Peace With A Sword

July 22, 2017 Leave a comment

rue8 Good morning and welcome to all of you, this family of Sisters and Brothers in Christ. Greetings!

I had to think long and hard about today’s scripture and where to go with it. A few years back I had the opportunity to sit for a while and talk to a Quaker, or one of the “Friends” as they like to be called. It was a casual conversation and an open and trusting dialog developed as the two of us became more comfortable and at ease with each other. As it were, I was not yet ordained at the time but I was going through the education and discernment process, I still had much to learn. Our talk eventually turned to current events and politics. He knew that I had spent 20 years in the military and was retired from the Air Force but was puzzled at why with a military background, I was now coming to terms with a call to ordination I had had as a young boy.

He asked how I justified the two careers, each of them being on different ends of the spectrum involving peace. When it comes to military actions, we know that Quakers are conscientious objectors and are to do no harm to anyone. They truly are a peaceful group and if you ever have the opportunity to attend one of their meetings, I’ll be interested to know your perception of what you think happens during the time they spend together on Sundays. After explaining my intentions for joining the Air Force, and getting a nod of understanding from him it was my turn to ask a question. So I asked him, “Who do Quakers say Jesus is, and why is your service, or meeting, set up the way it is?” He knew I lived for the Liturgy of the Word and the Holy Eucharist so his response was quick and put me on the defensive from what I was hearing. He said, “I can’t speak for all of them, but for me personally, Jesus is all about peace. He came to show us how to be peaceful. Do all Quakers think this way? Probably not and I’m not speaking for them. As for your Christian sects I don’t understand your services. You seem to have all kind of rituals that don’t lead to much of anything. We sit in prayer and meditation and wait for the Holy Spirit to give us any messages we might need for today or the future. It’s all about meditating in a group.”

I’ll not comment on the meditation part. But my friend here really shocked me. I knew, as I said, they were peace-full, but I figured perhaps he might go deep and a little more in-depth theology might emerge. Surprisingly, he didn’t mention anything about Jesus coming as the Messiah, or the Holy Trinity or Holy Eucharist, or even prayer for that matter. His affirmation was simple. You were just to be peaceful. He insisted that Jesus was simply about peace. He came to bring peace. Period. Knowing this portion of scripture, today’s Gospel we just read, I was ready to get into a discussion and question him on what discipleship meant. Something said “Pete, let it be” no need to make things confrontational at this point in the discussion. Perhaps another time when we’d gotten to know each other better we could talk about Scripture and disciples, but this seemed to be sufficient for the time being.

This didn’t stop me from continuing to think of Jesus and Peace and the cost of discipleship during a long drive home afterwards. If it were that easy, to live in peace with no challenges from anywhere or anybody on this earth, then why are there so many wars? Or not only wars? Why are there so many arguments and fights and altercations where people are left with both physical and emotional scars? “I leave you peace, my peace I give you?” Or “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”? Of all things to bring besides peace, he comes with a sword. Just as swiftly as a sword can slice through flesh and even bone, Jesus’s words here slice through our thoughts and sever any notions we had about him from the other words of peace and love we hear him speak of; Love. Peace. Servanthood. No matter how you cut it, his words we hear now don’t go down easily.

It was this exchange that helped carve out my own views on what it meant to be a disciple of Christ. You see, when Jesus gives us this lesson it is with the intent of making us uncomfortable. One of my favorite musicals of all times, The Fiddler on the Roof, points out how uncomfortable things can be for someone who is used to living in a world where nothing changes and then everything seems to cave in on him! It would be as hard for these new converts and followers of Jesus to change their ways than it was for the father, Tevye, to give up his traditions! If we are to become disciples of Jesus we must have the will to give up some of the ways we’ve been used to doing them. If we are to be students of the Good News, we must be prepared to spread that news and tell everyone we can about it. If we are to fit into this life and what it takes to live into our baptismal covenant we must have the fortitude to forget what we’ve been taught by others and stand with our new sisters and brothers. We will need to walk a walk that is much different than that of our fathers and mothers, or sisters and brothers.

That is what I think is meant by Jesus when he says he’s come with a sword. He will make the cuts that separate the talkers from the doers. Our calling is not only to affirm that Jesus is our Lord and Savior; but to make the change that shows that in the world. It’s an easy thing to do, once you convince yourself that you are not held to the old standards of the letter of the law. The spirit of the law now lives in us and we are beyond a meaningless gesture of giving lip service to one deserving of our service to others in his name. Those who follow the master and the teacher will find their peace at some point. The journey and the road that takes them there will make all the difference in the world as to when that peace comes. And when we think we’re near the end and we look back, we may find we’ve been living in that peace all along. All because we paid the cost of discipleship through making the right cuts from the beginning.

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Wake Up to Our Call

November 13, 2016 Leave a comment

Once again, good morning and welcome to our family here at Trinity.  You are more than just welcome. You are invited to worship and fellowship with us, and if you feel so moved, please travel with us on our journey. Today we will be reflecting on the readings and in my usual style, see how they instruct us to handle our lives in a day to day manner. But it is impossible to begin any presentation without the mentioning of this past week’s election and the impact it has had on the lives of everyone not just in this country but around the world. Just as it happens anytime there are sides to take, where one group sits in opposition to another, there are presumed winners and presumed losers. Along with this winning and losing there are real and valued feelings that are attached to it.

