Archives for October 2009

The path has unfolded before us once again, Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 25 (B) – October 25, 2009

(RCL) Job 42:1-6, 10-17 and Psalm 34:1-8 (19-22) (Track 2: Jeremiah 31:7-9 and Psalm 126); Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

Recipe for success: one part awareness, one part knowledge, one part motivation, one part action. Slowly add one ingredient at a time, gradually and with care. Then begin again. Note: you may be inspired to start over at any point in the process.

One might place knowledge before awareness, but without awareness how does knowledge develop? Once we are aware and know, it takes motivation to produce action.

This recipe for success is present in the lessons we’ve read today with one specific difference; where the accountability lies.

Our reading from Hebrews describes a sort of “designated hitter” concept and might be heard as supporting a hint of clericalism. Priests abound, and their work keeps them going. Their main purpose is to intercede for others. In this context, the recipe for success might be difficult because the action ingredient belongs to someone else. For some, this might be just fine. In fact, for some, not having the final action or burden for action enables a lack of accountability for individual relationship and success.

The gospel, on the other hand, provides us with an account of the recipe for success from the perspective of Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus was aware of the ministry of healing that Jesus had become well-known for at this point in the story. Bartimaeus asked to be healed, to be able to see again. And Jesus healed him.

These two stories lead us to interpret the recipe for success in two very different ways: one, giving over the final ingredient to someone else; and the other, total responsibility for our own outcomes.

Certainly each of these readings describes Christian life as the end product in a “Recipe for Success.” In our experience of our faith and tradition there have been times when we have relied on someone else to intercede for us. An example might include a reliance on a priest to connect us with God in worship although our Book of Common Prayer would actually suggest that we are all equal in this process. Total engagement with the mission and ministry of the church is what we are all called to be.

Our Anglican tradition actually encourages a balance between scripture, reason, and tradition suggesting an individual and corporate collaborative awareness and knowledge, not a reliance on intercessors or interpreters. Certainly we must be aware of the scholarly perspectives throughout history that guide us in understanding scripture. Throughout history we have become aware of just how important the scholarly perspectives are that impact our tradition and expression of our faith. There seems to be some difficulty when we begin to apply reason to the mix, as we have seen in recent debates.

But back to our recipe for success – the one thing that is certain is that awareness and knowledge, the first two ingredients, are essential to the end product.

Once we put the two readings together, our recipe for success might lead us to understand that it takes both individual and corporate restoration to wholeness for “real” success.

Using the metaphor of sight in the gospel story we can understand that physical sight is not required to produce faith. In fact, Bartimaeus is blind but his faith is strong. He does not seem to condition his faith on whether or not he can be healed or whether or not Jesus will stop and heal him. But he asks Jesus for healing or physical sight so he can be fully restored to wholeness.

Throughout history, God has worked miracles through political forces, social action, and ordinary events, meeting people where they are and restoring them to wholeness. Whether or not we fall and call out from the gutter like Bartimaeus or turn ourselves around with a heightened sense of awareness and knowledge motivating us to act justly and walk humbly with our God, the product is faithful living.

Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Of course Jesus had already heard Bartimaeus calling out to him and asking for healing, for sight. Why would he have to ask again what he was asking? Is it possible that the question served to emphasize the faithfulness, the confidence that Bartimaeus felt? Was Jesus asking again so that his disciples would reconsider their own faith, possibly suggesting that some self-reflection was in order?

It may be that Jesus also wanted to point out that the disciples, his followers, need not act as his agents, screening out whatever they felt Jesus should not attend to. Brian McLaren’s book Everything Must Change: When the World’s Biggest Problems and Jesus’ Good News Collide makes a strong case for considering the obvious here. “The kingdom of God is not simply a new belief or doctrine that can be patched into an old way of life; it is, rather, a new way of life that changes everything.”

Mary Anderson writes in her Christian Century article “Blind Spots“:

“Some changes are no doubt fast and immediate, but the changes that endure unto the generations are the result of a process of human or divine origin.”

Arriving at the place of restored wholeness can only happen through the process of self-reflection and self-knowledge. We cannot diminish the process and in fact it is the journey toward wholeness that is often the grace that binds us to God and each other, sustaining our faith and transforming us as God’s own. This level of transformation can only be known if we are honest and open – seeing clearly what is before us and giving way to those things that are best put into the past.

Reflection and restoration complement each other serving as process, as guideposts, which result in our personal journey toward life in Christ and the faithfulness like that of Bartimaeus. We are held accountable in our corporate lives as believers, being for one another the reminder, the emphasis the looking glass, to see those things that we may not be able to see or acknowledge. No matter how much we trust each other, though, this is a difficult scenario – one that we see being played out in the life of the church today.

