Archives for February 2010

‘I must be on my way’, 2 Lent (C) – 2010

February 28, 2010

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35

As Jesus says in today’s reading from Luke, “I must be on my way.”

We Americans are a restless and mobile lot.

Ask around your parish community some Sunday morning at coffee hour, and you are likely as not to find fellow parishioners who are transplants from down the road and across the country. Some will have found their way to this community for work; others, for marriage or retirement. Still others may even now be charting their next family or career transition and the move it will entail. Home for many of us today is at best a loose and elusive geographical term: here today, there tomorrow.

In many societies life is far different.

In such cultures, home is where you are born; and home is where you die. The span between birth and death is often spent in familiar village or countryside settings, raising a family, plying a trade, and working the fields. The land itself is home – and it does not change all that much from one generation to the next. After all, land is not exactly exportable. Home is permanent, fixed, and local.

In the ancient world, the gift of land from king or ruler was itself the gift of home – of identity and belonging. It was certainly so for the ancient Israelites, who traced their ultimate origins to Abram’s epic journey from a place far away, to the land which the Lord promised to give him. “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans,” the Lord tells Abram in our first reading today, “to give you this land to possess.” In taking possession of the land and inhabiting it, Abram – later Abraham – and his descendants become the Lord’s own people.

Jesus treads this same land centuries later, “casting out demons and performing cures,” as he reminds the Pharisees and Herod, and by extension us, in our gospel account. He makes his way from his home in Nazareth – where he is rejected by his own townspeople – to the holy city of Jerusalem. In some sense, his passage serves to remind us of Abram’s journey centuries before. But the land promised to those who will heed Jesus’ voice does not consist of acres and square footage but of the very kingdom of heaven.

Abram marks the Lord’s covenant with him and his descendants by a sacrifice of heifer, goat, ram, turtledove, and pigeon. The Lord, present in “smoking fire pot and flaming torch,” passes solemnly among Abram’s gifts and once again affirms his covenant and the gift of land – of home. But the sacrifice that marks our Lord’s new covenant and the gift of the kingdom is not that of young, unblemished animals, but his own death.

“Today, tomorrow, and the next day, I must be on my way,” says Jesus in recognition of the fate awaiting him in Jerusalem. Not even the warnings of presumably friendly Pharisees that “Herod wants to kill you” can dissuade him from his work and mission. His poignant pronouncement over Jerusalem, “the city that kills the prophets,” becomes prophecy of his own death on the cross. “On the third day,” concludes Jesus, “I finish my work.” His journey comes to its end. But his death and resurrection mark also the beginning of faith and redemption for us as his people.

Lent is our annual reminder of this reality – of the lasting covenant that has been forged with us at the cross and of the “land” that has been given to us as our heavenly home. As Paul tells us in our second reading from his Letter to the Philippians, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Abram’s faith in God’s promise was reckoned “to him as righteousness.” Today, our faith in God’s word and promise is reckoned to us as sign and assurance of our true citizenship in heaven.

Whether we are inveterate homebodies or weary road-warriors, our Christian faith nevertheless calls us away from places of comfort and the familiar – just as the Lord’s word millennia ago called Abram forth from his home in “Ur of the Chaldeans.” Like Abram, we too must be on our way. As followers of Christ, our journey is a sharing in the way of sacrifice, in the way of the cross.

Our first reading begins: “The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid.'” The same words are spoken to us. We have nothing to fear. “As a hen gathers her brood under her wings,” so our Lord has gathered us, his people. We are the Lord’s own people, and our heavenly citizenship makes us all “brothers and sisters” to one another.

In Christ, we are at last home.

 

— The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedus is interim minister at The Episcopal Church in Almaden in San Jose, California.

‘The word is near you’, 1 Lent (C) – 2010

February 21, 2010

Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13

“The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart”

This past Wednesday we struck out into the desert spaces alongside Jesus, receiving a cross of ashes on our forehead or on our heart to begin the Lenten season.