That is a very large part of what it means to be awake. If we didn’t have feelings one way or another about the outcome of any major event, especially one that directly affects things like one’s health, protecting creation and our environment, the elderly – homeless – refugees – mothers and children, and determining the legality of who we can love …. How awake can we say we are? Because as we sit here today we sit in a divided land, and in all honesty, a divided church of Christians. Some have chosen not to allow their personal preferences to be broadcast in public and their privacy is to be respected. There are others who we do hear from at times because they feel there is a need to let their voices be heard. As long as that is done with civility and respect for those who they sit across the aisle from – we all have the right to do that.

So this morning, we must come together knowing that just as there are those who are joyful, there are those who hurt. Just as there are those who are shocked and confused, there are those who sit here with confidence. And just as there are those who fear a change for the worse, there are those who stand with a conviction of everything being just fine. Where we go from here and what we do in the coming weeks and months will depend on how we process all of these changes and come to grips with a new reality. In a pastoral note to the diocese, the first thing Bishop Audrey did on Wednesday morning was to remind us that no matter where we sit, “… our duties as Christians to participate in God’s mission hasn’t changed: we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the poor. Reach out to the margins and welcome in the stranger, lift up the downtrodden, make free the oppressed. This includes women, LGBTQI brothers and sisters, Muslims, refugees and all those subject to the sin of racism. Pray for peace, strive to end gun violence, bind up the wounds of those who ache. Love your neighbor as yourself. That’s what matters.”

I thanked her for that reminder and as I sat with myself in the next few days wondering how I could tie all of this in with today’s readings things became even more confusing. Because here I sat with two lessons from the lectionary with seemingly polar opposite messages. It appeared that some two-headed monster was attacking me from every angle there was. I was looking for one way, one solution, one clue as to what words you were supposed to hear but all that was coming through were two seemingly distinct lessons. The first is the message of Isaiah that foretells of a new world order and a utopia where everything is made right by God, people working together with other people for a common good and even the rest of the created world living side by side without fear. This world will be so perfect that all things that existed prior to it won’t be remembered. There will only be peace… violence will not exist because it says in the final verse “They shall not hurt or destroy on all my Holy mountain, says the Lord”.

Compare that with Luke’s account of Jesus’s apocalyptic world that has us – or at least me – cringing at the prophesies of a world turned upside down not in a good sense, but through both the natural and human-made destruction of our home. It’s almost as if Jesus is saying “yes, you read what Isaiah had to say, that everything will be just fine in the next life. But I’m here to tell you that you have to go through a living nightmare to get there.” Jesus had to have scared people out of their wits talking like this! We are given instances of earthquakes, famine and sickness, evil rulers, collapsing kingdoms, false prophets claiming to be Jesus … but that’s not even the worst part. The worst part is that believers will be rounded up and tortured because they do the work that Jesus told them to do. The same work that Bishop Audrey reminded us is our call as Christians in the few sentences I read just a couple of minutes ago.

How do we sit with that? Can we comfortably separate these two pieces of scripture and say we are good with one but not the other, or that we’ll accept one because it’s easy and as for the other … well, maybe it’s not going in the direction we hoped it would. We’ve seen plenty of wars and natural disasters before today. Christians have been persecuted for years since back in the first couple of centuries yet the world hasn’t ended yet. Why we’ve even seen people claiming to be Jesus walking around with signs saying ‘repent, the end is near’! Surely either it’s all a big lie to get us to behave – or God is playing a game with us and just teasing us a little at a time.

As usual I’m full of questions today, here are a few more: Which is more important to you? To know what the will of God is so we can find out if this is all truth; or to have faith and hope, trusting that what we read here is in fact, truth? Figuring out God’s will in this moment is as difficult as it was when Jesus was there in front of his disciples, personally giving them clues. Right now, today, do we stand in glorious and happy times full of cheer or do we wrestle with the unknown and very mysterious ways of God?

Our faith tells us we must wake up! We must wake up and see what is going on around us. We must wake up and listen to the words of Jesus spoken through those less fortunate. We must wake up and make sure that we haven’t gotten so comfortable that we’ve lost track of our baptismal covenant. We have every reason to want to have things our way, have things easy, have things such as Isaiah promises in his vision of a new world. After all we’re told from a very young age that if we work hard early on and keep at it we’ll have the finer things in life later on because we’ll have earned them. Now, if that were true we’d have a country full of healthy, wealthy, successful citizens who don’t have a thing to worry about. What that old adage doesn’t tell us is that at any time, our lives can be hit like an earthquake, shaking things up when illness strikes us or a family member; causing finances to be eaten up with the cost of medicines and hospital bills. So while we may face our future with wishful thinking that the only thing that matters in life is to have everything go perfectly fine, we still need to keep our mind focused on our mission. We still need to do all we can to help each other as we journey through this ever changing world.

To do anything else but focus on our call, regardless of who is in charge of this earthly existence, is to step aside from the teachings of the Gospels and the words of Jesus. Those other voices, the ones who promise you prosperity in this life are the voices of the false prophets that Jesus speaks of, because according to them things should always come easy. We need to listen to the voices who know what suffering is, because Jesus tells us it is through this that we find what true joy is. The joy of being awake!

