Archives: Year C

This Is How I Break My Vows

Well, folks, we’ve got a weird one.

This scripture from the Book of Acts is one of the more bizarre episodes in the Bible, and we’ve got a lot to choose from.

Peter has this vision of a sheet full of live animals being lowered down from heaven before him, with “four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air,” and he is commanded to kill and eat them.

Reptiles? Really? An angel commands him to kill and eat snakes and lizards?

Sounds more like a bad acid trip than a manifestation of God.

But I was thinking also it may be the first occurrence of a venerable church tradition: the church picnic.

Both my parents were raised Southern Baptist.

My mother was raised in a university Southern Baptist church, right off the campus of Baylor in Waco. They were very sober, respectable, pillar of the community types, and based on her descriptions of the services, were the closest thing to high church Baptists I can picture.

My father’s church, however…well, to begin with it was called Confederate Avenue Baptist Church, and if that doesn’t sum up the Old South I don’t know what does.

And Confederate Avenue was an old-fashioned, sawdust on the floor, traveling preacher, week-long revivals in the summer type of church.

The hellfire and damnation preaching was so intense, my father says, that he got saved two or three times just to be sure.

And at my father’s church, there was a regular phenomenon called “chicken on the grounds.” “Chicken on the grounds,” from what I can tell, was a combination outdoor coffee hour and church picnic that happened every Sunday.

This was also the type of church for which the noon meal was only halftime, there was church that night as well, with some kind of educational program for the kids called “Training Union” that still makes my parents shudder to remember it.

So at chicken on the grounds, my father says, everyone would sit down at the tables out in the yard. Continue reading

Want Transformation? Try An Upper Room

The Architecture of Transformation. That’s what we’re going to talk about today.

Our first scripture is from the Book of Acts, and you could be forgiven if it’s not one of the ones you have memorized by heart.

It’s the story of a woman named Tabitha, also called Dorcas, and her life and death as a disciple.

She was given the name and title of disciple, mathetria in Greek, and she’s the only woman given that title in the entire New Testament.

The community is convulsed with grief at her death. They clearly relied on her for leadership and service.

She mattered to them, deeply.

And so when she dies, the saints notify the leader of the entire fledgling Christian community, Peter.

Peter drops everything and comes to Joppa.

He finds her sisters in faith grieving deeply. They show him the evidence not just of her good works, the clothing she has made for the poor, but of how much she meant to them.

They struggle to see how they can go forward without her.

Peter sees how pivotal this female disciple was, this leader of the Joppa church, and he sends the mourners away.

He prays, and then he calls her by her name to rise up, and she does. She comes back to life.

No doubt the church and the entire community were overjoyed, and the text says that many people came to believe in Jesus after having heard about this event.

So that’s the basic story. But I want to call your attention to where this miracle occurs. Continue reading

A Week Late to the Resurrection: Wounded, Stubborn, Alive

Today, the first Sunday after Easter, is traditionally known as Low Sunday.

That’s a tremendously unflattering nickname for us as the Church.

Last week we presented the triumph of the church year.

We announced to the world the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: Jesus died and rose again to new life for love of us.

And the result is that the next Sunday is the lowest attendance of the whole church year, all the way across Christendom.

Ouch.

Was it something we said?

It may well have been. Continue reading

Vigil, Notre Dame, and the First Law of Thermodynamics

Alleluia, Christ is risen! It feels so good to say that!

One of the things I love about Easter is that we say alleluia and mean it.

We mean it even when there are some parts of our lives that don’t feel very “alleluia-like” at all.

All of us in this nave have brought different things on our hearts to this liturgy tonight.

Some of us carry griefs and burdens that weigh us down.

Some of us are joyful about new possibilities awakening in our lives.

All of us carry hopes for this beautiful father-daughter pair who are being baptized tonight, hopes for how we may best love and support them on their voyage of faith.

Easter Vigil is a unique and sometimes overlooked moment in our Holy Week journey.

It is the hinge point between darkness and light. It is the pivot point.

It is the meeting of life and death in an explosion of resurrection.

We have prayed for the courage all week to face the darkness in our path through the betrayal of Maundy Thursday, the agony of Good Friday, and the awful echoing silence of Holy Saturday.

Tomorrow will dawn bright and beautiful and we will be bathed in the unfettered joy of Easter Day.

But tonight is when the grief and the radiance, the pain and the jubilation, come together.

To experience this viscerally, we need look no further than the haunting beauty of the small flame of the Paschal candle advancing bravely through the cavernous darkness of the nave.

This liturgy, with its marriage of death and life, makes me think of the First Law of Thermodynamics.

For those of you for whom high school physics class was some years ago, this law states that “the total energy of an isolated system is constant; energy can be transformed from one form to another, but cannot be created or destroyed.”

I realized some years ago that we have the First Law of Thermodynamics in our very own Book of Common Prayer, although the language may not be quite so scientific.

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Useless Love: Bethany and Leningrad

Realistic. Practical. Sensible. Those are words we all like to use to describe ourselves and our churches.

We are Christians who believe in an amazing story of death and resurrection, but in the end we have to come back down to earth and live in the real world.

Someone has to make sure the budget balances.

This is exactly the attitude of Judas in our gospel story today, the attitude Jesus condemns.

