Archives: Ordinary Time

Celebrity Jesus

One of the reasons the gospels have endured as scriptures that give shape and meaning to our lives is that they consistently speak directly to our cultural moment.

In every era since they were written, the gathered faithful have found signposts of wisdom that speak to the controversies and struggles of their time. The same is true for us.

Today we read in our gospel about Jesus and fame.

Celebrity is the currency of choice in our culture. Even money and power fade before the respect given to the famous.

There are a number of rungs on the celebrity ladder of status.

It starts with metrics as small and simple as Facebook likes or Instagram and Twitter followers.

Then it progresses to a ratio: how minute of a level of trivia about your life can you get multiple news outlets to cover?

Amateur celebrities can only get network news to cover them when they win Nobel prizes or maybe die.

Professional celebrities can get wall-to-wall 24-hour cable news and online coverage for which tie they wear or bag they carry to an event.

There is the special class of celebrity that has attained the right to go by only one name, like Beyonce, Madonna, Bono, or Pele.

And then you have the absolute monarchy of celebrity culture: people who have not actually done anything noteworthy, they are simply famous for being famous.

But what’s the real harm in celebrity culture? It’s just fun, right?

It gives us a break from our problems to leaf through a magazine or sit for an hour in front of the TV keeping up with the Kardashians.

Well, it turns out that our culture’s glorification of celebrity has a dark side. Continue reading

Anxiety Procrastination: Ending Up With Your Head on a Platter

This is not a pulpit sermon, this is a blog post, which means I can be irresponsibly personal and say whatever I want.

And that is good, because I really have something on my heart right now.

It’s something small and insignificant in the scope of the issues facing society, but I know you understand how a small, niggling worry can undermine your outlook until it colors your whole world.

So let me go ahead and admit up front: this piece is not some great theological treatise and you may not take anything away from it that deepens your own spiritual journey.

This is just me telling you that I’m stuck.

Here’s the deal: I thought I had written a whole book, but it turns out I’ve only written half a book, and now I’m not sure I can finish it.

It’s called The Darker Blessings: Finding God in Doubt and Depression, and I’m really proud of the work I’ve done so far on it.

So is my editor—he says all the writing I’ve submitted to him is really solid.

His feedback said that I’ve really delved into the darkness and mined it for its treasures. The problem is that there’s not enough light, and I have to admit he’s right.

The basic structure of the book is to explore what we would normally call “dark” emotions or experiences, like anger, fear, or regret, and explore how each of them was a way to God for someone in the Bible.

So I talk about Mary of Bethany’s journey with grief, for example, and Nicodemus’ experience of uncertainty, and Pilate’s relationship with fear.

And with each of these chapters, I tell a bit of my own story.

The problem for the reader, my editor says, is that while they can see clearly how depression and darkness created the crucible for my spiritual journey and held me underwater for my entire young adulthood, they can’t see how I came to the other side of it.

The reader doesn’t magically understand how blessed and fulfilled I am now. I have to tell how I got from there to here, from suicidal to (most days) really happy.

I think there are a couple of things going on here.

First of all, I very much did not want to write a book with a happy ending all tied up in a bow.

Real life is not like that, and real life with God is especially not like that. Continue reading

Stop Offering Hospitality (Yes, I’m Serious)

In our gospel lesson today, Jesus comes to his hometown, and far from welcoming him with open arms and proclaiming him their rightful king, his neighbors scoff at him, imply he’s crazy or deluded, and flatly refuse to believe that he is a prophet and a miracle worker.

Jesus is a big flop in Nazareth.

And he’s not expecting it. “He was amazed at their unbelief,” Mark says.

Poor Jesus. He must have been crushed.

Everyone wants to look good at their high school reunion, to show up twenty pounds lighter and a thousand dollars richer than everyone else.

But Jesus’ friends, the people he grew up with, the people who watched him play in the streets as a little boy and bought benches and tables from his carpentry shop as a young man, turn their back on him.

He wants to show them all the amazing things God is doing through him, but he cannot access his power and he has to leave in disgrace.

Anyone after this humiliating experience would feel vulnerable.

Anyone after this failure might consider approaching things a little more carefully, with a little more thought and planning, would want to ensure success before taking any more risks.

Not Jesus. Continue reading

Crackpot Jesus

No doubt all of you have heard the story of the water pot that has an existential crisis. No? Let me share it with you.