Through these threads that either weave back and forth between the passages or stand exclusively on their own, there is one point that Jesus makes that we must not ignore. And that is what to do if we ever are in a position where our association with Christianity is questioned. For those of us who write or preach as part of our jobs, it’s unlike anything we could think of. We are not to rehearse our words and plan a discourse that just might talk ourselves out of becoming a martyr. Just the opposite. We are to stand before our accusers and be faithful in knowing that we will be given the words to testify, letting our convictions be known that for us – Jesus, yes Jesus – not a politician, not a lawyer, not a family member or best friend, or performer or athlete – Jesus is our one true Lord.

When we are able to consider this without second guessing ourselves, then we will know we are awake. We will know we are alive. Will we put all of our resources together in moving forward, leading the way and doing all we can to carry out our call to be Christians? It’s our choice. We must choose to be awake and we must choose now. Being dead while living cannot be an option. So take a moment to step back and take a deep breath. Leave the “God in charge of picking winners” out of it, that God doesn’t exist. Ask the God who sits alongside those who suffer to be in our lives. And let’s continue the work we have to do to make this earth as it is in heaven – a world where one day the wolves will graze alongside the lambs.

So comfort your neighbor who mourns through this time and allow them the space to do it without ridicule. Give those who need to celebrate the time to do so, asking only that it be done with respect for others and without gloating. And let us pray for this country and its people that we will live within these tensions peacefully and filled with the ever-loving grace of God. Peace and All Good! Amen.

(Biblical Text used is from the RCL for Year C, Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28), Nov. 13)

Categories: Uncategorized

Pure Joy. A Sermon for the Feast of St. Francis Oct 4, 2016 The Rev. Pete Gdula, Deacon

October 5, 2016 Leave a comment

There’s a saying I read once that puts what we think we know about Francis in perspective. If our only recollection of him is a bird bath statue and a once a year pet blessing, we really don’t know the first thing about him. Yes, he loved animals, but he also loved every single thing in this universe of ours, because he knew that God created everything.

Francis was consumed by a love for the Gospels, and took every word to heart. If you could say there was one goal that Francis wanted to achieve, it would be to emulate everything that Jesus did. One of the most dramatic things was how he not only accepted pain and ridicule, he welcomed it. His view was, anything he could endure on this earth could not possibly come close to going through the agony of what Jesus did leading up to His death by crucifixion.   From that first historic moment where he heard the words of Christ spoken to him through that crucifix at San Damiano “Francis, rebuild my church”, his love for God and Jesus became a passion.

He acknowledged how at first he took these words to mean the actual reconstruction of that old, dilapidated chapel in the meadow. He even went around town begging for stones and rocks from people’s property to use to rebuild the walls. But as each stone was put into place those words of “rebuild my church” transformed him into a being who then realized it wasn’t the building Jesus was talking about, but the church in the world and God’s people who belonged to it. So armed with this love to be like Jesus, the gospel words etched in his mind, and a new perspective on the human condition, he set out on a mission to reclaim the message that was meant to be heard by everyone who heard these gospels.

During his conversations with people, there were many who showed an interest in what he had set out to do, but honestly couldn’t handle the rigors of a monastic lifestyle. To these, Francis graciously allowed them to go back into the world, yet encouraged them to live their lives and continue their ways with families and occupation, taking the things they learned with them. This was the foundation of the Third Order; people like you and me, who feel called to a deeper relationship with Christ and Creation, but don’t have the call to live out a life in a monastic tradition. Just as the rule for his band of brothers was simple and rather ordinary, the third order was also given a rule of life to live by.

Part of our rule is comprised of areas we are to pray and focus on. There are three of what we call “Aims” of the order, as in we “aim” to achieve these in our daily lives. The first is “To make the Lord known and loved everywhere”. While this sounds like basic evangelism, what it really entails is to allow our lives to be lived as a model of what the gospels tell us. It’s believed that it’s the mission of the church to make the gospel known to all, and the church’s people show it in the way they live their lives.

The second aim is “To spread the spirit of love and harmony”. In this we accept the fact that creation was intended for everyone. It’s our basis for becoming involved in social justice movements, breaking down barriers between people to show the goodness that we inherently own, all from God and displayed through the words and actions of Jesus in the gospels. We are pledged to fight against the ignorance, pride, and prejudice that breed injustice and partiality of any kind.

The third aim is probably the hardest; “To live simply”. Just as the first Christians acted on the words of Jesus by giving up all the had to live in community with their sisters and brothers, so each person had what they needed, we too, seek to remove materialism as a driving force or goal in how we go through life, and replace the need for “things” with a love that goes back to the second aim, breaking down the barriers that monetary wealth forms between classes of people.

Over all of these things, Francis insisted that they lead to ‘perfect joy’. His thoughts were that nothing in the world could be more joyous than living a life as how Christ and the gospels directed us. Now to give an example of Francis’s quest for perfect joy I’d like to read to you one of the many legends handed down to us:

One day in winter, as St Francis was going with Brother Leo from Perugia to St Mary of the Angels, and was suffering greatly from the cold, he called to Brother Leo, who was walking on before him, and said to him: “Brother Leo, if it were to please God that the Friars Minor should give, in all lands, a great example of holiness and edification, write down, and note carefully, that this would not be perfect joy.”

A little further on, St Francis called to him a second time: “O Brother Leo, if the Friars Minor were to make the lame to walk, if they should make straight the crooked, chase away demons, give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the dumb, and, what is even a far greater work, if they should raise the dead after four days, write that this would not be perfect joy.”