We can be tempted to see the loss, the risk associated with this corporate interdependence and faithfulness. We have to be willing to let go of our rigidness, the hardened heart and embrace a new vision of ourselves and each other. We are always moving from blindness to sightedness, from unfaithfulness to faithfulness. And our faithfulness is what leads us into action or mission, a major focus for our church.

As we move forward we must recognize our blind spots and look creatively at our corporate life, seeing it with new eyes. Only then will we be taking the path that transforms the process so that our recipe for success produces a new product.

There is no question that a new product is necessary. We recognize already at some level that the mission of the church is a corporate activity. But once again, we individually have to undergone the reformation process, the transformation into wholeness before we can corporately share that same process.

As with the readings today, we cannot rely on others to intercede for us and seek God’s blessing on our behalf. Waiting for this to happen, risks our own relationship with God. It is very obvious as we view the world around us that inaction on our part or reliance on someone else to be the instruments of God in our world, produces what I would venture to say is a less than perfect world. The time has come for us to change our awareness and anticipate just what kind of world we are leaving for our grandchildren.

We disciples of Jesus have vision problems. We sometimes describe our blindness as an inability to see the forest for the trees, but that’s a benign analysis. More worrisome is the inherited blindness of each generation, which so often assumes it is the best generation of all, with no lessons left to learn, only an inheritance to enjoy. This arrogance is the root of our blindness. We still need the miracle of restored sight. This is the time to follow the recipe for success once again – first individually, with the gospel as our guide; and then corporately, creating the new sight, the new vision for the church. We have so many gifts to share, why would we rely on someone else to do what God has called us all to do?

The path has unfolded before us once again. Ask for new sight just as Bartimaeus did, and then use what God has restored in you to transform the world.

 

— The Rev. Debbie Royals is a regional missioner for Native Ministry Development, based in the Diocese of Los Angeles. She is the Province VIII Indigenous People’s Network chair and a CREDO health faculty member.

God saved us to be servants, Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 24 (B) – October 18, 2009

(RCL) Job 38:1-7, (34-41) and Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37c (Track 2: Isaiah 53:4-12 and Psalm 91:9-16); Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45

James Hewett writes, “God did not save us to be a sensation. God saved us to be servants.”

Today’s gospel reading provides a remarkable contrast between sensation and servant. In this reading we hear the story of two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John, who make the request to Jesus to receive a position of prominence in the Kingdom: “Let one of us sit at your right, and one at your left in Glory” they ask of Jesus. The disciples’ impudence and lack of understanding is beyond belief. How could two people who are so close to Jesus miss the boat so completely? Did they forget the encounter with the rich man that occurred just before their request? Or the encounter with the little children? And have they not heard Jesus’ own prediction of what was soon to happen to him? In light of all of this, their request is truly astounding.

And it angers their fellow disciples. But what seems to anger the other disciples is not so much that James and John have misunderstood Jesus’ teachings – which could perhaps be justified – but that James and John went to Jesus requesting a place of power ahead of the rest of them. The other disciples do not seem to be acting out of righteous indignation; rather, it appears that they are jealous. And Jesus’ loving response to them all is to take the opportunity to contrast earthly greatness with divine greatness. Earthly greatness is defined as having power over, whereas divine greatness is defined as being servant to.

Today there are examples all around us of the secular quest for greatness and its often accompanying spectacular fall. Bernie Madoff is an obvious example of the quest for monetary power, but our country’s growing credit-card debt hints at how widespread the problem is.

In contrast to worldly greatness, to be great in God’s eyes is to be a servant modeled after Jesus’ own life of service. For many listeners, the story of James and John is disconcerting because if James and John, who knew Jesus personally, couldn’t incorporate his teachings into their lives, how on earth are we to do so?

These stories are a reminder for many of us that, try as we might, all too often our actions are more reflective of motivations of the secular world than the divine.

So how do we become better servants?

One way is by making sure that the motivation for our service is love. Eighteenth-century Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Secker said, “God has three sorts of servants in the world: some are slaves, and serve Him from fear; others are hirelings, and serve for wages; and the last are sons [and daughters], who serve because they love.”

In the week ahead, as you seek to serve God, check your motivation. Divine servanthood is always motivated by love.

Another way to become better servants is by being mindful of who it is that calls us to serve. We should remember that in all things we serve God, and God alone. By becoming more aware of God’s presence in everyday life, we can strive to understand that all we do is somehow of God. With this approach, even the most mundane tasks that might not usually be associated with our spiritual lives can be viewed as service.

