Sunday, July 31, 2011

Counting in the "Gospel for Guys"

Matthew 14:13-21  

"Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves." Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." And he said, "Bring them here to me." Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children."  (NRSV)

One of my very first sermons, in my very first class in seminary (Women and Preaching), was on this text.  I was surprised by my sermon, as were some of my family and friends.  They didn't know about that part of me, the preaching part.  I didn't know about it, either, really, but it was in that class that I began to truly believe (rather than "think") that I was called to the priesthood.

I won't repeat the whole sermon here (I'm not even sure where it is), but I will revisit a couple of highlights.

This passage, the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, occurs in all four Gospels.  It's the only "miracle story" that does.  But each Gospel writer included something particular in his telling of the story that connected back in to that writer's larger agenda.  The detail unique to Matthew is the specific inclusion of women and children among those who were fed.

I found that to be rather interesting, as I've always thought of Matthew as a kind of "Gospel for Guys."  After all, in Matthew, it is Joseph's lineage that is traced at the very beginning of the book, and the angel speaks to Joseph, not to Mary.  The introduction and story surrounding the birth are all told through the focus of Joseph.  No annunciation to Mary, no Magnificat, visit to Elizabeth, no pondering things in Mary's heart.  Instead, an annunciation to Joseph in a dream, the trip to Egypt, another announcement to Joseph via a dream.

Further, Matthew (and only Matthew) is where we find the slaughter of the innocents near the beginning of the story, and at the end, just as Jesus died, there was an earthquake that opened tombs, and (after the resurrection) the bodies of those whose tombs were opened came out, went into the city, and appeared to people.  These sound like descriptions of the kinds of "guy movies" that come on television after the ball game....

So, after all this focus on "guy stuff," here we have the only miraculous feeding story that specifically includes women and children.

I surmised at the time, and I still think this is so, that Matthew's community was feeling marginalized.  They were being, or had very recently been, pushed out of the synagogue.  Including others who were powerless and marginalized, specifically women and children (who were perhaps the posterpeople for powerless and marginalized in first century Palestine), made the point that Jesus included even those whom others didn't count in his gracious blessing.  The point would have been important to Matthew's community - that even if they were being pushed out by the "majority," they still counted and were legitimate in God's economy.

The world is full of people we don't count; this passage reminds us that they are still people.

Today as our national leaders continue to debate the future of our country's direction, and as some religious leaders have been protesting and contacting congresspeople to ask them not to balance the budget on the backs of the poor, not to gut programs that serve the least among us, this is an important message.  Jesus welcomed all who came to him and gave them sustenance.  He told his disciples, "You give them something to eat."

So we must care for those who are just numbers, statistics, people who don't count because they are not deemed productive or worthy or legitimate or because they are in one minority or another.  Because they are people, too.

Collect for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(BCP 232)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Saturday morning movie

I know many of you have been wondering about the Purpose of Twitter.  But now, Some Grey Bloke explains it all for you.

I nicked this video from The Vernacular Curate, who has a good story to go along with it here.

Martha, Martha

Yesterday was the feast day of Mary, Martha and Lazarus of Bethany (formerly the feast of Mary and Martha of Bethany; Lazarus has been added to the Holy Women, Holy Men calendar).

I've always been slightly irritated about the whole "Mary vs. Martha" thing, as if one (Mary) is better than the other.

Yes, in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells Martha that she is distracted upon the occasion when he is there and that Mary, putting aside everything and sitting at his feet, has chosen the better part  - on that day and in that situation.  Not for everything always everywhere.

Jesus does not say, despite the interpretation I've heard before, that being contemplative is better than being a "do-er."  This is not about "homemakers" versus "students," either.  Jesus does want Martha to be attentive to him when he is present, as Mary is; in other Gospels, Jesus says that the bridegroom will not always be with the people and so the people must not mourn while he is present.

