Archives: Year B

The Rebirth of the Church: That Which Cannot Be Scheduled

A dear friend of mine and his wife, both priests, are getting ready to welcome their third child.

The baby is expected within the next two weeks, but as we know, even with all of modern medical science at our disposal, there really is no way to schedule or anticipate a birth. The baby comes when the baby is ready to come, and unless there is an urgent medical need to influence the birth more specifically…we wait.

We worry. We anticipate with joy. We guesstimate.

We exchange family stories and histories of other babies being born to hunt for clues as to how this birth might unfold.

And we wait, in a strange in-between world of being hyper-prepared while spinning our wheels.

We know we have to be ready for it to happen at any moment, but we also know that no matter how much mental or emotional energy we put into our racing thoughts, this momentous occasion will unfold at its own pace, in its own time.

As my friend was telling me about the strange liminal space he and his family inhabit while they wait for labor to begin, he mentioned how difficult it was to prepare for one of the most important days of his life while having no idea when it was going to happen.

And I thought: what if all the most important days of our lives were like that?

What if we knew that our wedding was approaching, but not what day it would be?

What if we had to have our graduation cap and gown packed up and ready to go, because our graduation ceremony could break out at any moment in the next two weeks?

When I think about the work I put into planning my ordination service, all the preparation and careful choreography—and how nervous I was that morning—and then to imagine that some invisible but undeniable signal could arrive at 2 a.m. on a Tuesday, out of the blue.

It’s time! Get everyone to the church! We have to ordain her! Get the bishop here, stat! Continue reading

Apostle: The Job You Didn’t Know You Had

“One of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.”

This is a line from our scripture from Acts today. The disciples are beginning to build the early church, to take up their mission and go forward in the spreading of the Good News, now that Jesus has ascended to heaven.

But Jesus began the leadership of the church with twelve apostles, and since Judas’s death, they are down to only eleven. They need someone to replace him, to be a witness as Peter says.

In the crushing tragedy of the crucifixion and the giddy uplift of the resurrection, the disciples have been broken down and remade.

They are actually no longer just disciples; they have become something else.

The word “disciple” means “one who is taught.”

When they followed Jesus on earth, listening to his preaching, seeing his miracles, receiving his instruction, they were disciples, ones who were taught.

But now they have crossed over.

Their personal, visceral experience of abandoning Jesus when they wanted to stay by his side, feeling their hearts break in two when he died on the Cross, and then suddenly knowing themselves to be healed and whole when he came to them, alive again, has changed them forever.

They are no longer disciples, ones who are taught. They are apostles.

The word “apostle” means “one who is sent.”

They have been sent by Jesus to go forward and spread the Good News, to preach liberation to the captives, bind up the brokenhearted, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

And what does it mean to be an apostle, one who is sent?

How does one qualify for it?

I think although we easily identify ourselves as “disciples,” followers of Jesus who seek to learn from him and imitate him, we think of the apostles as “others,” just the Twelve, big, important, historical people that we have little to do with.

They’re heroes and martyrs, leaders and prophets, bold preachers and architects of the early church.

There were only Twelve of them.

We’re not apostles.

We could never be that great.

And frankly, we don’t really want to.

We’d rather outsource work that hard and that grand to someone else, comfortably far away in a dusty old Bible story.

But I have challenging Good News today: we’re all called to be apostles as much as we are called to be disciples. Continue reading

Me and Jesus? We’re Just Friends

If you want to know whom you truly consider a friend, ask yourself the following question: if your car broke down by the side of the road at 2 a.m. and you knew you couldn’t call a family member, who would you call?

Or imagine you needed $500 tomorrow with no questions asked and no guarantee that the money would be repaid—who would you call?

That person is your closest and truest friend.

We have circles of friendship that are circles of increasing intimacy and trust.

On the outer circle we have acquaintances. These are people we know by name, we may know their children’s names, and when we see each other we talk about the weather and the Colts.

Then we have the circle of friends, people about whom we know more detail, perhaps we know some of the major struggles in their lives like a divorce or an addiction, and with whom we would enjoy going to the movies on Friday night or having a dinner party together.

Side note: think about how many people here at church are in the acquaintance circle and how many are in the friends circle as I have just described them.

Part of our work as Christian community is working together to move with each other from the acquaintance circle to the friends circle, with the added ingredient of spiritual intimacy.

So we not only know some of the griefs and struggles and joys of the people around us in the pews, we know how those events have impacted their faith and their growth in relationship with God.

But there is a closer circle even than the friends circle, and that is the true friends, the dearest friends, the best friends.

These are the ones that you call at 2 a.m. when you’re broken down by the side of the road.