One young mother recalls her difficult transition from paid employment to being a stay-at-home mother after the birth of her first child. A spiritual director assisted her in the process, instructing her to walk with the baby each day, being acutely aware of her surroundings and being alert to where God might be. She recalls seeing nature and the created order, as well as the frenetic pace of those around her, in a new way during these walks. She also began to see her tasks, such as the endless piles of laundry that had to be washed, as a service of love.

A third way to become better servants is by ensuring that our church is a “servant church.” Theologian Karl Barth discusses such churches in his book Dogmatics in Outline. Barth describes the living church as one that:

“proclaims the Gospel to every creature. The Church runs like a herald to deliver the message. It is not a snail that carries its little house on its back and is so well off in it that only now and then it sticks out its feelers and then thinks that the claim of publicity has been satisfied. No, the Church lives by its commission as herald. Where the Church is living, it must ask itself whether it is serving this commission or whether it is a purpose in itself.”

Is your congregation a living servant church? Does it have a clear understanding that it exists in service to Jesus? Do all actions stem from Jesus’ commission to proclaim the gospel? Do worship services, community outreach, and activities all have the possibility to transform those they touch? If not, then perhaps it might be time to begin a conversation about refocusing on Christ’s divine purpose for your congregation, because, after all, the mission of the church is the mission of Jesus Christ.

The story of James and John is disconcerting because even the most pious listeners can see a bit of themselves in the story. How many of us are able to truly base our lives and actions on the divine definition of greatness – servanthood?

Fortunately, this story closes with a message of hope. Jesus proclaims that the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus promises us that although we will all fall short, through his death we are redeemed.

And that is the Good News.

 

— The Rev. Suzanne E. Watson has worked at the Episcopal Church Center in New York for over three year in the areas of strategic planning and collaboration, Center direction, and small-church ministries. She has also served in congregations in New Zealand and Carmel, California. She is a graduate of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific and a proud mum of three teens and a tween.

For mortals it is impossible, but not for God, Pentecost 19, Proper 23(B) – 2009

(RCL) Job 23:1-9, 16-17 and Psalm 22:1-15 (Track 2: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15 and Psalm 90:12-17); Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31

“Then who can be saved?” they asked Jesus.

How often we ask ourselves that very question. Oh, yes, day to day we put on a good face and project an image of confidence to the world around us. Like the man in today’s gospel reading who seeks Jesus to ask how he might inherit eternal life, we like to believe we know all the answers and have done all the right things.

Jesus asserts that when the rubber meets the road, one must give it all away and follow him; but that strikes us as simply impossible. And like the man in the story, we are shocked and go away unhappy at best, frustrated and defeated at worst.

How true are the words from Hebrews:

“The word of God is living and active, sharper that any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.”

Deep down inside we know this to be absolutely true. We just wish Jesus, the Word made flesh, would save his ability to judge our thoughts and intentions for someone else. Anyone else.

Can’t it be enough simply to love Jesus? The disciples thought it was enough to follow him around, to have left home – family, friends, support, a bed of one’s own, the means to make a living.

It is curious, isn’t it, how Jesus is always upping the ante? And yet, from beginning to end, his program hinges on the foundational belief that in God’s reign the last will be first and the first will be last.

Now if Bill Gates with all his billions represents the first in this world, let’s say at number ten, and the poorest of the poor are at number one on a scale of one to ten, can we even begin to imagine, as Jesus urges us to do, what it would look like if this world were turned upside down? That is the first task here.

The second task is to imagine what it would be like to live at number five. Why number five? Because those who live at number five will feel the least disruption in their lives as the Kingdom of God turns everything upside down.

So the ultimate question may be, How do I get to number five? What does the journey to number five look like?

Now on a global scale, most of us in this country, not all of us, live somewhere nestled in around number nine. So what does an individual or a culture need to do, how do we need to change, to scale things back to number five?

This may be where the power of the Word of God comes in: time spent reading, listening to, and meditating on the Word of God will work like a two-edged sword, dividing soul from spirit – judging the intentions of our hearts. For as the author of Hebrews observes, Jesus has in every respect been tested as we have, and is willing to offer us grace and mercy to find help in making this journey from nine to five.

One suspects it will be a journey about common wealth, rather than individual wealth; about the salvation of the whole world, rather than individual salvation.

The man in our gospel reading today who came to Jesus evidently felt his salvation was in all that he had, not in all that he was. At the end of the day, says Hebrews, and Jesus, it is who you are that matters more than what you have.

