by it that he not only disrupts some of the details of the temple worship, he calls into question the temple itself.

He does not say the temple, or any of its laws and rituals, is bad. He merely asserts the authority of another temple: his body, where God and the world were united. By doing so, he upholds the sanctity of all human bodies as temples of the most high God. After all, we are made in the image of God. Furthermore. God was made in our image when God lived a human life as Jesus of Nazareth. Because of creation, we bear God’s image; because of the incarnation, God bears our image. We are doubly holy temples, where God and the world meet; each one of us bringing the presence of God into our world as we become channels of peace, love, joy, and health.

We have rules now in our society and church that are different from some of the biblical laws – that is fine, we are in slightly different times and situations. Still, the rules are there to help us grow in our vocations as temples, but we must never forget that it is the people who are holy, not the rules – no matter how good the rules are. That does not give us the license to follow only those rules that we choose to obey, but it does give us the responsibility to follow them prudently and mindfully – purposely using them as tools to help us grow in love for our God, our neighbors, and ourselves – which as we recall, Jesus says is the essence of all religious laws.

As living temples, we have built into us all the requirements we need to fulfil that law, even though we might not always nave the inclination to do so. That is why we still study the biblical rules gaining insights into how they can help us live in our, own time and place, and that is why we pray seeking to know God and ourselves better as we build our relationship with God through time spent in silent conversation and contemplation. We also look at the current laws and regulations, both in our church and in our nation, to see now they might be changed or interpreted differently to help us live together in peace and flourish as the unique and wonderful individuals God has created us to be.

We have a wonderful reminder of our vocations as temples of God here at the altar. Soon we will have the opportunity to come to the table and receive concrete and visible signs of Jesus into our lives. We might not understand exactly how that happens, but by faith we can then take the Jesus in us and give him to others. As the altar is prepared, it is treated with great respect, as is the bread and wine that we believe becomes for us the body and blood of Christ – the life of God in humanity. It is right that we show such reverence to holy things, but only if we are prepared to show the same reverence to everyone we meet everyday of our lives, for they too are holy. It may be more difficult to respect those around us than it is to respect the special things at the altar, and that is why we need to be aware of the reason we come to this table. We do it in remembrance of Jesus – God’s revelation to us that people are important: far more important than any rules.

So let us make this trip, and every trip to the altar into a time of growth as we become more and more aware of the holiness of the Body of Christ on the table as well as in the people around us. Let us reverence each other and ourselves as God’s image. Let us bring God’s grace to our world while never forgetting to accept it from others, as we grow in love and truth as living temples.  AMEN

Take On Me: Holy Name Year B

Numbers 6:22-27
Philippians 2:5-11
Luke 2:15-21

It is eight days after Christmas and it is time to name and circumcise the child. By naming him we recognize that he is an individual person, and by circumcising him we recognize that he is part of a group.

We are all individuals and we are all parts of several groups. One group we are part of is the church: the community that has its origins in the people who hung around Jesus. That community has grown and changed over the years, and one of the biggest changes was when it finally decided to verbally express what it had been thinking, feeling, and praying all along: “Jesus is God.”

The community has spent a lot of time and energy trying to refine and define that expression, and in the process has sometimes lost sight of another thing they knew all along: “Jesus is human.”

“Jesus is human, Jesus is God.” Human life now is part of God – not only in the sense that everything is made by God, but now also in the sense that human life is actually a part of God’s life. Since human life now belongs to God, human life is holy. Jesus had a name (given to him eight days after his birth), body parts (circumcised eight days after his birth) and was part of a group (post-exilic Roman-occupied Palestinian Jews). Therefore, human names, body parts, and groups are holy.

We should treat all of those things as the holy things that they are. But we know we don’t and so we have these recurring celebrations to remind us of what we need to do. We also need to remember that holy simply means special – set apart for a special purpose (usually in terms of things set apart for God to use.) We as individuals, as physical bodies, as groups are specially purposed to be used by God – loving the world around us as we give of ourselves.