These are the ones that can show up at your house and you don’t worry about the clutter or the fact that you’re wearing ratty old sweatpants and no makeup.

These are the ones that you simply cannot b.s. because they see right through you.

These friends are the ones we drop our masks for, and expect them to drop their masks in return.

These relationships contain the most sacred intimacy outside our immediate family relationships, and the best family relationships have these elements of friendship.

We sometimes call these people soul friends, anam cara in Gaelic.

They know the secrets and fears and joys of our inmost hearts, and we know theirs. We hold those secrets and hears and joys in our very hands, and we trust our friend to hold ours with the same care and love.

Now consider the words of Jesus in our gospel today: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you.” Continue reading

If You Try to Stick Your Hand Up My Skirt, I’m Going to Get Baptized

I’ve been thinking a lot about power lately.

Actually, I’ve been thinking about power for years, because I think it’s so central to our spiritual path.

Power is the number one addiction of our unredeemed egos, and as such it has enormous potential for danger and abuse.

But lately I’ve been starting to wonder if it has a good side as well.

As I look back over just the last two weeks in my own life, I see a lot of instances of men, women, and power, and how the three forces interact for better or for worse. And as I make these observations, I’ve started to question some of my beliefs about power.

I have long believed that Jesus teaches downward mobility.

“Blessed are the poor,” Jesus says. “Blessed are the meek, those who mourn, the peacemakers…he who would be greatest among you must be the servant of all.”

I still believe that.

Many of the most formative theologians in my life have also taught about giving up control and power—St. Francis, John of the Cross, Gerald May, Richard Rohr. I find their teachings incredibly important.

There is still a lot I can learn about giving up power, because I know that my basest desires and fears can and will drive me to exert it destructively if I don’t submit myself humbly to the work of God in my soul.

But here’s what else I’ve finally noticed: all of these theologians who teach about giving up power are men.

And many of Jesus’ teachings in the gospel—while certainly applying to men and women alike—were originally directed, in the moment, to men.

Presumably the crowds he preached to had both men and women, but many of his most pithy and pointed teachings about giving up power were directed to the disciples and the scribes and Pharisees, all men.

Almost all of Jesus’ most intimate, one-on-one interactions with women were either 1. healings, or 2. telling them to take up power. Continue reading

She Restoreth My Soul

Today is a day for taking a risk from the pulpit, so here I go.

But I am able to take this risk because Robert took a risk today with the offertory anthem he chose.

And Robert took the risk because someone at our grad school took the risk to use this anthem in the chapel services we both attended.

And the chapel worship planner took the risk because the author of the anthem text, Bobby McFerrin, took the risk to write it.

And he took the risk to write it because of the witness of his mother. She took the risk to have a child, to influence her child deeply with her love, and it led, through a chain of courage, all the way to this pulpit today.

So what’s so risky about this anthem?

Well, it takes what is very likely the best known and most beloved text in the Bible, the 23rd Psalm, and changes the pronoun for God in it.

Instead of “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, he leadeth me beside the still waters,” you will hear the choir sing, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I have all I need. She makes me lie down in green meadows, beside the still waters she will lead. She restores my soul, She rights my wrongs, She leads me in a path of good things, and fills my heart with songs. Even though I walk through a dark and dreary land there is nothing that can shake me, She has said She won’t forsake me, I’m in her hand. She sets a table before me, in the presence of my foes. She anoints my head with oil, and my cup overflows. Surely, surely goodness and kindness will follow me, all the days of my life, And I will live in her house, forever, forever and ever.”

For some of you, calling God “She” will not be at all troubling. It will be beautiful and inspiring and even comfortable and familiar.

For others of you, it will be distinctly off-putting. You won’t be able to connect to it at all, and you’ll be wondering if it’s really okay to change the Biblical text like this.

Many of us fall somewhere squarely in the middle.

We’ve heard of the practice, we understand theologically that God is much bigger than our paltry human concepts of gender, but actually praying to God our Mother?

We do that pretty rarely, if at all. I mean, why would we? Continue reading

Enough With the Miracles Already

The status quo is the most powerful force in the world.

And sometimes it seems like Jesus’ mission is life is to break up the status quo, to challenge it, to upend it, to hit us over the head with how very un-normal life with him is.

And we kind of hate it.

Consider our stories today from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of Luke. They are marked with fear and astonishment at the miracles being witnessed.

In the Book of Acts, Peter and John are going to prayer, and in the name of Jesus Christ they heal a man who cannot walk.

“All the people saw him walking and praising God,” Acts says, “and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. While he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s Portico, utterly astonished.”

The same thing happens in our gospel story, tinged with even more intensity.

“Jesus himself stood among the disciples and their companions and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.”