Ash Wednesday calls upon our humanity. It reminds us that we are but dust and to dust we shall return. It reminds us of our own fragility. Today’s scriptures call to mind that same tenuous grasp we hold on life. They lay out the many ways we are called to respond to and from our humanity this Lenten season.

In the reading from Deuteronomy we are called to live with thankfulness. Though our hands have toiled the earth to bring forth fruits, it is the Lord who owns the land and has blessed us to inhabit it. We are called to be good stewards and to give back out of what we have been given.

In the psalm, we are called to trust in God’s mercy, to take refuge in the Lord. The fragility that we experience in our lives does not need to stir up fear and anxiety in us. We are freed by faith to take refuge, to trust, to be held safe in the arms of grace.

And finally Paul calls us to an incredible, empowering humility. “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek,” all who confess faith in Jesus Christ are opened to the possibility of life redeemed and reconciled to God. We are not saved by works or by merit, but simply and wholly by that grace that comes from orienting our lives toward Christ.

What will this Lenten season be for you, where you are, on your Christian journey toward Jerusalem? What of thankfulness, trust, and humility will you seek to help you as you progress toward new life in Christ Jesus?

“The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart”

Jesus didn’t strike out into the wilderness with a stack of scriptural commentaries, a pack of Nicorette, and an elliptical machine. “Driven out” by the Spirit, we might assume he left in a bit of a hurry: his wallet, cell phone, and keys still on the nightstand. His journey into the wilderness was a test in a way. And like most tests, he couldn’t use his notes.

He was naked, stripped down to simply his self. Faced with the incredible temptations of his human frailty, he was offered the easiest defense against that frailty: the ability to control – to create food where there is none, to rule with power, to defy his physical nature. But instead, Jesus stood firm in his humanity, clothed only with thankfulness, trust, and humility. Thankful for the nourishment that is not food, trusting in the God that does not need testing, and humble enough to obey the law given him by his ancestors and inspired by God, Jesus resisted temptation and in doing that prepared himself to begin his ministry.

For many people in our society, there is no greater fear than being naked in front of others. We are confronted by so many unrealistic and unnatural bodies in the media that the realness of our own bodies becomes frightening and shaming. Our lack of control, of youth, of power become reasons for hiding. And not just literally. We hide behind work, behind family, behind productivity and profitability. We hide behind our fears, and we hide behind our scars. It is natural in a world that is struggling to accommodate so many people that each of us as individuals can quickly become invisible. And when we become invisible, it’s easy to run into us, like furniture in a darkened room. So we hide.

This Lent challenge yourself, not to be more of who you feel the world is calling you to be: the easy and unrealistic thinner, fitter, smarter, and faster. Perhaps not even who your community or your family are calling you to be. I challenge you to be naked, to confront yourself with whom your God is calling you to be: frail, insignificant, humble, thankful, trusting, human.

What does human look like? It can be hard to see ourselves in a natural, liberating light. But this Lent, look. As Jesus looked upon himself and found in his frailty the strength and will to trust, thank, and bow. Perhaps that is as far as you will get this Lent, to look upon yourself. Perhaps that is as far as you need to get. Seeing ourselves, we begin to see those around us.

There is a triumphant entry, a table full of friends, a cross and a tomb waiting for every one of us. But for now, in the meantime, in this Lent time, simply look, and know that the Word is so very near to you, “on your lips and in your heart,” each one of us carrying Christ to each other.

 

— Jason Sierra is the Associate for Young Adult and Campus Ministries at the Seattle Office of the Episcopal Church Center. He holds a BA in American Studies from Stanford University and is a visual artist.

Our hearts and our treasures, Ash Wednesday (A,B,C) – 2010

February 17, 2010

Isaiah 58: 1-12; Psalm 103; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Reading Isaiah 58 knocks the breath out of our self-righteousness. The prophet’s words are addressed to all people and nations who claim belief in a God of justice and love. As citizens of this country and as people who carry the name of Christ, we are commanded to listen carefully. Ash Wednesday is a time for repentance, not just for us as individuals, but also for us as a people, a nation.