We don’t normally think of ourselves in the same category with Judas.

And a great deal of the time, those practical considerations do need to guide our behavior as individuals and communities.

But Jesus profoundly values Mary and her gesture in this gospel.

He finds her pouring of fragrant oil over his feet and wiping them with her hair deeply meaningful, and he will not allow this beautiful, intimate moment to be ruined by the mean-spirited practicality of Judas.

What makes Judas even more blameworthy—and even more of a warning to us!—is that he overlays his criticism of Mary with a virtuous moral justification.

“We could have used that money to serve the poor!” he laments with outward heartfelt piety and inward smug self-righteousness.

Have you ever seen this happen at church?

Someone takes the moral high ground, not out of love but because it places him or her in a position to score points on someone else.

“I’m more Christian than you are,” is a game that has no winners.

Jesus saw this and Jesus cuts right through Judas’ posturing.

In this moment, Mary and her gesture mean more than Judas and his proposed action.

That’s hard for us action-oriented Americans to take!

All the beautiful gestures in the world won’t get the pledge campaign launched or the nave vacuumed or the food pantry stocked.

Or will they? Continue reading

How To Bless God Even When You Feel Like You’re Stuck In a Pigsty

As we build our life of faith, we ask to be conformed to the Mind of Christ, so that we might be ever more able to live faithfully as the Body of Christ.

And part of that process is taking on some of the characteristics of God—as lofty and intimidating as that might sound at first!

We usually think of asking God to bless us. But in the Way of Love, God is asking us to bless the world.

And all of our spiritual practices make us ready to say yes to that calling.

Many of us might feel pretty inadequate to take on something as big as blessing the world.

In that, we have something in common with our brother the Prodigal Son.

In our story from Luke today, one of the most well-known and beloved in the gospels, we hear of a young man who made certain choices.

To some, those choices might seem rash, selfish, and short-sighted.

To others, they may simply seem like the folly of youth.

The Prodigal Son actually sounds eerily like a denizen of 21st century America, a natural product of a highly individualistic, self-centered, and hedonistic society.

Continue reading

The Wild Prayer of Lent

If wilderness is the landscape of Lent, then prayer is the road that takes us there.

We live in a blind and busy city most of the time, a crowded confine of social norms, work and family obligations, and a general “business as usual” status quo.

It can be difficult to sustain a dedicated prayer life in the chaotic swirl of trying to keep up with our calendars, care for our dear ones, and cope with the unsettled tension of our common life.

The great gift of Lent is the call into the wilderness. It is an invitation to let the dust of daily life settle, and the graced silence of the desert begin to soothe and open our weary hearts.

But the wilderness cannot invade the city. It can’t come knock on our doors and drag us out into an encounter with the Holy.

We have to say yes.

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Trump in the Desert

Our gospel story today from Luke is the most sustained inside look at Jesus’ private spiritual life that we get anywhere in the Bible, along with his experience in the Garden of Gethsemane.

How interesting that we are allowed inside to see his heart at his moments of greatest trial and temptation.

How very like Jesus to humble himself and show us his moments of greatest danger and even near-defeat, to help us know more solidly than ever how present he is to us when we are tempted, tried, and tested by life.

What are the three temptations Jesus faces from the Devil really all about?

Jesus rejects “power, prestige, and perks,” as Richard Rohr puts it. He resists the temptation to manipulate his environment, manipulate his position in society, and manipulate God.

But at a deeper level, he’s rejecting the temptation to take on a false identity.

He will not be the dominator, the miracle worker, the king, the favorite of God. Because that is not who he is.

I was talking with some friends last night about the destructive and often frightening specter of President Trump and what he means in our country right now.

It can be tempting for those of us who find his racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and unrelenting stream of lies exhausting and demoralizing to call him evil.

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What to Do When You’re Squeamish About Miracles

The great twentieth century mystic, Thomas Merton, was standing at the corner of Fourth and Walnut in downtown Louisville when he had a great revelation.

“I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness…I have the immense joy of being [human], a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

Walking around shining like the sun.

That is apparently what Moses was doing after his encounters with God on the mountain.

And that is what Jesus was like in the Transfiguration.

Jesus put aside his glory because he had a lot of specific work left to do in the world and he couldn’t do it if people were so awestruck by him in his glorious form that they fell on their faces and trembled at the sight of him.

It was hard enough to avoid doing that when he healed people and multiplied loaves and fishes looking like a perfectly ordinary person.

Not twenty minutes after the Transfiguration Jesus was back down in the marketplace healing a young boy with epilepsy and going about his good work.

Jesus didn’t need the appearance of physical glory to get people’s attention. The goodness that flowed out of him nonstop did that all on its own.

But why did Moses hide the evidence of his encounter with God?

Why did he veil himself when his face was shining? Continue reading

Fishing Beneath Futility

The message of all of our scriptures today is: “I’m not very good at this.  I don’t think this is working.”

“Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Isaiah says. 

“Do not abandon the works of your hands,” the Psalmist pleads to God. 

“I am the least of the apostles,” Paul says, “Unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”

“Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing,” Peter says.

“I’m not very good at this.  I don’t think this is working.”

Have you ever felt like that in life?  In ministry?  I certainly have.

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