And Lord knows, Jesus has to call all of the disciples out for getting something wrong at some point.  Martha is no different from Peter in the way that Jesus treats/corrects her.

And speaking of Peter, now let's look at Martha in the Gospel of John.  Here, she plays a very special part in the story of Jesus.  In John, it is Martha who confesses Jesus to be the Messiah.   While Peter makes this claim in answer to Jesus' question, "Who do you say that I am?" Martha makes the confession in answer to Jesus' statement and followup question, "I am the resurrection and the life... Do you believe this?"

And Martha says, "Yes, Lord, I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world."

So in the Gospel of John, it is Martha (not Mary, not Peter), unique among Jesus' followers, who recognizes him as the Messiah before his death and resurrection.

So let's give the whole Mary vs. Martha a break, shall we?

Saturday Morning Visual Prayer

Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday Afternoon Sandcastle Break

Gardeners' sandcastle village needs weeding.

Morning Psalm

Psalm 150  Laudate Dominum

1 Hallelujah! Praise God in his holy temple;
         praise him in the firmament of his power.

2 Praise him for his mighty acts;
         praise him for his excellent greatness.

3 Praise him with the blast of the ram's-horn;
         praise him with the lyre and harp.

4 Praise him with timbrel and dance;
         praise him with strings and pipe.

5 Praise him with resounding cymbals;
         praise him with loud-clanging cymbals.

6  Let everything that has breath
         praise the Lord.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Uphill, slowly

I've been having internet connection problems.  Trying to diagnose them by isolating each aspect of our computer system - computer, operating system, data line, modem, network router, cables, and whatever else - has taken up a lot of time.  Not surprisingly, I did not schedule an internet interruption, and even if I had scheduled it, it (of course) took way more time to deal with than I would have planned.  And, actually, I'm not finished with it yet - our new modem has just arrived and I still have to set that up.

Our connection was very sluggish and often just abruptly stopped working altogether.  Loading pages would sometimes happen, sometimes not happen, and often would take forever.  I had to restart things several times.  It was an incredibly frustrating experience.  I often felt as if I was trying to walk through waist deep mud.

Life does get that way sometimes.  I've been feeling that way a lot lately.  Things take forever to finish, or maybe end up not getting finished at all.  Roadblocks, broken connections, hidden difficulties, frustrations all make one want to just give up.  Depending on the situation, it can make one question one's choices.  Maybe if there are this many roadblocks, I'm not supposed to do (fill in the blank) right now.  Or maybe ever.

Fortunately, while I will not say that my internet problems are over (since I still have to set up the modem and our home network), there is light at the end of the tunnel.  The modem is actually here in the house and that's a major step in the right direction.  After I post this, I'll get to work on that.

The other step in the right direction is that my younger son encouraged me to find us a place at the beach for a few days next week before he starts back to school.  Originally, I thought I didn't have time to go to the beach right now (even though one of my goals in life is to go to the beach whenever possible).  But suddenly I thought, why not?  I have been wanting to go to the beach, he starts school very soon, and why not head off for a few days?

And, after all my frustration, I found the place I wanted to stay, called them, and they had room for the three of us for the days we wanted! Without what feels like the usual wading through mud slowly of the last few days.

So, obviously, since the plans for this mini vacation came off so easily, God wants the boys and me to go to the beach.  Hallelujah!

Now let's hope that God also wants out internet network to work at our house again, too.

Morning Psalm

Psalm 134
Ecce nunc

Behold now, bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD,
you that stand by night in the house of the LORD.