It is eight days after Christmas and it is time to be holy.   AMEN

Proper 29 Year A (Christ The King): The Kingdom of What Is

Ezekiel 34:11-17
Ephesians I:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

Our scripture readings this morning are about our relationship to God and to each other, reminding us to let God be God, and let others be themselves. When we do those things, then we can truly be ourselves, because we stop spending so much time and energy trying to take care of God’s business and the business of the people around us, giving us time to work on becoming the best person we can be. By doing that, we will truly bless the world and the people around us, and truly bless ourselves.

The prophet Ezekiel, whom we read first this morning, is reminding us that God is the shepherd and judge of all, and we are not. We should all be thankful for that, because God is a much better shepherd and much more merciful judge than any of us could ever be. As Ezekiel puts it: “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep … says the Lord God … I shall judge between sheep and sheep..,” Our job is to be sheep, not the shepherd. Of course, our job is to be the best sheep we can be, and to show others by example the best way to go, but we must never try to force them to go our way. Saying that is not a call to fatalism or not caring about others and the paths they follow; we can never just happily let people wander off onto ways that are dangerous (like sheep getting lost), but really the only way we can show people the best way is to go there ourselves and offer help to those who want to follow. We must also remember that just as there are many dangerous paths, there are also many good ones — the best path for us is not always the best one for others. As the song says: “We’re one, but we’re not the same.” (U2 — One)

In the gospel reading this morning, Jesus continues this idea of helping people along the way rather than forcing them to follow. He makes it clear that righteousness does not involve making people behave the way we think they should; righteousness involves offering help to people who need it. By offering help to people, we walk the path of righteousness, and others are free to follow. This is where the analogy of humans as sheep breaks down: humans are not dumb animals. We are free individuals made in the image of God and worthy of the utmost respect. Until we realize that fact and practice it as the guiding force in our relationships with others, we really can’t offer help to others, because truly helping people is in no way akin to throwing scraps to dogs. Our desire to help people must spring from the recognition that we are all equally unique children of God, that we all have something to offer others, and that others have equally valuable gifts to offer us. We are free to offer and accept gifts, but we can never judge their validity. God is the judge. In order to make a right decision, a judge must have all the information about the case, and God is the only one who ever really has all the information. For that we should be thankful, because as was stated before, God is a much more merciful judge than we could ever be,

Of course we can use our discernment and wisdom regarding the things that are offered to us, in order to decide if accepting them will be the best for our own growth. We should also use our wisdom and discernment regarding the paths that we see others following, so that we can warn them if they are heading toward danger. But we must always do those things with prayer and humility, making sure we are motivated by love, rather than by our own preferences, fears, and prejudices. Learning how to do this — how to make valid judgments to guide our actions and words rather than invalid judgments concerning the worth of others — takes a lot of prayer and honesty about ourselves, but it is work that is well worth the effort, because it helps to make the world a little better place.

There is a famous saying from Lord Acton in 1887: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The idea was not original to him; William Pitt in 1770 said: “unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it.” And before that Alphonse Lamartine said: “absolute power corrupts the best natures.” Of course the same idea was around long before these recorded instances, but they are all wrong – power does not corrupt us; we corrupt power. Things don’t corrupt people – we corrupt things. Power, like food, sex, and all the other good gifts from God are given to us to help us live good lives. Yet we sometimes (not always, maybe not most of the time) let those things ruin our lives and the lives of those around us. Only God has absolute power, and God is not corrupted by it .We should let God reign, not try to subvert God’s reign by assuming that we should judge others and make them follow the path we see fit. We should let God be God, let other people be themselves, and by doing so, let ourselves be ourselves.