The words of Isaiah fall on our collective soul like a whip:

“Day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that
practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the
ordinance of their God.”

The prophet continues by zeroing in on all aspect of our failure to do justice:

• Serving our own interests
• Oppressing workers
• Quarreling and fighting among ourselves

How well we recognize all these failings, especially at this time of national unemployment and home foreclosures while the rich thrive.

We no longer practice fasting as the ancient Hebrews did – a fasting that God rejected because it was done only as a ritual by those who ignored the poor. We may not fast, but we do attend church, and we do claim to be a righteous nation – “the greatest nation in the world” is a phrase used across the land.

Yet we allow voices of hate, voices that despise the poor and the oppressed, to populate the airwaves. What would the prophet say about those voices? What would he say about the millions who listen to those voices? How many of us make it a Lenten discipline not to listen to voices on the radio or on television that spew hate and racism, that show admiration for the rich while despising the poor?

The prophet’s words were echoed centuries later by Jesus of Nazareth who responded to the call to loosen the bonds of injustice by the way he lived his life and by his death. Jesus, who called citizens of God’s kingdom only those who fed the hungry, who gave water to the thirsty, who clothed the naked, and who visited prisoners – not those who made a show of praying and giving alms.

On this day, when we allow ourselves to recognize our own faults, our manifold sins, our mortality, we are asked by the prophet and by Jesus to look at what really matters. We should not feel satisfied that just because we may have followed certain rituals, we have done what is just before the eyes of God.

On this day, the words of Jesus as recorded by Matthew, remind us not to be gloomy when we pray or when we work for the kingdom. He wants us to be joyful. Jesus wants us to remember “the least of these” not as a show but because we cannot do otherwise when we are faced with God’s demands and with God’s love.

Above all, in this cultural climate when the very rich are rewarded with bonuses while the poor lose their jobs, we are asked to remember where our treasure lies. Do we treasure things that perish, or is our treasure doing the will of the Father, a will that is never corrupted or co-opted or rewarded with gold?

Oh, let us on this Ash Wednesday wear the ashes with humility and repentance and with a determination not to be silent when the oppressed are ignored, overlooked, or despised. Let us put our hearts where our treasure is – in the love of the One who called us to be God’s righteous people indeed.

 

— Katerina Whitley is the author of Walking the Way of Sorrows: Stations of the Cross (Morehouse Publishing, 2003), also available in audio form.

Let our hearts be full of wonder and our souls be full of praise, Last Sunday After the Epiphany/World Mission Sunday (C) – 2010

February 14, 2010

Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36, (37-43a)

At first glance, one might be tempted to think: “What do the readings from Exodus, Psalm 99, Second Corinthians and Luke – the readings for this Transfiguration Sunday – have to do with World Mission Sunday?”

The linked readings focusing on Moses’ intimate relationship with God and his shining face in Exodus and Second Corinthians, the psalmist’s praise to God for God’s mighty acts in history, and Luke’s story of the Transfiguration seem to have little bearing on the celebration of World Mission Sunday, let alone this year’s theme “World Mission and the Environment.” Yet, as with most of the most important things in our lives, we must delve below the surface to apprehend the depth of the meaning.

Instead of beginning directly with today’s lections, let’s begin with the portion of scripture that has been selected to underscore this year’s theme. The first and second verses of Psalm 24 read: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.”

These verses remind us that everything that we see – and don’t see – in Creation, is God’s: plants, animals, people, planet, even bacteria and viruses. By extension, if all is the Lord’s, and we understand God to be a loving, caring deity, then we can begin to see where the connections might be.

Hold the words of Psalm 24 in your mind, and hear now the words of Psalm 99, verses 4 and 5:

“‘O mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.’ Proclaim the greatness of the LORD our God and fall down before his footstool; he is the Holy One.”