Lift up your hands in the holy place and bless the LORD:
the LORD who made heaven and earth bless you out of Zion.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Evening prayer for holy rest

Support us, Lord, all the day long, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and our work done; then Lord, in your mercy, give us safe lodging, a holy rest and peace at the last. God our judge and our companion, we thank you for the good we did this day and for all that has given us joy. Everything we offer as our humble service. Bless those with whom we have worked, and those who are our concern. Amen

Morning Psalm

Psalm 93  Dominus regnavit
1 The LORD is King;
he has put on splendid apparel; *
    the LORD has put on his apparel
    and girded himself with strength.
2 He has made the whole world so sure *
    that it cannot be moved;
3 Ever since the world began, your throne has been established; *
    you are from everlasting.
4 The waters have lifted up, O LORD,
the waters have lifted up their voice; *
    the waters have lifted up their pounding waves.
5 Mightier than the sound of many waters,
mightier than the breakers of the sea, *
    mightier is the LORD who dwells on high.
6 Your testimonies are very sure, *
    and holiness adorns your house, O LORD,
    for ever and for evermore.

Monday, July 25, 2011

We wouldn't do that

It's natural to want to keep death and destruction far, far away from us.  Very few of us are equipped to deliberately head off into danger.  We like to think that we are safe, and that we can be safe if we don't do things or go places that are unsafe.

But hear the Psalmist: "Only in you do I dwell in safety."

Like everyone else, I was shocked and saddened by the carnage in Norway on Friday.  I read with horror the first-person accounts of survivors from the island camp and looked with pity on the photographs of white-wrapped bundles placed on the shore.  I watched with resignation as the comments began flying: this must have been done by a Muslim; no, he wasn't a Muslim; it was terror; no, only Islamic fundamentalists are terrorists; he is a Christian fundamentalist; no, he is a madman.

And then the difficulty about this camp being liberal or Marxist held side by side with the fact that these victims were teenagers.

And then we heard that Amy Winehouse died.  And the comments came again.  We could have predicted this would happen; everybody knew she was messed up; she checked herself out of rehab and wouldn't get help; why are people making a big deal out of this addict when all those children were killed?

It made me sad to hear people blaming Amy Winehouse for her addiction and possibly her own death.

But that's what we do.  We put people far away from us so that we can put danger far away, too.  We wouldn't get addicted.  We wouldn't refuse to get treatment.  We wouldn't go to liberal Marxist camps.

In our desire for safety and security, there is this sad little piece we ourselves contribute to tragedy: that somehow other people did the wrong thing or went to the wrong place.

And so it goes. This is another verse of the song we always sing.  We wouldn't be poor; we wouldn't be imprisoned by mental illness; we wouldn't be addicts; we wouldn't have unplanned pregnancies; we wouldn't grow up in abusive homes; we wouldn't be homeless; we wouldn't be undocumented workers or their children.

We wouldn't do any of that.

Lord, have mercy upon us all.

Morning Psalm

Psalm 124 Nisi quia Dominus
1 If the LORD had not been on our side, *
    let Israel now say;
2 If the LORD had not been on our side, *
    when enemies rose up against us;
3 Then would they have swallowed us up alive *
    in their fierce anger toward us;
4 Then would the waters have overwhelmed us *
    and the torrent gone over us;
5 Then would the raging waters *
    have gone right over us.
6 Blessed be the LORD! *
    he has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth.
7 We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler; *
    the snare is broken, and we have escaped.
8 Our help is in the Name of the LORD, *
    the maker of heaven and earth.

(BCP 781)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A sermon in response to the day of parables

Jesus put before them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mimosa tree seed that someone took and sowed in the middle of his productive cotton field;  it is a junky tree, of course, that throws out more junky trees through its powderpuff flowers, but when it has grown, the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches." 
He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like some black moldy bread that a woman tried to hide by mixing it in with enough flour to make enough new bread to feed a hundred hungry people."  

And then he said, "The kingdom of heaven is like hiding treasure in a field and then going to buy the field, even though you already had the treasure." 

And  "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls who sells off his business inventory so that he can have one great big expensive pearl to take home."   

And finally, "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish that you can eat and fish that you cannot eat;  when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the eating fish into baskets but threw out the other fish just the way the angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. "  

Then Jesus looked at his disciples and said,  "Have you understood all this?" And they answered, "Yes."