This is very difficult to grasp – especially in a culture that urges us to acquire as much as we can get. It is difficult to grasp that letting go may be the most important lesson of all on this journey from nine to five.

We just might discover as we read, listen to, and meditate on God’s Word, that God’s own economic plan, a plan that revolves around the tithe and the Sabbath, is truly the meaning of life that we have been looking for.

Bishop Walker of Long Island recognizes four Holy Habits: tithing, weekly corporate worship, daily prayer and study of God’s Word, and keeping the Sabbath. These habits enable us to draw near to God, and as Paul’s letter to James urged a few weeks ago, “Draw near to God and God will draw near to you.”

Perhaps this can lead us to a closer understanding of what Jesus answers when they ask, “Who then can be saved?”

“For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

Drawing near to God seems to be the best way to make the journey. In the end, the meaning of life cannot be learned or understood. What is needed is fidelity to a way of living that transcends understanding.

By the Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek
The Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek is rector of St. Peter’s Church in Ellicott City, MD, a parish in the Anglo-Catholic tradition. He also leads stewardship events for parishes, dioceses, clergy conferences, and diocesan conventions. He has long been involved in the work of The Episcopal Network for Stewardship (TENS), and the Ministry of Money. He frequently uses music and storytelling in his proclamation of the Word. E-mail: kkub@aol.com.

Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 23 (B) – October 11, 2009

(RCL) Job 23:1-9, 16-17 and Psalm 22:1-15 (Track 2: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15 and Psalm 90:12-17); Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31

“Then who can be saved?” they asked Jesus.

How often we ask ourselves that very question. Oh, yes, day to day we put on a good face and project an image of confidence to the world around us. Like the man in today’s gospel reading who seeks Jesus to ask how he might inherit eternal life, we like to believe we know all the answers and have done all the right things.

Jesus asserts that when the rubber meets the road, one must give it all away and follow him; but that strikes us as simply impossible. And like the man in the story, we are shocked and go away unhappy at best, frustrated and defeated at worst.

How true are the words from Hebrews:

“The word of God is living and active, sharper that any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.”

Deep down inside we know this to be absolutely true. We just wish Jesus, the Word made flesh, would save his ability to judge our thoughts and intentions for someone else. Anyone else.

Can’t it be enough simply to love Jesus? The disciples thought it was enough to follow him around, to have left home – family, friends, support, a bed of one’s own, the means to make a living.

It is curious, isn’t it, how Jesus is always upping the ante? And yet, from beginning to end, his program hinges on the foundational belief that in God’s reign the last will be first and the first will be last.

Now if Bill Gates with all his billions represents the first in this world, let’s say at number ten, and the poorest of the poor are at number one on a scale of one to ten, can we even begin to imagine, as Jesus urges us to do, what it would look like if this world were turned upside down? That is the first task here.

The second task is to imagine what it would be like to live at number five. Why number five? Because those who live at number five will feel the least disruption in their lives as the Kingdom of God turns everything upside down.

So the ultimate question may be, How do I get to number five? What does the journey to number five look like?

Now on a global scale, most of us in this country, not all of us, live somewhere nestled in around number nine. So what does an individual or a culture need to do, how do we need to change, to scale things back to number five?

This may be where the power of the Word of God comes in: time spent reading, listening to, and meditating on the Word of God will work like a two-edged sword, dividing soul from spirit – judging the intentions of our hearts. For as the author of Hebrews observes, Jesus has in every respect been tested as we have, and is willing to offer us grace and mercy to find help in making this journey from nine to five.

One suspects it will be a journey about common wealth, rather than individual wealth; about the salvation of the whole world, rather than individual salvation.

The man in our gospel reading today who came to Jesus evidently felt his salvation was in all that he had, not in all that he was. At the end of the day, says Hebrews, and Jesus, it is who you are that matters more than what you have.

This is very difficult to grasp – especially in a culture that urges us to acquire as much as we can get. It is difficult to grasp that letting go may be the most important lesson of all on this journey from nine to five.

We just might discover as we read, listen to, and meditate on God’s Word, that God’s own economic plan, a plan that revolves around the tithe and the Sabbath, is truly the meaning of life that we have been looking for.

Bishop Walker of Long Island recognizes four Holy Habits: tithing, weekly corporate worship, daily prayer and study of God’s Word, and keeping the Sabbath. These habits enable us to draw near to God, and as Paul’s letter to James urged a few weeks ago, “Draw near to God and God will draw near to you.”

Perhaps this can lead us to a closer understanding of what Jesus answers when they ask, “Who then can be saved?”