If all of our relationships draw from the understanding of God as a lover of justice and establisher of equity, then we are led to the conclusion that the just and equitable act is the one that is closest to the heart of God. And if all of the earth is the Lord’s, then we are, or should be, compelled to act as just and equitable stewards of the earth, on behalf of the Lord.

We all witnessed the discussions and debate of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Coppenhagen in December of last year. We heard the pleas of poor countries that stand to lose the most if we do not find a way to move from “purely national perspectives to global leadership” as UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon said. This is of vital importance to our world, and yet, we must understand it in the context of our faith, our ministry, our call, our mission.

We, as followers of Christ, send out missionaries to the ends of the globe, seeking to bring the light and love of Christ to those who need to see Christ’s effect on and through us. We move into poor parts of the developing world seeking to meet the needs of the people in many wonderful ways. Yet if we are about being just and equitable, if we are about the business of establishing networks and systems that remind all of the gift that we have in this world and in one another, if our mission and our missions are to be fully reflective of the glory of God, then we must be about transformation.

But before we go too far down the road of “transformation,” it might be good for us to deal with the reality of this Sunday’s celebration of the Transfiguration.

We are reminded of the otherworldly event that took place on a mountaintop while Jesus was praying and Peter, James, and John slept. In Luke’s account we are told that Jesus’ appearance is changed, his clothes become dazzling white and Elijah and Moses appear with him to discuss what is to happen in Jerusalem – his passion and death. Instructive for us in Luke’s account are God’s words to Peter, James and John: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” In other words, pay attention to what he says and does.

It is interesting that transfiguration and transformation come from the same Middle English root meaning “to change shape.” Transformation, linguistically, can mean “the process by which deep structures are converted into surface structures.”

Well, that fits now, doesn’t it? The depth of who Jesus is, is brought to the surface during the Transfiguration – his face, appearance, and clothes are transformed. Jesus’ face shines, and in Luke’s words, “They saw his glory.” Jesus is transfigured, that is, transformed showing the truth of who he is with a heavenly voice underscoring the visible evidence that Jesus is God’s son and that we are to listen to him.

It might be that you are still saying, “That’s all well and good for Transfiguration Sunday, but what does any of that have to do with World Mission?”

The connection comes in the transformational aspect of what our mission work can and does accomplish. We send faithful servants of the gospel into areas of the world where needs are high and hope is in short supply. When our efforts are successful, the mission partnership grows and becomes self-sustaining; communities and lives are transformed, and we are a part helping others – and ourselves – to more fully reflect God’s glory.

We are being called into new mission endeavors where our effective ministry will be in partnership with those whom we are sent to serve. We are being called into partnerships that seek to establish sustainablerelationships, out of which can grow new possibilities that can transform and transfigure local situations that can have global impact. We are being called into transformational ministries that are modeled after the best of relationships – expecting that each member has something of worth to offer the other.

By understanding the give and take of relationships, we can see the connection between our lives and how we must find ways to focus our resources on those things that, not only speak to the immediate need, but also take into account how the environment is affected and how the communities in which we are called to serve can sustain the benefits that are achieved.

In today’s reading from Second Corinthians, Paul reminds us of the transformational character of our lives in Christ:

“And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”

We know that we are called to be stewards of this earth. We know that we are called to serve others, especially the poor and oppressed. We know that we are to seek right relationships: with God, with each other, and with our earth. We know that we are to follow Jesus and imitate his attitude and actions: loving God completely and loving our neighbor as ourselves. We know these things, regardless of our particular political or religious positions. And if we know these things, then we are expected to act on them.

Friends, we are to be agents of transformation in a world that seems, in some corridors, to be resistant to transformation. Our current and future mission work just might need to include focused and intentional work to improve environmental conditions in those places where we are called to serve. We might also look to transform how we understand our call to mission, creating domestic mission teams who work to aid our foreign mission teams in terms of policy reform, and who make connections and build relationships that work locally, but think globally.