We don’t do that because we are filthy pests crawling in the dust before the throne of a cruel God who rules according to arbitrary whims. We do it because our true dignity lies in the fact that we are children of God, and as heirs to the throne, we have a share in divine authority and power. So we must base all our actions on the integrity and legitimacy inherent in ourselves and everyone else as royal offspring. God rules by living with us, serving us, and showing us the right path by traveling it with us. The responsibility we have for each other should take the same form — leading by serving and acting, rather than by demanding and legislating.

Of course, we do have certain functions in society that put some in positions of authority over others – such as civil government, superiors in a monastic setting, and hierarchy in a work situation — and we should faithfully carry out our duties in those situations, whether it is to obey or to command or a little of both. Our world would soon fall to subhuman standards if those types of structures were not honored, and it will fall to subhuman standards if those who are given power choose to corrupt it. But as far as personal dignity and ultimate freedom go, we are all equals in the eyes of a God who also choose to partake of our equal status by living as one of us in Jesus. God is God, We are not. How lucky we are to be ourselves and no one else. May we be the best selves that we were created to be, and may we help others do the same.    AMEN

Proper 25 Year A: ABC

Leviticus 19:1-2,15-18
I Thessalonians 2:1-8
Matthew 22:34-46

It sounds so simple: “Love God, Love you neighbor, Love yourself.” Then why don’t we do it, and why are there so many different religions, denominations, books, sermons, and other means of trying to do that simple thing? – Love. Maybe it is because it is not so simple after all, or maybe it is because we turn it from being something simple into something complex and difficult.

We think Love is difficult because Love involves others, and others freak us out. With The Other, we get scared, or infatuated, or obsessed or repulsed (that includes The Other that is ourself). But it is really only the hurting, fearful shell that we have built around our true selves that finds Love difficult. So in order to keep the greatest commandment, we need to either get rid of the shell, or heal it, or at least learn to work around it. That is the difficult part – once we do that, Love is easy, because it is the natural state of our true selves underneath the fearful hurting shell. And since we all have different shells around us (some would call it the ego, or false self, or the flesh, or fallen man, or sin), we all need different ways of breaking through it – hence all the different traditions and methods of Learning to Love God, neighbor, and ourselves. But we all do need to do something to break through the shell, and we need to not negatively judge others for choosing a different method. We need to stick with our method and persevere even with the knowledge and faith in the biggest truth that it is God alone who heals and saves us. God does that because God is Love, and since we are made in the image of God, so are we.

Once we let Love out of our shells, we start seeing that others are Love, and they are also made in the image of God – they are not scary or repulsive or objects to possess or be possessed by. They are beautiful, and so are we.   AMEN

Pastors And Priests: Peter and Paul 2014

Ezekiel 34:11-16
II Timothy 4:1-8
John 21:15-19

Whether we like it or not, we are all pastors. The only choice we have in the matter is whether we will be good pastors, bringing others to God, or bad pastors, leading ourselves and others away from God. Of course, God is our ultimate leader and shepherd, as Ezekiel points out, and Jesus is the Good Shepherd, but if we say we are the Body of Christ, then we must recognize that some of that pastoral office falls on us. With that office comes authority and duty, both of which can either be burdensome or joyful. The vast majority of the time, our individual pastoral vocation is not expressed intentionally, but rather passively in the words and deeds that those around us hear and see.

We usually don’t know who is looking up to us for leadership, and we may never know. Most likely, the people looking to us as pastoral figures don’t know it, either – it is often unconscious. In the same manner, the people to whom we look for guidance will probably never know that we are following them. However, that doesn’t relieve any of us of our duty or authority. In fact, the knowledge that someone of whom we are unaware is learning from us should cause us to examine our lives to make sure we are setting a good example. That doesn’t mean that we should abandon our own personalities, it means that we should be always be growing into our complete, mature selves – the best unique individuals that God wants us to be. Then maybe the people around us will follow that example and be encouraged to mature in Christ, being filled with the fullness of the Godhead that Jesus brings to us.