Jesus' parables don't make a lot of sense, really, whether you heard them in the first century or whether you heard my updated but still rather unfathomable translation today.  Did you understand all of that?

I didn't.

Matthew talks about the kingdom of heaven but he doesn't mean "heaven" as in the place where God is or a place where people go after they die.  Matthew was a good Jew who didn't mention God's name too much.  And so the other Gospel writers said Kingdom of God and Matthew said Kingdom of Heaven but what they're all talking about is not a place but about what God's ways are like.  What God's values are like.  Jesus, as all the Gospel writers show in these parables and kingdom stories, goes around trying to explain God's economy - what our world would look like if God were running it - and he uses these kind of nutty examples to get us to see just how different God's economy is from ours.

Jesus wants us to see that God works through all kinds of obstacles and uses all kinds of vessels.  We might want or expect God to work through ancient and stately redwood trees or the famous cedars of Lebanon, but really those trashy old mimosa trees that grow up unbidden everywhere will do just fine.  
Jesus wants to remind us that most things in life (people, institutions including church, and situations) aren't all good or all bad but a mixture of the two.  Everyone and everything has a shadow side; we can't make sweeping judgments about the good and the bad and we certainly ought not to get all caught up in purity movements, efforts to rid the community of undesirables.  Look at the horror that happened in Norway on Friday which appears to be just such an effort.  Jesus wants us to stay away from that kind of stuff because as we saw last week in the parable of the wheat and the weeds, these efforts of uprooting are destructive.  Jesus wants us to trust that God will sort it out in the end.  

And Jesus suggests that truly following him will probably look ridiculous to other people and may well require sacrifice on our parts.  Sacrifice of place (Matthew's community was apparently put out of the synagogue), sacrifice of reputation, perhaps.  Of being thought of as weak, or kind of nutty, or even worse, the way Jesus was thought of because he not only associated with tax collectors and prostitutes but he loved them.  He didn't care about success in the eyes of the world and he didn't care about rules that others thought were terribly important, like healing on the sabbath or washing hands before meals.  He didn't care if you weren't supposed to touch lepers or let women touch him.  Jesus, eventually sacrificed his very life because of his breaching the social and religious rules. And although few of us will ever face that kind of sacrifice, some of his early followers certainly did.

So these parables are about the kingdom which is not a place but a framework for trying to get at what God is about.  Jesus tries to describe the indescribable by using these parables.  He tries to talk about something that's impossible to really grasp because it's so foreign to our understanding about how the world works.

God's ways are not our ways.  God's ways may well look ridiculous.  God's ways often do look ridiculous, in fact.

And so when Jesus says, did you understand that, and the disciples say oh yes, we understand, I'm thinking, nah.  These are the same guys who want him to become a king, who want to sit on his left and his right, and who then desert him in his time of trial.  

And this is the Jesus who says, blessed are the peacemakers.  Who says, when someone strikes you, turn the other cheek and when a beggar asks for your jacket, give him your shirt as well.  This is the Jesus who tells the disciples to beware the yeast of the Pharisees and these are the disciples who hear that and think he's talking about snacks.

Understand? Nah.

Because God's ways are not our ways and we have to be reminded of that over and over again.  

Our way is to set ourselves up in positions of power, and God's way is to wash people's feet.  Our way is to separate ourselves from those we disapprove of, and God's way is to eat dinner and drink wine with tax collectors and prostitutes.  Our way is to decide if people are deserving, and God's way is to give to everyone who comes.

And we say we want to follow Jesus, but we don't really want to give up our ways.  We want to assign our ways to God, instead, just like the disciples wanted to make Jesus a king because they understood kings.

By way of these odd parables, Jesus is trying to wake us up.  Trying to let us know that we need to pay better attention to the world around us.  God's ways are unexpected, often hidden and yet very near, and so we need to be awake to wonder and possibility in order to discern God's work in the world.   When we see the equivalent of a mimosa tree in the middle of a cotton field, we need to be able to look with wonder instead of immediately dismiss it as out of order.