Shortly after, he cried out again: “O Brother Leo, if the Friars Minor knew all languages; if they were versed in all science; if they could explain all Scripture; if they had the gift of prophecy, and could reveal, not only all future things, but likewise the secrets of all consciences and all souls, write that this would not be perfect joy.”

After proceeding a few steps farther, he cried out again with a loud voice: “O Brother Leo, thou little lamb of God! if the Friars Minor could speak with the tongues of angels; if they could explain the course of the stars; if they knew the virtues of all plants; if all the treasures of the earth were revealed to them; if they were acquainted with the various qualities of all birds, of all fish, of all animals, of men, of trees, of stones, of roots, and of waters – write that this would not be perfect joy.”

Shortly after, he cried out again: “O Brother Leo, if the Friars Minor had the gift of preaching so as to convert all infidels to the faith of Christ, write that this would not be perfect joy.”

Now when this manner of discourse had lasted for the space of two miles, Brother Leo wondered much within himself; and, questioning the saint, he said: “Father, I pray, teach me where is perfect joy?” St Francis answered: “If, when we shall arrive at St Mary of the Angels, all drenched with rain and trembling with cold, all covered with mud and exhausted from hunger; if, when we knock at the convent-gate, the porter should come angrily and ask us who we are; if, after we have told him, ‘We are two of the brethren’, he should answer angrily, ‘What you say is not the truth; you are but two impostors going about to deceive the world, and take away the alms of the poor; begone I say’; if then he refuse to open to us, and leave us outside, exposed to the snow and rain, suffering from cold and hunger till nightfall – then, if we accept such injustice, such cruelty and such contempt with patience, without being ruffled and without murmuring, believing with humility and charity that the porter really knows us, and that it is God who makes him to speak thus against us, write down, O Brother Leo, that this is perfect joy.

And if we knock again, and the porter come out in anger to drive us away with oaths and blows, as if we were vile impostors, saying, ‘Begone, miserable robbers! to the hospital, for here you shall neither eat nor sleep!’ – and if we accept all this with patience, with joy, and with charity, O Brother Leo, write that this indeed is perfect joy. And if, urged by cold and hunger, we knock again, calling to the porter and entreating him with many tears to open to us and give us shelter, for the love of God, and if he come out more angry than before, exclaiming, ‘These are but importunate rascals, I will deal with them as they deserve’; and taking a knotted stick, he seize us by the hood, throwing us on the ground, rolling us in the snow, and shall beat and wound us with the knots in the stick – if we bear all these injuries with patience and joy, thinking of the sufferings of our Blessed Lord, which we would share out of love for him, write, O Brother Leo, that here, finally, is perfect joy.

And now, brother, listen to the conclusion. Above all the graces and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ grants to his friends, is the grace of overcoming oneself, and accepting willingly, out of love for Christ, all suffering, injury, discomfort and contempt; for in all other gifts of God we cannot glory, seeing they proceed not from ourselves but from God, according to the words of the Apostle, What have you that you have not received from God? and if you have received it, why do you glory as if you have not received it?’ But in the cross of tribulation and affliction we may glory, because, as the Apostle says again, ‘I will not glory but in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Amen.”

This doesn’t seem like pure joy to anyone. It rather seems like a love for being beaten and humiliated. But there is where he makes his point. Just as he took every word of Jesus to heart, he acted on every word. He left nothing out as we do today, saying “I don’t think that suites me so I won’t do that part”. For just as he heard how good God is, he also heard the words of the beatitudes “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.” That is what set Francis apart, that he took all of the words to heart and acted on them, not just a few chosen words by his own selection.

Perfect joy to Francis was anything that made us like Christ, or came as close as possible to bring us to a sense of unity in the spirit of the words. We are all sinners. But as long as we are headed in the direction of what the people before us chose, we are well on our way to perfect joy; the ultimate perfect joy of being in the presence of Christ when our time in this life is over. May we all share in the peace, love, and joy that Father Francis wanted us to live in. Amen.

Categories: Uncategorized

Preaching a False Gospel

June 26, 2016 Leave a comment

DSC_0204Greetings and good morning. We welcome everyone here on this Memorial Day weekend. I’m full of questions this morning. I’m not sure what the answers are or if there is any one correct answer to some of them. But I think every so often it helps to sit back and do a self-examination to see if our actions match what we think we believe. In a way, this is what Paul is up to with his address to the church in Galatia. He knows they have been taught the ways of Christianity. What he sees them doing is something completely different. Even in this young church not even decades removed from the actual life of Jesus, he recognizes there are false teachings taking control of the people and moving them in a direction contrary to the what the Gospels teach. That would never happen today, would it? Could the words of Jesus as written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John be set aside for some other agenda? For some other ploy to distract us from what our true purpose is? That answer is easy. I hope nobody missed that one.

In so many ways, this Epistle almost seems out of place. Right from the beginning we have language uncommon to the other letters. Where Paul usually goes on and on with his greetings and blessings and congratulatory one sentence that lasts two paragraphs worth of words with a tone of thanksgiving and gratitude; within 6 versus he is straight at the heart of a problem and addresses it without hesitation. The new church has been one where the sole teaching, the one true gospel, was the gospel of the love of Christ in the world. And with each member of the church being the body of Christ, the hands, the feet, the eyes, the mouth, it was that love that was conveyed to the world through the actions of its members. The Galatians seem to have forgotten this. For some reason or reasons they have allowed themselves to be taken over by an alternative theology, if not Christology! These people have been lured into something other than what Jesus taught. As directly quoted here verses 6 and 7 “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ”

Here’s another question: Who in the world today would want to confuse you and pervert the gospel of Christ for some other purpose than love? Or for some other purpose than building strong relationships with our neighbors? Not being divisive by building walls and making false derogatory accusations against others? Those are the kind of things that turn people against each other. When we look for ways to show the love of Christ to others we can be assured we are heading in the right direction. Having sympathy and empathy always do more good in the world than a complete lack of concern. And that is almost as bad as causing intentional harm, both at home and throughout the world.