We have heard from two good examples of pastoral leadership today: Peter and Paul. They didn’t have much in common beyond their Jewish ancestry and their relationship with Jesus. In other matters, they were often quite different. One was urbane and educated, the other uneducated. One was a citizen of the empire, the other not. They differed on their approach to spreading the gospel. They weren’t pals. However, their bond to Jesus and their desire to share him with others were far more important than their differences, and they seem to have realized that.

There are two themes in these scriptures today about Peter and Paul: perseverance and death. On the one hand, Peter is told repeatedly by Jesus to feed his sheep. On the other hand, Paul is in turn encouraging his young protege to “always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully…”(II Tim 4:5) “whether the time is favorable or unfavorable”(II Tim 4:2). Those two examples speak to us of perseverance – “feed my sheep in good times and bad, feed my sheep even while you are suffering, feed my sheep to the best of your ability.” We also see a chain forming as experienced pastors hand over their duties to others: from Jesus to Peter and Paul to Timothy, and eventually down to us. That is where the theme of death appears in today’s readings. Jesus mentions Peter’s eventual death and Paul talks about his own, but neither event is seen in a morbid or fearful way. Both deaths seem to be taken for granted (and why not, it’s going to happen no matter what we do), and therefore the need for perseverance is seen in a truer light – work while you can, because one day, you can’t – work while you can, and then let others take up the task. No heroic measures are necessary, simply the need to be the strongest link in the chain that you can be.

Paul mentions a crown coming to him from the Lord after all his work. Some people see this as a reward for all his efforts, but it might be better to see it simply as work itself. After all, he doesn’t call it a crown of riches or power, but a crown of righteousness. He has done the best he could, and that knowledge is the best reward he can have at his death. It is the best reward any of us can have: standing before God, knowing that although we are far from perfect, we did our best in our own time and in our own place. Maybe we faltered sometimes, but we got back up. Maybe we strayed and led others along, but we learned our mistake and found the right path again. Maybe we didn’t even find the right path, but were looking for it to the best of our ability. All of that takes perseverance and is not easy, but we must do it anyway. Of course we should never think that it is our good work that makes God love us. God loves us because God is love. We do the right thing because of that love, not the other way around.

We have a good book in our library by a very wise nun who talks about the importance of perseverance. (Being Nobody, Going Nowhere by Ayya Khema) She says that it is better to live and work with an attitude of constancy than with an attitude of patience, because patience implies that things might get better, while constancy asserts that it is perfectly alright if they don’t. Patience means that we are working hard and biding our time until something better comes along, while constancy means that we are working hard simply because it is the right thing to do, and when we do things simply because it is right to do them, then we can live contentedly in joy and peace, instead of merely waiting for joy and peace to come. It is a little like the difference between making our world heaven or making it purgatory.

Patience, constancy, perseverance – the words we use are not as important as the life we live. The important thing is that we take seriously our roles as pastors and priests to those around us who follow our example. We all know how hard it is to always do the right thing and to live with an attitude of joyful perseverance. That is why it is so important to realize that although we do have to put in a lot of work, the result of that work is not our responsibility. It is God working through and in us who makes the whole thing possible. We merely become channels of God’s love and grace for the world around us, doing our best to open up ever more to accept that grace and pass it on to others, and in the meantime growing in love so that we can then add our own to the mix. Then after a lifetime of growth as vessels of God’s love, we can joyfully pass that job on to others, confident in the knowledge that God can and will work through others just as he does through us.

So let us be thankful for those pastors who have gone before us, and for those who lead us now, and let us set good examples for those who will come after us. For at the same time that we are all part of God’s flock: straying at times, and always needing to be fed and protected, we are also God’s arms: gathering other sheep who have strayed, feeding those who are hungry, and leading them all to safety. May we do so with joy and thanksgiving, with constancy and confidence in the knowledge that the Lord is our shepherd; we shall not want. AMEN