That sounds like hard work, doesn't it? It sounds as if we have to take the time to investigate situations to see if they might be of God.  It sounds as if we have to hold off on making judgments when we don't know the whole story.  It sounds as if we have to be able to imagine good instead of suspecting bad.   It sounds as if we have to be open to more possibilities than we feel comfortable being open to.  And yet, isn't the whole story of Jesus, from his birth in a cattle stall to his resurrection on Eater, a series of surprises?

If you ever attended All Saints' on Easter Sunday during the days when Harry Pritchett was rector, you know that during the service Harry always came out with his ukelele and sang a children’s song he wrote back in the 1980's. 
It goes (partly) like this:

Moses tended sheep upon a mountain top.
He hardly noticed when a burning bush said, “Stop!
Set my people free, take them to my land.”
“That couldn’t be my God,” he said, “He’d have a better plan.”

Well, surprise, surprise, God is a surprise,
Right before your eyes.
It’s baffling to the wise.
Surprise, surprise God is a surprise,
Open up your eyes and see.

People of Israel were looking for a king:
If God would save that way, the freedom bells would ring.
Along came Jesus, a man who’s poor and weak;
“He couldn’t be our God,” they said, “He’s nothing but a freak!”

Peter and the rest of that straggly little band,
They all ran away when darkness hit the land.
Whoever heard of a humble, bungling boss;
“He couldn’t be our God,” they said, “He’s landed on a cross.”

Well, surprise, surprise, God is a surprise,
Right before your eyes.
It’s baffling to the wise.
Surprise, surprise God is a surprise,
Open up your eyes and see.

Seek our God in hope, moving as He goes
With judgment, grace, and love in anything that grows.
In anything at all He suddenly may be,
‘Cause everything is His, you know, even you and me......

Can we understand God's ways?  I think the more important question is, are we willing to be open - to make room for God's surprising and unexpected ways? Can we learn to apprehend God's ways, to appreciate them, to be grateful for them, even if we don't completely comprehend them?

Well, as the song says, we’ll have to open up our eyes and see.

Collect for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(BCP 231)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Saturday Morning Movie: Rain

So many people in the world are parched and dry now.  Here's a video of refreshment.  Listen to the soothing sound of the rain as you enjoy some really fabulous images of water, from drops to puddles to streams to huge waterfalls.

Saturday Morning Collect

Almighty God, who after the creation of the world rested from all your works and sanctified a day of rest for all your creatures: Grant that we, putting away all earthly anxieties, may be duly prepared for the service of your sanctuary, and that our rest here on earth may be a preparation for the eternal rest promised to your people in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

(BCP 99)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday Afternoon Sandcastle Break

Compact castle-for-one.  IKEA furniture optional.

Morning Collect: St. Mary Magdalene

Almighty God, whose blessed Son restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and mind,
and called her to be a witness to his resurrection:
Mercifully grant that by your grace we may be healed from all our infirmities
and know you in the power of his unending life;
who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns,
one God, now and for ever.

(BCP 242)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Living Together

My mom moved here just about a year ago. She lives in a retirement center about two miles from my house.  She is happy there and has not looked back, knowing that she did the right thing by selling her old home and large property, even if it meant leaving many friends.  There is, after all, the telephone, and she has an unlimited long distance calling plan.

When she first moved in, I spent a lot of time with her, helping her with the details of setting up a new place, getting her finances in order, meeting new doctors, figuring out the grocery store and all that.  Once the initial burst of activity was over, I backed off, knowing she needed to be as independent as she can be and also so that she would develop new relationships.

Yesterday, I went over to visit her apartment, and she told me all the news of all the folks in her life these days.  The roster varies, as a few people have died or moved into nursing facilities and new people have moved in.  This is slightly disconcerting to her - as she has gotten older, of course these things happen, but in her old life, there was a mixture of ages and stages in her regular life and the changes were part of a much bigger picture.  Now her community is much smaller and more homogeneous, and the changes stand out.  But she mostly takes it in stride.  Mom's always had a philosophical streak.