“A water-bearer in India had two large pots. Each hung on opposite ends of a pole that he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, while the other was perfect. The latter always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house. The cracked pot arrived only half-full. Every day for a full two years, the water-bearer delivered only one and a half pots of water.

The perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, because it fulfilled magnificently the purpose for which it had been made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its imperfection, miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do. After the second year of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, the unhappy pot spoke to the water-bearer one day by the stream.

“I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you,” the pot said.

“Why?” asked the bearer. “What are you ashamed of?” Continue reading

We Are All Separated Children

I haven’t preached or written on the new phase of the migrant crisis, the separation of children from families, mostly because there are so many people who are expressing their moral outrage so eloquently.

People are arguing from Biblical texts, from religious tradition, from American values, from simple human decency, from the very fact that the Holy Family were refugees and immigrants, to express the deep sin and shame of the United States of America taking children from their parents and warehousing and imprisoning them.

It doesn’t seem as though I could add much to the discussion.

But there comes a point in time where silence is taken as consent, and failure to speak is collusion with sin.

And so I asked myself, as so many have, “How did we get here? How did America, a nation I was raised to believe in and be proud to belong to, stoop to this level of racism, xenophobia, and toxic militarism?”

And for me, the answer comes back as it almost always does, to a deep and debilitating lack of spiritual groundedness.

Values and ethics cannot survive on the thin sustenance of stirring emotions or even cultural traditions.

To be effective, to withstand controversy and trial, to guide people to actions that are just and altruistic, values and ethics must be based on something deeper.

And that something deeper is the spiritual life.

It doesn’t matter what tradition that spiritual life comes out of—Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, or any other.

It simply matters that there is a worldview greater than the paltry ends of the individual self, that calls us to something higher than selfish and short-sighted tribalism, and that awakens the soul, that dwelling place of God within us that lies deeper than mind or even heart.

But as I continued to reflect on our spiritually starving people, I realized that the most damaging part of the lack of soul life in America is unspoken and unrealized.

Americans cannot deal with death. Continue reading

When People Underestimate You, Are They Right?

Getting more than you bargained for. That’s what all of our scriptures are about today.

And it’s not a concept that is very familiar in our capitalist society. We are used to paying an agreed upon price, and receiving exactly what we’ve paid for, no more and no less.

I sometimes wonder if we carry that consumer mentality into our relationships as well.

If I make dinner x number of times this week, my partner will mow the lawn without having to be reminded.

If I attend x number of recitals or soccer games of my grandchildren, my daughter will pick up the phone when I call her.

If I read x chapters of the Bible this week, God will answer my prayers.

That’s not how God’s economy works.

The Greek root from which we get the word economy means household and refers to how people manage the day to day finances and organization of their homes and families.

And God’s economy has a very strange balance sheet.

Things are simply not predictable with God.

Two plus two does not always equal four.

It often equals five, or a hundred and five, or a purple elephant. Continue reading

Translating Tradition

The first half of our worship service today has no doubt seemed very familiar to you. It’s regular 1979 Book of Common Prayer Liturgy of the Word. Comforting, customary, accessible to those of us who have been Episcopalians for awhile.

But the second half of our service, the Liturgy of the Table, will be according to the first Book of Common Prayer, the 1549 edition.

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Book of Common Prayer, and it seemed worthwhile to bring back the 1549 liturgy that we used back during our historic liturgies project last fall.

And no doubt the second half of the Eucharist, the 1549 version, will not seem familiar and comfortable.

We’ll have to concentrate. We’ll have to read carefully. We’ll squint at the page and struggle to translate the Elizabethan language into something that is meaningful for us today.

This is such a worthy exercise because it helps us understand Thomas Cranmer’s goal in writing and compiling the Book of Common Prayer.

During our historic liturgies project last fall, as we made our way backward in time from 1928 to 1789 to 1662 to 1549, did you ever feel totally lost in our worship service?

Did you struggle to understand what was going on?

Did you ever wonder what was the point of coming to church at all if everything was so confusing?

That is exactly the situation that faced the people of England in 1548 and for generations before when they went to church. Continue reading

Sabbath of Joy

Our scriptures today are all about Sabbath, which is supposed to mean rest. But “keeping the Sabbath” across generations in the church often turned into grim adherence to strict traditions rather than true rest and refreshment.