Even the very people who walked with Jesus on earth, who saw him perform miracles every day, kept getting caught off guard.

Why?

You would think after walking around with him for three years, seeing the healing and the feeding and the walking on water, they would be a little more adjusted to living among the miraculous.

Especially after Jesus had told them repeatedly that he would be raised from the dead.

Jesus wants an answer to the same question.

“Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” he says.

The truth is that we don’t want to live in a miraculous world because that would force us to give up control. Continue reading

Easter: Fools For Christ

April Fools’ Day is actually the best possible day for Easter. Why?

April Fools’ Day is a tradition with deep folk roots in many European countries.

In fact, we can even point to a special Anglican flavor of it—it is mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Today we know April Fools’ Day as a time to pull pranks, trying to make someone look like a fool and be embarrassed.

Some people love practical jokes and think of them as all in good fun. I personally hate them and hide away from the world on the first of April for fear of falling prey to one.

But there is another tradition of foolishness that is deeply rooted in Christian theology. It goes all the way back to Paul himself. Continue reading

Friday: Mary and Joseph: At the Manger, At the Cross

Today is about loyalty.

Or rather, it is about loyalty and the lack thereof.

Everyone in this story reveals where his or her loyalty lies, and actions speak much louder than words.

So today becomes the opportunity for us to show where our loyalty lies, because what we receive on Good Friday is a pledge of loyalty to us that stares down the forces of death and hell themselves.

Loyalty is something we admire.  We consider it a virtue.

The difficult part of this story is that some of the people whom we consider villains in the story are showing admirable loyalty.

But where they choose to place their faith and commitment ends up being on the wrong side of history.

And that makes us afraid that we could be guilty of the same. Continue reading

Thursday: Final Table

So, I hate to cook, and I’m terrible at it.

Well, “hate” is perhaps too strong a word.

But I missed a lot of days in the “Stuff Women Are Supposed To Know How To Do” classes, otherwise known as “American Gender Socialization,” and I’m just really bad a lot of that stuff.

I cook poorly, I can’t wrap a gift properly, I seem to lack maternal instincts entirely, and I don’t decorate to the point that friends have said my apartment looks like a padded cell.

As you might imagine from someone who does not enjoy cooking nor has ever bothered to really learn, I have never seen a cooking show in its entirety.

I know there are entire television networks devoted to food and cooking, hosted by celebrity chefs.

And I admire greatly people who cook as a hobby, hunting down obscure recipes and turning out glorious creations that are as much art as sustenance. But I will never be among them.

I count myself lucky to occasionally enjoy the fruits of their labors, and offer to wash the dishes in thanks.

Due to my lack of familiarity with culinary culture, I was surprised to hear of a specific tradition in the restaurant business among chefs, and the book someone wrote about it.

It turns out that once chefs reach a certain point of proficiency, they like to engage in a little thought experiment with each other.

You’ve heard of the question: “If you were abandoned on a desert island, what one book or album would you want with you?”

Well, chefs and cooks ask each other and themselves: “If it were your last night on earth, what and how would you prepare for your final meal?” Continue reading

Wednesday: Disregarding Shame

As we continue our journey through Holy Week, our attempt to be faithful to Jesus in his hour of need, we need to ask: what prevents us from following him?

What drives us away from his presence? What keeps us from living up to our aspirations to love God and our neighbor with freedom and joy?

Shame.

Shame shows up all over our texts today, and it turns out that shame is one of the deadliest barriers lying between us and faithfulness to Jesus.

Our Hebrew scripture lesson is the third of the four Servant Songs in Isaiah. Although this text can stand on its own with rich meaning, as Christians, we hear these verses in the voice of Jesus.

It describes the pain and indignity of what he will go through on Good Friday, and his willingness to endure it: “I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.”

Pulling out someone’s beard and spitting on their face are ways of imparting shame to someone. They demean and devalue the victim.

And most of what happens to Jesus on Friday is designed to enforce shame, all the way up to and including his death on the Cross.

Crucifixion is intended not just to kill someone efficiently—that could be done much faster by beheading them, as happened to John the Baptist.

Crucifixion is a slow, painful death in full view of the world, meant to be a spectacle showing everyone that the crucified person is a criminal and the dregs of society.

And the victim is robbed of all dignity or privacy.

As he slowly loses strength, he is reduced to animal pain, losing control over his body and his mind in full public view.

As with all shame processes, it robs the person of his or her identity, crushing him completely until he dies, no longer who he was or wanted to be.

Praise God, we will never have to go through something as terrible as crucifixion, although we must always remember our brothers and sisters around the world of all faiths who are persecuted for their beliefs.

But what the world did to Jesus on the Cross, killing him not just with violence but with shame, the world tries to do to us. Continue reading