Anyway, I enjoy listening to her talk about her friends.  Sometimes it sounds like my children talking about their friends when they were in kindergarten.  Some of her friends have lost their hearing or their ability to walk around unaided.  Mom herself has lost much of her eyesight.  She has learned that you need to give the woman in the motorized wheelchair a wide berth or she may run over your toes.  (The woman claims that people stick their feet out when they see her coming.)  She has learned that the ninety-two year old woman who sits with her on a bench outside the dining hall will ask very loudly why so and so walks like that or who was that man that just spoke to me?  She has learned that some of her neighbors often feel slighted by other residents (who in turn don't know what they did to upset them).

She has learned that many people just live in the moment and that her best response to everyone is kindness and generosity of spirit.   Except for when it comes to the way the chef prepares green beans.  She tells everyone, early and often, that he certainly does not know how to cook green beans.

What I enjoy about these conversations is seeing how my mom is so thoroughly engaged in her community.  She told me that they all care for each other there, as she recounted how everyone checked in and asked about her daily after she had a fall that bruised her up a little.  (Someone who can't see very well trips occasionally. She has strong bones, though, and has never broken anything.)  Yes, they all have their eccentricities.  Some of them are positively irritating - but then again, extreme behavior frequently is followed by an episode or health crisis.  She knows that people can lash out because they are ill or in pain or grieving.  She sees, up close and personal, people dealing with aging and failing health and end of life stuff.  She knows, thank God, that it's not her job to fix anybody there; she's there as a companion and fellow traveler on this part of the journey.

For many of us, it takes having lived through a certain amount of life to be able to do the dance that involves caring but not fusing, engaging but keeping boundaries, enjoying but not owning, holding things lightly and yet holding them dear, sharing even though resources (of all kinds) are growing thin.  I am enjoying seeing my mom in the light of this time and place in her life.

Morning Prayer for the Answering of Prayer

Almighty God, who hast promised to hear the petitions of those who ask in thy Son's name:
We beseech thee to incline thine ear to us who have now made our prayers and supplications unto thee;
and grand that those things which we have faithfully asked according to thy will,
may effectually be obtained, to the relief of our necessity,
and to the setting forth of thy glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

(BCP 834)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Swimming with Eagle Rays

After a couple of cool days, it's hot as all get out again, and I've been dreaming of the beach.  Such a trip is not on the schedule as yet, so instead I've been glued to the Ustream camera placed in big "shark tank" at the Georgia Aquarium here in Atlanta in anticipation of The Discovery Channel's next "shark week" run.  The tank, which is the largest of its kind in the world, holds a couple of whale sharks and manta rays in addition to the usual array of blacktip reef sharks, spotted eagle rays, grouper, sawfish, and a myriad of other fish, many exotic.  

It reminded me of this post I wrote a while back about the time I went snorkeling off the beach on St. Croix and got to swim with some spotted eagle rays.  So, since I haven't been writing today, I thought I'd bring it back.  Enjoy!

There are whole other worlds, alien worlds perhaps or just hidden ones that we don't know much about. For some folks, that alien world is outer space, for some it might be the desert or the Arctic or some other remote place on earth, for some it's other countries/cultures, for some it's underwater, and for some it's the spiritual realm or God's realm or eternity. While one can see images of some of these places in books or on tv/DVD (Planet Earth, National Geographic specials, and what I like to call "whale shows"), many of us long to actually experience them for ourselves. This is why people go on eco-tours, climb mountains, rappel into ice caves or pay to go into space.