It was as if people were supposed to work hard at resting!

We sometimes think of Christianity as hard work—and it undoubtedly is.

We have to work against our old familiar sins and pray for God to help us increase in virtue and generosity.

But at heart, Christianity is not about work.

Suffering and struggle are vital parts of the journey that have their own unique spiritual value, but suffering and struggle and work always lead somewhere else. And that somewhere to which they lead is joy.

The Bible is full of joy.

The entire purpose of the Bible is to communicate the joy of salvation—it even says so: “We are writing these things to you that our joy may be complete.” (1 John 1:4).

The psalmist says of God, “You show me the path of life, in your presence is fullness of joy.” (Psalm 16:11). The opening line of our psalm this morning is, “Sing with joy to God our strength.” (Psalm 81:1)

And Jesus says to us directly of his entire message to us, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11).

The church is a place of joy that encourages the believers and strengthens them to go out and serve in the world.

In Acts we read that “The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 13:52).

Paul writes over and over to the congregations of the early church about how their prayers and good works and simple presence as people give him such joy. He tells the believers in Thessalonica, “Yes, you are our glory and joy!”

Paul writes about an upcoming visit to the Romans, “Join me in earnest prayer to God…so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.” (Romans 15:30-33).

That is my prayer for St. Francis this summer as well, that we may abide in joy and take refreshment from one another’s company in this church.

You have worked so hard! I want you to take these summer months to really enjoy church. Continue reading

Anita Hill, Sexual Harassment, and the 10 Virgins

Trigger warning: this piece contains discussion of sexual harassment and sexual violence.

 

 

The floodgates have opened on the reality of everyday experience for American women.

Sexual harassment is a daily occurrence, and the number of women who have not experienced sexual assault is vanishingly small.

In the circle of women who are most dear to me, several have been raped.

I myself had what I would describe as a semi-consensual sexual experience in college that had deep repercussions for me.

And with regard to sexual harassment, the reaction of most women I know to men who are asking, “Is it really this prevalent?” is, “You mean you didn’t know?”

There are few of us who do not have strong emotions about this cultural moment.

I have talked to straight male colleagues who are frightened.

They are examining years of their lives in retrospect, wondering if they ever crossed a line somewhere and will find out about it on the front page of the local paper.

I have talked to male colleagues who react with scoffing dismissal, insisting these accusations are a fad and a bandwagon for every opportunist holding a grudge.

Other male colleagues have reacted with sensitivity, solidarity, and commitment to being part of a solution.

The female colleagues I have talked to have had a range of reactions as well.

Some have had to shut down all news and social media in their lives because the constant barrage of sexual harassment allegations has triggered their own memories and swamped them with PTSD.

Some who have not dealt with outright abuse or assault have felt guilty or privileged compared with those who have.

Many are deeply cynical that any real change can occur in a nation that elected as president someone who freely admitted to sexual assault in what he called “locker room banter.”

And this doesn’t even begin to address the additional levels of harassment and assault experienced by those rendered even more vulnerable than those in my dominant milieu of middle class white women.

People of color and LGBTQ colleagues I’ve spoken to have shaken their heads as they’ve affirmed that my privilege has shielded me from additional layers of poisonous harm that bombard them from the outside world every day.

I think one of the questions everyone is asking is, “Why now?” Continue reading

How To Avoid Becoming a Burden When You’re Carrying a Burden

Do you feel burdened?

The writers of our epistle and gospel want to know.

“You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God,” Paul says.

Jesus speaks of the scribes and Pharisees, saying, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.”

What is the difference between the two? What separates those in the Beloved Community who impose burdens on others, and those who remove them?

The topic of burdens is important throughout the Bible.

Paul tells us in the Letter to the Galatians, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you fulfill the law of Christ.”

Jesus himself says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

We all know what it is like to feel burdened by life.

Every single person we know is bearing a burden of some kind, some seen, some unseen. Cancer, financial hardship, caregiving for an elderly parent, a child struggling in school, addiction—the burdens add up and weigh us down.

And we all feel the collective burdens of lives lost or altered in natural disasters, mass shootings, and the global struggles of poverty and disease.

It’s no surprise that the bearing of burdens shows up all over scripture.

And in our texts for today we have the contrast between how Paul is trying to relate to his spiritual community, and how the scribes and Pharisees are.

What differentiates the two? Continue reading