Because If there is one thing that will dissolve a congregation quickly and without much warning it is apathy. Not just an apathy toward the structure and teachings of the church; but an apathy toward God and God’s people. Take away the heart of any creature and it dies. Take away the intentions and focus of love from a Christian and see what becomes of their attitude towards others. Is this where prejudice forms? From an uncaring attitude about another person’s gender, race, culture, or religion? When that apathy creeps out into the community, out into the counties, states, country, we only have to turn on the nightly news to see how far that has gotten us. Gone are the days where we listened to real, educated journalists report facts and give us information that allowed us to form our own opinions and ask important questions that made sense. A lack of love and empathy has led us to calling each other names and ridiculing those we don’t know a thing about. All of that because instead of reaching out to someone to learn more about them we retreat in fear and make them our enemy.

It’s true, there is no difference in what the church of Galatia was doing in 45 CE than what a great number of churches in America are doing in 2016 CE. Outsiders are on the inside trying to teach us a false and perverted gospel.

Perverted by everything under the sun by placing everything first that shouldn’t be there. Which brings me to another question. What really comes first in our lives? God? Family? Country? Work? Politics?

I’ve been on a rant here for the last seven or eight minutes asking questions but that last one is the one that really should make us think. Especially on this holiday weekend. You know, so often we’ve been singing those hymns telling us how God is with the United States, God leads us into battle, God will bring us victory, and yes, God will even preside over our team’s football game and make them win! But it’s an old hymn that dates to the beginning of time from the first moment a myth was teamed up with a ritual and a battle was fought to protect an ideal. And it’s an ideal that Jesus wanted us to break away from but for some reason we just can’t do it. We can’t seem to put God first. We can’t seem to maintain that Christology that says the gospel is a gospel of love and thinking it is anything else is just wrong.

Unfortunately for many, this apathy, this perverted gospel, this long lost vision of a world living in the love of Christ is why we celebrate Memorial Day. We gather on this day to honor those who lost their lives serving a cause sometimes bigger than them, sometimes much smaller than they ever were. Today we won’t argue the right or wrong of the wars they fought or debate which is more important for us to be, a Christian or a patriot! Today we will pay tribute to their lives that were always cut short because of war. Being the son of a veteran and one myself I can tell you that knowing someone who lost their life in war is hard to bear. Perhaps it’s because you know it can happen any time to any one, or at any time to you. It doesn’t matter whether war is just or unjust, it just matters that another son or daughter lost their life fighting for someone else. In the end all we can do is pray for them and the ones they left behind, pray that eventually it won’t have to be this way anymore, and pray that other souls know nothing about the apathy that put their brothers and sisters where they are now.

There’s a song I’d like to play for you that seems to sum things up. It was recorded by the American Singer-Songwriter Edwin McCain and it’s called “A Prayer to Saint Peter”. I’d like to close with it now. “Prayer To St. Peter”

“Let them in, Peter – For they are very tired – Give them couches where the angels sleep – And light those fires – Let them wake whole again – To brand new dawns Fired by the sun – Not war-times bloody guns – May their peace be deep – Remember where the broken bodies lie – God knows how young they were To have to die – You know God knows how young they were – To have to die Give them things they like – Let them make some noise – Give dance hall bands not golden harps – To these our girls and boys – Let them love Peter – For they’ve had no time – They should have bird songs and trees – And hills to climb And tell them how they are missed – But say not to fear – It’s gonna be all right With us down here.”

Deacon Pete

(Ref Revised Common Lectionary: Year C, Proper 4)

Your Illusion of Christ

June 26, 2016 Leave a comment

long lotus

Here’s my question for the day: “What illusions do you have about what Jesus expects of you when you choose to follow him?” Let me repeat that: “What illusions do you have about what Jesus expects of you when you choose to follow him?” For many years I was under the illusion that if or when I would finally be answering His call, everything in and about life would suddenly be like a movie. The butterflies and birds would fly around in circles near my head. Everyone would treat me kindly and I’d see the perfect utopia that we all dream about. Rainbows everywhere, and hunger, fear, disease and poverty were too far out of sight to be brought to mind for even the slightest moment.

I had a lot to learn and learned a lot in a very short time once I stopped the kicking and screaming as I passed from one Committee on Ministry to the next in my diocesan ministry discernment process. I was second-guessing myself right up to almost having to be dragged down the aisle by the saints and angels to have Bishop Baxter lay his hands on me to be ordained. Even the next Sunday I woke up at 4:30 in the morning, so afraid I’d sleep in, that it hit me hard – this was for the rest of my life! This following Jesus thing was now for real! But did it have to involve wearing a collar? There were so many good lay ministers out there that seemed to be more in tune to what it meant to be a Christian than I ever thought I could be. In short, I was like John and James, wanting to know where those lightning bolts were to hurl around at something… just anything… to prove a point. I couldn’t tell you what that point was but I was positive that since I was now following Jesus I might as well go and do some rebuking of my own!

