Cast All Your Anxiety on the Fire Marshal

It is a rare and disorienting event indeed to experience scripture and the government communicating the same thing to me.

Believe it or not, that’s what happened this week.

The Shelbyville Fire Department stopped by to make their annual inspection of St. Luke’s, and 1 Peter 4 and 5 came up in our lectionary.

“An inspection of your facility revealed the violations below,” the fire marshal’s report says. “An approved fire safety and evacuation plan shall be prepared and maintained. Fire protection systems required by this code shall be installed, repaired, operated, tested and maintained. Failure to comply with this notice may result in penalties provided for by law for such violations.”

“Discipline yourselves, keep alert,” says 1 Peter. “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you.”

I guess 1 Peter and the fire department want the same thing from us: not to be surprised by the fiery ordeal, be it literal or spiritual.

And so that got me thinking.. Continue reading

Leaping Into the Sea of Light

Today is a day of boldness and bravery.

Today is a day when we step off the edge of a cliff, on purpose and with our eyes open.

We are stepping off a cliff because we are telling the world, as our lesson from Romans says, that we hope for what we do not see.

We are proclaiming our faith in the Holy Trinity, the unflawed source of grace, and our love and commitment to the Holy Church, a flawed but very dear vessel of grace.

We are placing ourselves in a position of vulnerability, opening the most secret places of our hearts and minds for the world to see by publicly proclaiming our faith, because it matters.

When we go through the process of confirmation or reception, we take a journey that ends in a place of trust.

Today we stand up and say that we are going to serve and follow Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior because we have come to trust him.

It is a trust that can often be intermingled with doubt and fear, but that is not only acceptable but necessary.

A faith that never questions is both blind and shallow. Continue reading

Becoming an Ancestor: The Life of a Living Stone

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

The image is a fascinating contradiction that immediately draws us in: living stones.

Stones are associated with many images and ideas but rarely are they called living.

We think of them as permanent and lasting, but as dead and inanimate, void of spirit and life.

Peter, the one who was named “The Rock” by Jesus himself, asks us to rethink our assumptions about cold, dead stone.

And really he is carrying forward Jesus’ own teaching.

In the Gospel of Matthew, when Simon Peter recognized Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus did not say, “On this river I will build my church,” or “On this tree I will build my church,” or “On this metaphysical theory will I build my church.”

Jesus said, “On this rock I build my church, and even the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”

Jesus built the Church of the Living God on living rock. Continue reading

God Our Mother

I didn’t want to do it.

I didn’t want to preach “The Person Who Went to Seminary Sermon.”

This is a sermon I’m sure you all have heard before, maybe from me and I didn’t know it.

This is the sermon with fancy words like “soteriology” and “the eschaton” in which the preacher just has to show off the fantastic theological concepts she has learned and is sure are very, very relevant to everyone if she could just make them see it.

This is the sermon that sounds vaguely like a term paper and might even have footnotes and definitely drops names like Karl Barth.

The eager preacher rushes on earnestly, unaware of the glaze creeping over the faces of the congregation as they stop trying to care about hypostatic union of three persons in one godhead.

Well, like I said, I didn’t want to give that sermon but I think there must be some kind of law that everyone does it at some point.

But I don’t think you’ll find it boring because I think some of you may find it a little controversial.

This is not a dull theological concept, it’s an innovation in prayer that I found quite shocking myself the first time I heard it.

No doubt some of you are already very comfortable with it and others of you will leave here today thinking it’s a load of junk, but I hope many of you are like me—skeptical but willing to hear it out.

I knew that today was the day I must talk about it of all days.

Today I’m going to talk about taking prayer to God the Father and adding to it something new: prayer to God our Mother. Continue reading

Breathing in April

Last Sunday after I got home from church, I called my parents like I do every Sunday.

“How was your day?” I asked them. “How was church?”

“Church was great,” my mom said. “But we turned on the radio on the way home, and honey, there’s been a bad shooting here in town.”

I turned on CNN and there was the bizarre feeling of seeing my hometown on national news.

“Three shot and killed at Jewish Community Center in Kansas City,” the headline said.

My heart sank. The initial fearful speculations were borne out. It was a hate crime, committed by a neo-Nazi man who was a leader of the Carolina Ku Klux Klan.

I was horrified at what had happened, how these people had been gunned down at a Jewish Community Center right before the beginning of Passover.

The day had begun with violence.

We read the passion play in church, the account of the crucifixion of Jesus.

Now here was more violence intended to kill more Jewish people.