The wonderful thing about being called into the ministry and mission of Christ is that we have the chance to become those people that speak life and wholeness in a broken world, confident that our Lord – who made and sustains all life – is smiling on our efforts to be agents of transformation who shine with the light of Christ.

As we celebrate this World Mission Sunday and think of the Transfiguration of Jesus, let our hearts be full of wonder and our souls be full of praise. As our worship today lifts us to the height of heaven, why don’t we come down with faces unveiled and through our actions demonstrate that we have been with the Lord?

 

— The Rev. Lawrence Womack currently serves as associate rector at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, in Charlotte, N.C., and has served parishes in Baltimore, M.D., and Buffalo, N.Y. (as a seminarian). He is active in HIV-AIDS ministry and advocacy and proudly serves as a husband and father of three children. 

The kind of fishers God calls us to become, 5 Epiphany (C) – 2010

February 7, 2010

Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 138; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11

Although there have been many technological developments, fishing hasn’t really changed much in the last 2,000 years. In spite of all our diesel-powered boats, radar, detailed and accurate charts of the sea, satellite-assisted navigation, and the like, fishing is still pretty much the same kind of activity it was in Jesus’ time.

Fishing is about setting out on the water, about leaving the safety of the dry land and trusting the laws of physics and the goodness of God. It’s about hoping and praying for a good, bountiful catch – but not really being able to do a whole lot to make that happen.

Compare this to farming. Farmers assure a good harvest mostly through hard work – careful preparation of the soil, proper nutrition and moisture, freedom from pests. The weather plays a part, of course, but it is only one of a very complex set of factors. And make no mistake, fishing is hard work, too: maintaining a boat, studying charts, baiting hooks, and repairing nets, just for a start. But in fishing, whether there are fish or whether there are none, whether the wind blows enough to move your sailboat or so much that your boat is capsized – these kinds of things are totally out of the control of the men and women fishing, aren’t they? And most of the factors in fishing are like that.

In fact, in spite of all the technology, all the training, all the experience – fishing is still pretty much putting all your hope in God.

The message is clear: just put your trust in God, and God will provide everything. We don’t have to cultivate the soil, or sew seed, or dig in fertilizer, or irrigate the crops, or spray for insects – we just have to trust.

So, today’s gospel passage is a simple story with a clear message, right? It’s a metaphor that by extension is as much about us as it is about James and John and Simon Peter and Andrew. Just trust in God, who provides everything we need, and we will find the power and the strength to go and catch people, to make disciples of all nations, and to build up the church through our efforts.

Of course, that’s the way we’d like it to be: all neat and clean, and wrapped up so nicely. We trust and God provides. What more could we ask for?

But fishing, well, it’s more than just a plentiful catch isn’t it? Sometimes, there are no fish at all. Frequently, there are tremendous risks and great danger. And always there is a great deal of pain and suffering.

A few years back, there was a movie called “The Perfect Storm,” based on a novel by the same name. Did any of you see it or read the book? It’s about a small New England fishing town, and the relentless efforts of the fishing community to remain economically viable. It’s about facing amazing challenges, and about the unfairness of life – why did they catch so many fish while we caught so few? It’s about women and children waiting on land for news of loved ones still out at sea during rough weather. It’s a poignant depiction of the human drama – of love and loss, of work and struggle, of success and challenge and joy.

The movie depicts modern-day, deep-sea fishing in graphic detail. We see large, elegant, graceful swordfish – not caught in a net and quietly surrendering to their fate, but impaled on large and painful hooks; painfully dragged aboard ship; beaten, stabbed, and even shot by the crew in a frenzied and violent struggle.

And being gentle doesn’t help: then they are attacked by sharks – on the very deck of their boat – hit by the boom, thrown overboard, and even caught in the worst net of all: the pain suffered at the hands of a fellow human being.

The movie, which is well worth seeing, ends with the amazing and defiant actions of one captain and a brave crew, who seek swift passage home with an abundant catch of swordfish – more than they could ask or imagine – and instead confront a storm of unbelievable proportion. Intent on offering their abundant harvest to the people on land, and reveling in their amazing bounty, the crew instead give their lives to the majesty of the sea, never returning from their valiant journey.