But when we read today’s gospel we find that all of that fluff that we dream about happening couldn’t be further from the truth. What do mean we can’t call upon the heavens to destroy some civilization that is being mean to us? It wasn’t part of the Old Testament lesson for today, but we just read about Elijah, Isn’t that what he did? Didn’t he request that God send down fire to wipe out enemies? Surely we can take revenge on those who harm us. It’s in the bible. We just read it. Oh, and still yet, didn’t Elijah let Elisha, who wished to continue on and follow him go home to say good bye to his family? But now Jesus won’t allow this one potential disciple leave to take care of the bones of his deceased father and then return and continue on with him. Why is there such a difference between what we hear in the old testament and what we hear Jesus doing when it involves the same situations?

Unfortunately, when we try to relate to the bible and look there for answers to what it is we should do in our daily lives, so many of us get caught up in the laws, just as the Jews did, just as the Greeks did, just as the Romans did. To understand Jesus, to understand what it takes to be a Christian requires us to unwrap our brains from the rules and regulations and sink our souls into the Spirit of Christ. I couldn’t remember where I first heard the saying that “You must never break a law unless you know the reason why the law was written in the first place.” Seems that you’d have to be a bit of a renegade to do that. But then again that’s what Jesus was. He healed on the Sabbath, he hung out with the homeless and the sick, he crossed religious and cultural boundaries tending to those different than him, and he opposed war, revenge, and violence.

Looking at those traits, what do many who claim to be Christians do today? Cities are finding ways to make it more and more difficult to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless. Money is withheld from or refused by agencies whereby that money would enable those who need health care the most to get it. Lies are spread and traps set to lure others into fighting instead of seeking to compromise on issues and work things out in peaceful fashion. We could go on and on with these comparisons, and even try to make them political, but the fact of the matter is they are issues not about countries or cities or governments but issues that affect the dignity of human beings everywhere. I’m saying these things today; Jesus was explaining it a couple thousand years ago. Not much has changed except the time and place.

What does all of that have to do with me being a Christian, you might ask? According to Jesus, it has everything to do with it. When we talk of being a Christian so many people like to wrap themselves up in their own little cuddly blanket thinking that to say they are Christians is enough. They wear crosses and put tag lines on email addresses and maybe even have a Shield on their car. They do the duties in church that are needed for the congregation to survive like tithe, volunteer and assist with the services. They do everything they’ve heard they should do and have read – like the ten commandments – from the old law. Yet still we find something missing. Something that nags at us from time to time and we can’t quite put our finger on it. Eventually it comes to us, some late in life, some early, some early, then late, then even late after that. Those are the ones like me who had the call at the age of 10, then put it off at the wise old age of 13, then on again around 35, off at 40, on at 45… until finally we think we “get it”. And then we find out there’s way more to what Jesus kind of said would happen but we glossed over it and act surprised when it does happen.

We find that following Jesus and being a Christian means what Paul said today, that now we are led not by earthly, material things (the flesh as he calls it) but we are led by the Spirit and so must live the way of Christ. We find that living in Christ means that our first response to a crisis is not about what happened or will happen to our property, but we move forward with an automatic concern and compassion for the people who may be effected by that crisis no matter if it’s from a natural disaster or an act of violence, revenge, or war. And we find that living in Christ means we know the reasons why rules and laws were written and made and if the time comes to break that law in order to save lives – be it human or animal, domestic or foreign – we will act in the spirit of the law of do what is right.

Looking back at my own illusion, what I thought what being a true follower of Jesus would be like, all I can say is, “it’s not the same animal, not even the same species.” But once we understand the nature of Christ, not the superficial one some talk about, but the Christ that feeds us with grace and inspires us through the acts of others; once we begin to understand that, we can begin to accept that not everything about being a Christian is butterflies and rainbows. You’ll often be on the wrong side of history. You’ll often have an opposing view of current affairs from what your friends have. You’ll often be in the middle of some illness, some crisis, some dilemma – either yours or other’s – that needs professional help. You may not have it all as far as others are concerned. Having it all is the illusion that you started with. But you will have more than you will ever need or know through this Grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Deacon Pete

(Ref Revised Common Lectionary:  Year C, 6 Pentecost, Proper 8, June 26 2016)

 

 

A Righteous Advent

November 29, 2015 Leave a comment

 

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Last week I was scheduled to give you a brief talk about stewardship, particularly stewardship of creation. Now for me there is not that much of a stretch between these two themes – creation and advent – so I was thinking just maybe we could merge them into one message. It will either come together brilliantly or fail pathetically, but you are owed at least an attempt at what you missed from me last week. We shall hope for brilliance. And if it never gets there, there’s always coffee to discuss it over after the service.

So let’s begin this adventure with our first reading today from Jeremiah. Notice how the readings are prophetic and apocalyptic. The one thing we draw towards in this season, the one focus as the natural daylight fades and the amount of darkness increases IS the new Light – with a capital L. Or maybe more appropriate might be RE-newed Light. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus, what we do in Advent is recollect ourselves and prepare for the second coming of Christ. The prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah tell us of the first coming. That prophecy was fulfilled just over 2000 years ago. That is why today we focus on the renewed Light, represented by the candles in the beautiful wreath. We are to bring ourselves back into a state of going about our business in a right and proper manner. And we’re told of that second coming in the writings of the Gospels and Epistles; here today we’re reading Luke’s version and the self-prophecy of Jesus describing the future. So we wait in hope with our candles lit to drive away the darkness that tries to consume us.