“For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

Drawing near to God seems to be the best way to make the journey. In the end, the meaning of life cannot be learned or understood. What is needed is fidelity to a way of living that transcends understanding.

 

— The Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek is rector of St. Peter’s Church in Ellicott City, Maryland, a parish in the Anglo-Catholic tradition. He also leads stewardship events for parishes, dioceses, clergy conferences, and diocesan conventions. He has long been involved in the work of The Episcopal Network for Stewardship (TENS), and the Ministry of Money. He frequently uses music and storytelling in his proclamation of the Word. 

How much should I give to the Church?, 18 Pentecost, Proper 22 (B) – 2009

October 4, 2009

(RCL) Job 1:1; 2:1-10 and Psalm 26 (Track 2: Genesis 2:18-24 and Psalm 8); Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16

“How much should I give to the Church?”

This is the dilemma faced by most Episcopalians each year around this time as they consider their pledge and annual giving to the work of the church. As a Sunday bulletin insert from the Ecumenical Stewardship Center explains the issue, “People are often asked to give the church a tithe, a tenth of income. But a tenth of what income? Gross income? Net income? Earned income? Investment income? It’s just too confusing.”

So here is a radically different way of going about this. Why not give it all – 100% – to the church, or better yet, to God?

Yes, you heard that right. Give 100% of your income, your treasure, to God and the work of the church. While you are at it, throw in your time and talent for good measure. Certainly makes stewardship a lot easier. You do not even need a calculator or a 1099 for this one. Hold nothing back.

How can you and I possibly do this?

Well, when you stop to think about it, we really do not have a choice. As the old saying goes, you can’t take it with you. There are no pockets in burial shrouds. That same Stewardship Center insert reminds us forcefully, “Everything will eventually be returned to God as its rightful owner anyway,” including our very lives. So why not be gracious about it and give it all back right now – lock, stock, and barrel?

Truth be told, probably only one person in all of Christian history has ever come close to succeeding at this. That is none other than the humble Saint Francis of Assisi, whose feast is celebrated in many churches today, on October Fourth. Having turned all of his possessions and great family wealth over to the poor and downtrodden of his community, Francis literally stood at the cathedral steps shivering in his skivvies until the mortified bishop came along and covered him with his robes.

Francis gloried in what he called holy poverty and even spoke of “Lady Poverty” as his bride in Christ. Unencumbered by worldly distractions and possessions, he experienced the utter freedom and abandon of “the little children” mentioned in today’s gospel account. Others soon came to join Francis in a life of simple community and prayer. They became known as Franciscans.

While such radical gospel living may have worked well enough for Francis and his followers centuries ago, it might prove a bit more problematic for us today, as well intentioned as we may be. So here is a suggestion.

Let’s pledge 100% of our income, and ourselves, to God.

But then, let’s make an honest inventory of what we need to survive – and even thrive – as a child of God. The Lord will understand this, as all the things we need come from God to begin with. We might want to keep that roof over our heads, so we will need money for the rent or mortgage payment. In today’s world, most of us will probably need a car to get to work and church and practically anywhere. So better put aside something for the car payment and gas and occasional repairs.

Then there is the matter of eating. Since we no longer live in an agrarian society as did Francis, we will need grocery money to feed ourselves and our family. And of course these days who could dare forget to figure in the high cost of health care and education? But after we have calculated out what we truly need and added in a little more for entertainment because “God loves a cheerful giver,” the rest will go to God and the work of the church. For most of us, this will probably come out somewhere around 10%. For a few, perhaps more.

Why go through this exercise? Why not just give the 10% in the first place and be done with it?

Well, you can certainly do that if you want to. And God bless you for it! But for the rest of us, it can be a worthwhile exercise to inventory our lives at least once a year, remembering that we “all have one Father,” as our lesson from Hebrews tells us. We are all God’s children.

Jesus demonstrates in today’s gospel account that it is to such as “the little children” gathered in his arms “that the kingdom of God belongs.” Little children of course know implicitly that “the kingdom of God” is the only treasure in life worth having – at least until the example of grown-ups teaches them otherwise. Alas many folks today, children and grown-ups alike, stand little chance of finding the kingdom amid the clutter of their busy lives filled with playthings and possessions too numerous to count. Like Francis, we all need to simplify. We need to remember the kingdom.

So if some Sunday morning you see your clergy and fellow parishioners, like Francis, standing around in their skivvies in front of church, you will know what happened.

 

— The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedus can be found most Sunday mornings in front of Saints Peter and Paul Episcopal Church in El Centro, California, where he is priest-in-charge.