It was a grim ending to Palm Sunday, painfully appropriate to enter into Holy Week, the week in which we contemplate the consequences of sin and the violent death of our Savior Jesus Christ. Continue reading

Friday: The Rock and the Handmaiden

All week we have grappled with our dual nature.

It began on Palm Sunday. We started by shouting Hosanna to the Son of David, and ended shouting for his crucifixion.

It’s bewildering and exhausting being knocked from pillar to post, being confronted with our best selves and our worst selves, hardly knowing from one minute to the next who we will be.

Are we Jesus’ faithful disciples, pledging to be with him to the end and actually going through with it?

Or are we his betrayers, selling him out to those who would kill him and running and hiding when the trial comes?

We face the dichotomy of our divided selves one more time today, on Good Friday.

We are two people in this story.

We are Peter, and we are Jesus’ mother Mary.

We are the ones who deny him, and the ones who will not be kept away from him but stay at his feet until the bitter end. Continue reading

Thursday: His Strength Runs Out

They had eaten thousands of meals with friends in their lifetimes.

They had eaten hundreds of meals with Jesus since they began following him.

They had eaten anywhere from twenty to fifty Passover meals in their lifetimes.

And this was their third Passover meal with Jesus.

It should have seemed familiar, comfortable, relaxed.

Just a few days ago, the disciples had seen Jerusalem welcome Jesus with open arms, hailing him as the Son of David and their King.

The disciples, by association with Jesus, were coming up in the world. The world was their oyster.

Or it should have been.

But tonight, something was indefinably different.

There was a palpable sense of discomfort, of unease.

All week, Jesus had had an air about him.

He was no longer the Teacher who thoughtfully explored scripture with them, or the Healer who touched all who came to him with gentle hands and an open smile.

There was an air of determination in him that edged on desperation.

He had the look of a man who had set his face like flint, as Isaiah says, committed to do something no matter the cost. Continue reading

Wednesday: Answering Judas

This scene in our gospel tonight is so painful I don’t even know where to start with it.

There are so many complex emotions in the room.

Jesus has just finished washing the disciples’ feet, a moment of tenderness and love.

They could sense a finality to this supper they were sharing, but they weren’t sure why, and they started to feel an uneasiness that was uncomfortably close to fear.

Where everything had been so right just a few moments ago, enjoying dinner together as they had so many times before, now there is definitely something wrong.

But what?

And then Jesus says it.

“One of you will betray me.”

Is there anything else worse than betrayal?

The reason it hurts so much is because it has to come from someone you know and love.

A stranger cannot betray you.

Someone who hates you and always has cannot betray you.

Any negative action they take toward you is straightforward and honest malice.

But the definition of betrayal is being sold out and given up to an enemy by a friend, someone you love.

The central experience of betrayal is finding out that the person you love doesn’t love you back the way you thought he did. Continue reading

Tuesday: Sir, We Wish to See Jesus

Being there for one another in times of trouble is harder than it appears on the surface.

We often define a friend as someone who will be there for us, but what does that really mean?

Our first instinct when something terrible is happening is to turn away, to run and escape, to get out before the terrible thing can suck us in as well.

If we make the decision that we’re not going to run away but instead stay with our friend who is suffering, our next instinct is to try and fix it, to say, no, look, do this, change this, fix this and you’ll be fine.

It takes a very disciplined and patient sort of love to truly be there for someone in crisis, an art that I sometimes despair of ever mastering.

It is exactly that sort of love that we can often look back and recognize in God’s response to our dark moments. Continue reading

Monday: Saying Goodbye to Lazarus

I wonder what Jesus was thinking as he ate dinner at his friends’ house in Bethany tonight.

By candlelight he shares simple food with Mary, Martha and Lazarus, this set of siblings who love him so dearly and so differently from each other.

Mary, with her extravagant gestures and adoring heart.

Martha, whose love is made of duty and service but is fierce and bright nonetheless.

And Lazarus, quiet and steady, a man who does his job and cares for his sisters, but got sick one day when Jesus was out traveling and preaching.

Jesus and Lazarus never got to say goodbye to each other when Lazarus was dying.

They never had a conversation about whether Jesus was the Son of God.

They were just friends.

Lazarus and Jesus loved each other without having to say it, and Lazarus lay on his death bed knowing Jesus would make sure his sisters were taken care of when he died, and feeling sad he wouldn’t get to see his friend one more time.

Lazarus, a regular guy who loved his sisters and his friend, who got sick and died, and then came back from the dead because he believed.

They’re back in the same situation again. Continue reading