And do it how? In righteousness. Now this word has an effect where when we are confronted with it can often confuse as well as annoys us. Righteousness. It’s a word that you seldom hear outside of religious circles. Someone makes a comment about how someone is a sinner for doing something that the good book says they will be condemned for. Another hears this not-so-nice comment and responds with “you aren’t supposed to judge others!” That response is immediately met with the first person saying “I use righteous judgement like the bible says to do! So don’t judge me!” And another opportunity to learn from and educate each other is wiped out because now both parties are in defense mode and there is nothing that can be said that will change their minds.

How did this situation get so convoluted to start with? Again, I think it comes down to how we view that word “righteousness”. It sounds so authoritative. Yet Jeremiah convincingly and lovingly cries out with hope that the Lord will cause a righteous branch to spring up, and there will be justice and righteousness, and everything will be so wonderful and fulfilling that the day shall be called “The Lord is our righteousness.”  …   Let’s ask ourselves how that compares with the form of being righteous I just mentioned.

There is a difference. True righteousness is not an attitude or an absolute standard. It refers to how we conduct ourselves in staying in line with God’s purpose – God’s ‘will’ – if you wish. In the Feasting on the Word Commentary, Gary Charles says that “It is doing the good thing and the God thing: right doing as opposed to wrongdoing, and doing as opposed to being.” What we see and hear of all too often is Self-righteousness which is nothing more than the inflated ego of self-approval; He says further “righteousness is the humble ethic of living toward others in just and loving relationships.” We as a congregation will be comforted and motivated by preaching and teaching that brings this kind of Jeremiah righteousness into its language and life. It will be a challenge that causes us to reflect on our integrity in the world. So is the Lord our righteousness? Are we willing to welcome the day when God’s justice and righteousness will be fulfilled? Can we read Jesus’s words in Luke and accept that what he describes will come true?

I don’t know how you understand it all but for me, this acceptance of Advent just doesn’t fit into the secular world this time of year. How soon after the pumpkins were carved did we see tinsel and trees and inflatable snowmen, santas, and yes – even inflatable baby Jesus’s placed on the shelves where just a day or two prior sat bags of black and orange wrapped candy. Advent doesn’t fit into the secular world these days because it’s antithetical to capitalism. We mustn’t be contemplating our inner lives and making space in our hearts for more peace and hope and love and joy when Christmas gets here. We’re supposed to have already opened two new lines of credit, preordered all the latest tech gadgets, and stocked up on every bottle of cheer and box of candy we can find. That’s what will make us happy! And it will make us happy now! Because if we’re happy now, we are sure to be elated on Christmas morning. Or Christmas Eve more than likely, the way we are forced to keep moving everything further ahead these days. So Advent just doesn’t fit into the ways of a kind of world that wants us to be in and OF it.

There has to be a balance where we can nurture the space not of this world. A space where candles are filling in the shadows with their light, while we do what is needed to be done in the world with the challenge not to become a part of it. This is where stewardship enters the picture. We must make the best use of and be able to balance our time, our energy, our work load, (our check books), and our prayer time; so that we don’t forget what is most important to us. Also, what is important to God and God’s purposes – God’s will – that way of righteousness that is humble, just, and loving to every creature on this earth.

I use the word “creature” here to mean everything that was created. When we use creation language we are more apt to view everything around us as something sacred and holy whose substance exists from the beginning of time, back when – as Paul says in other parts of his letter to the Thessalonians – Christ was before all things came into being and nothing came into being without Christ. In all things. Created all things. Yes. Christ was, is, and is to be. Everything that God made – and God continues to make – was and is declared by Him to be good. It is because of this I’m inclined to believe that any destruction of the creaturely nature of earth, our island home, is not a very righteous thing to do. Which is why I’ll always try to be a prophetic voice for those creatures who cannot speak for themselves.

Advent takes work, commitment, and an open mind that is willing to break loose from the material objects that we are told will comfort us and bring us joy. Advent makes us wait in candle lit silence in preparation for the second coming. Advent takes a righteous kind of thinking that will seek out God’s purpose and will. We are in a time that is constantly trying to drag us away from what we are supposed to be doing and apart from the people we need to do it with. May we as a congregation join together this Advent and become the light of a candle for our community that allows them to see the light of Christ whose return we wait for in this world. Amen.

Deacon Pete

Ref:  RCL Year C, First Advent.

Raised Up Like the Serpent

March 15, 2015 Leave a comment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA “For God so loved the world…”  John 3:16.  This verse is probably one that most everyone knows.   It’s probably one that most everyone as heard or seen.  And if you have ever watched even a dozen or more athletic events through the years, especially golf and have seen the signs raised up with this notation on them, you may even gloss over it as fast as it enters your mind.  I’ve always been amused with that aspect of this one sentence; that so many or our Christian brothers and sisters use it to get attention.  Because while on one hand there are believers in Jesus who use it as their mantra to explain how anyone who doesn’t accept Jesus as their lord and savior is condemned to hell; others hold it in their hearts that this is too hard to believe.  That if God not just loved the world, but is Love and the one true light – as we are also taught by John (among others) – how could not believing or not even knowing this gospel separate someone from God?  In other words, does the passage from Paul we read today really mean what John Calvin believed?  That there is an elect group of people who God has chosen to receive salvation and no one else gets in, defying the forgiving virtues of grace that we know so well?