Let’s face it, fishing is cruel – both to the fish and to those who do the fishing. Fishing is not a pretty story about evangelism or a miracle about feeding thousands; it’s about struggle and pain, challenge and hope, success and failure, life and death, sacrifice and joy, magnificent beauty and unimaginable ugliness.

And if this gospel passage is about us and our efforts to build up Christ’s body the church – is this who God wants us to be? Is this who we want to be?

Do we really want to lay out bait for people – not enough to sustain them, but just enough to get them painfully caught on a hook? Is it our vocation to pull them in, kicking and screaming – and to beat them into submission? And are we to revel in this catch? – tallying the number of fish we’ve managed to drag in, disemboweled, and put on ice, and then thanking God for this manifest blessing?

Plus, aren’t we all just like that kind of “fish,” as well? Are we somehow different from those we seek to bring to Christ? Are we to terrify them by wielding our weapons until they believe? Now, there’s a revelation to be truly afraid of! There are doubtless some Christians who would say “yes” to all that. But are we Anglicans called to do this?

Many of our fellow Christians think that we are called by God almighty to become fishers of men, to lay out our nets and haul in as many people as we can get, and to thank God for the abundance of the harvest – measured not in pounds of fish but in numbers of people.

But in most of Anglicanism, we offer another vision of the church. Oh, we are truly glad when the church grows, and we thank God for that. We believe and proclaim that our dependence is on God alone. And we recognize that our life’s journey is not always one of hopeful expectation; that sometimes we come across times of struggle and even insurmountable odds.

We hear this morning’s gospel passage and consider the frightening implications of those words: “From now on you will be catching people.” The pain that we may suffer or that may be inflicted at our hands, the tremendous risk ahead of us, the hard work that is ours – and ours alone – to do: we must face these are challenges. Because from now on we will be catching people.

And yet we remember that we rely on God and God alone for the many good things we know in this life – indeed for life itself. And we pledge to work hard, to do the best we can – not because it will gain for us any reward, but in thanksgiving for our many blessings.

We remember that Peter, when he experienced the miracle of the presence of God in Christ, when he saw his boat sinking from a catch of so many fish, fell down at Jesus’ feet and said, “Go away from me, for I am sinful.” We remember that we are like Peter.

And we remember that this story reveals the miraculous power of Jesus Christ – a power as available and present and real to you and me, at this holy table, as to simple fishermen on the Sea of Gennesaret some two thousand years ago. We remember the power of God.

And so we fear that we, like Peter, are sinful and unworthy of God’s love. But we also remember that Jesus replies to Peter’s fear and trembling – as indeed to ours – with these most comforting words: “Do not be afraid.” This comfort is ours, here and now, no less than it was theirs, out on that lake so very long ago.

This insight does not assure us success; it reminds us of our salvation. This teaching does not give us license to abuse others in Christ’s name; it calls us to repent from the pain we inflict. This power does not scare us into submission; it invites us, gently and lovingly, to give up our fears and trust in God.

This power comes to us from God – by our very life, through our baptism, and again and again in this our simple ritual meal.

This power comes to us every day, in ways we have not yet begun to understand or imagine.

This power comes to us in our joy and in our pain, when we struggle and when we succeed. This power allows us to become more and more what God created us to be.

This power is love.

And with the power of love, we are able to withstand pain and torment, and we are able to revel in joy and bliss.

With love, we can endure great trials, face new challenges, and even overcome death.

With love, we can help to heal the world that suffers and hurts greatly.

With love, we can trust that God will provide all that we truly need.

With love, we can invite people to join with us in revealing more and more of the miraculous power that is God.

 

— The Rev. J. Barrington Bates holds a Ph.D. in liturgical studies from Drew University and currently serves as rector of the Church of the Annunciation in Oradell, N.J.