This is such a difficult teaching, not only to comprehend without throwing our human thinking out the door, but to break down theologically as well.  And it leaves many preachers leaving it tucked into the gospel reading and heading toward the other lessons.  As I will do… for a moment… then we’ll return.  Because leading us into this creed of believing is a reference to the Book of Numbers that was given to us for this day.  Jesus said “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the son of man be lifted up…”  Now Jesus very often uses scripture to show the relationship between himself and what the prophets were speaking of.  (It always fascinates me how people who had so few books could remember so much written material.  This is just a side bar on the subject but it shows how far too much information we have on our minds these days.  I have a very hard time just remembering names, a few passages and psalms here and there, and a tenth of the grocery list I left at home.  This is proof of how much we really do need the bible in our daily lives and not just on Sundays… keeping the scriptures alive as so many did before us.)  But; let’s look at what the serpents or snakes represent.  This is one of the times the people are grumbling and complaining about what they don’t have.  Keep in mind they are now free from bondage.  They are on their own, traveling around the wilderness searching for a new home.  There is no food or water… and here comes one of those lines that completely befuddles you, how can there be no food or water and have the food be so miserable?  It really does represent extreme dissatisfaction when you detest the things you don’t have!  So God thinks, “Well, they are once again placing troubles over freedom.  I guess it’s time for another lesson.”  So snakes are sent, fatally poisonous ones at that, and as more Israelites are bitten the more they die, until at last the people look at it as punishment for their groaning and complaining.  And as Moses usually does, he talks to God to try and intercede for them and we have the bronze serpent mounted on a pole that heals those who are bitten.

One word we can throw out with this: Idol.  We can be led to think this is a form of idolatry but keep in mind they are not giving praise and bowing down to the statue.  They are using it as a representation of their problems and a means of coming to terms with those things that are killing them.  Well into the future, where 500 years later this same snake is in the temple in Jerusalem, people had made it into an idol, and came to revere it so much they gave it the name Nehushtan.  King Hezekiah then had it destroyed to put an end to it.  For as much as many people hate them, snakes and serpents are used throughout cultures as representations of one aspect of life or another, in many ways as a good thing.  For instance we are aware that the emblem worn by people with the American Medical Association is that of a snake entwined on a staff.  That symbol comes from the Greek god of healing.  We are told back in Genesis how wise the serpent was.  And other cultures depict it as symbols of fertility.

But for the Israelites the snakes sent by God meant one thing:  sin.  It was for their sins that the snakes were sent and it was by looking up at a snake that they repented.  There’s a saying that goes along with this that says ‘that which kills, heals’ or if you’re into the pop singer Kelly Clarkson one of her songs has a line; ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ For many poisons and diseases it’s the very thing that causes you pain that is used for the serum.  We build up immune systems and create vaccines from the very viruses that give us the flu and other communicable diseases.  The venom from snakes and spiders is milked to make a serum that will reverse the effects of their bites.  The snakes can also be thought of as the things in life that become our downfall.  We may first think of it as our diseases or our illnesses, but are those things mostly our faults?  Perhaps we can think of the serpents as our faults, our grumbling, our moaning, our inequities, yes – our sins, all of these and more are what keep us from living a healthy and spirit-filled life.  These are the things that spread some of the true sicknesses throughout the world; the sickness of hate, of greed, of indifference, of intolerance, of exclusion.  I don’t know if they are dangerous or deadly until they come back to bite me.  And then they show how bad they really are.  In fact in some interpretations of this the Hebrew word used is the same as fiery!  Another says flying!  Flying, fiery serpents!  Were they really fire breathing dragons or perhaps was the sting of the venom so bad it felt as if you were on fire?  I like to think that the realization of what keeps us back and truly is a sin against God and our neighbor can be enough to cause you to feel a little sick, and perhaps if it’s bad enough maybe even some fiery heart burn.

But how will this same item bring you relief?  How can our sins bring us grace and forgiveness – new life?  The revelation here is that once we’ve identified what ails us, once we come to grips with our faults; we hold them up in front of us and examine them for what they’re worth.  Just as the Israelites looked up at the bronze serpent on the pole to be healed of their wounds, we hold up our wrongdoings and reflect on them.  And once we admit the shortcomings and change our way of thinking (or repent), we are healed and forgiven, and the grace of God carries us on.

So it’s no coincidence that these passages are used in Lent.  We are in a season of repentance.  More and more people are using Lent as a time for an inner journey, finding the things in their lives that do them or others no good, and making the necessary changes to move on.  We are creating the same story for ourselves as the Israelites did who held up the bronze serpent.  It is nearing the time in Lent where we will look up at the son of man being raised up on a cross.  Jesus spoke the words.  He was raised up.  Except not just raised up on a cross for our viewing.  Not just raised up in atonement.  Not just raised up to cure us of our ills.  But raised up in his own pain and suffering – for us to see and feel the healing power of Christ – in our personal lives, the healing power of Christ in our family and neighbor’s lives, and the healing power of Christ in the life of the church.  Yes, God so loved the world… that He gave his only begotten son… and we are left with the mystery of how it all works… a mystery of which the more you believe, the deeper the mystery becomes… until nothing matters because the only thing you see is the light.  Amen.         Deacon Pete

citations:  RCL; Year B, 4th Sunday in Lent