I like to go snorkeling. This is a beach and/or boat related activity, good in warm weather and in clear water, and it offers an experience of being in another world. A few years ago, I had the privilege of swimming with a couple of spotted eagle rays off one of the beaches on St Croix. I had heard that eagle rays were making a pass through the area from another snorkeler, and although I've watched and petted rays at the various touch-tanks my son used to love to visit, swimming with them would be something else. I really wanted to see them. So I waded in near the place where they had been last seen, and I swam and swam and was just about to give up, when whoosh, two of them swam by just feet away, with wings outspread and rhythmically flapping.

I had gotten in without fins, and so I was hardly able to keep up with them, but I swam as fast as I could for as long as I could keep them in sight. I got a couple of pictures of them with my cheap underwater camera - this one had some crazy orange in it from sunlight or something and the second ray was blocked out, but you can see it's definitely an eagle ray (see the spots?).  I was thrilled that I had shared space with these two for a few minutes, and after they turned toward the open sea, I rushed back to shore to tell the family. But they did not seem to be particularly interested in what had been for me a truly meaningful experience.

I suspect that is true when it comes to entering into a spiritual place, too. Something about it is an internal event, even if it comes about from an activity that can be shared with others. Yes, we are Christians in community but there are also those times when in the midst of everything else, one senses that one has come into a thin place, a holy space, a whole 'nother world. And others may or may not be aware or appreciate it.

I suppose one has to have the eyes to see such a thing and the heart to want to see it, too....

If this were a meeting......

..... I wish I were attending it!

Morning Psalm

Psalm 85 (Quam dilecta!)

How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts!
My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.

The sparrow has found her a house and the swallow a nest
where she may lay her young;
by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.

Happy are they who dwell in your house!
they will always be praising you.

Happy are the people whose strength is in you!
whose hearts are set on the pilgrim's way.

Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs,
for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.

They will climb from height to height,
and the God of gods will reveal himself in Zion.

Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
hearken, O God of Jacob.

Behold our defender, O God;
and look upon the face of your Anointed.

For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room,
and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.

For the Lord God is both sun and shield;
he will give grace and glory;

No good thing will the Lord withhold
from those who walk with integrity.

O Lord of hosts,
happy are they who put their trust in you!

(BCP 707)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Looking Up

Normally, the July skies over Atlanta are hazy and smoggy.  But a lovely cold front came through a few days ago and brought with it blessedly cooler temperatures and blue skies.  The kind of sky we have in September - high and bright - with some fluffy clouds.  What a gift, and a welcome one since our July temperatures and skies commenced back in mid-May.

The other thing we have in Atlanta is lots of traffic.  That is no different now, despite the break in the weather.  Yesterday, driving home from church, I got caught in a slowdown caused by a paving project on the interstate.  Instead of fuming, I decided to look at the sky through my sunroof.  It was beautiful.

The first thing I saw were planes taking off and landing at the airport up ahead.  I liked the angle they presented as they sped toward the clouds.  I sort of wished I was on one of them, going somewhere.

The next thing I saw was a red-tailed hawk circling overhead.  How did I know it was a red-tail? The sun caught the orangey, fanned-out tail feathers.  I expect it was hunting, as it seemed to be honed in on a particular area.

And then I just looked at the fluffy clouds.  I thought about how when I was little, we kids thought that angels sat on those clouds or that God used a cloud like a chariot or magic carpet.  And then when we were bigger and knew that clouds were vapor, we were disappointed.  Angels or God would surely fall through vapor, but no alternate setting came to mind.

I don't think we look up enough.  At least, I don't think I look up enough.  I have my eyes on the road, on the sidewalk, on down-to-earth things.  And I often feel weighted down.  It felt good to watch things drifting or soaring through the sky.  Things that are heavy, like planes, can still go through the air with the greatest of ease.

I need to look up more often.

Morning Psalm

Psalm 20  (Exaudiat te Dominus)

May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble, 
the Name of the God of Jacob defend you;

Send you help from his holy place 
and strengthen you out of Zion;

Remember all your offerings 
and accept your burnt sacrifice;

Grant you your heart's desire 
and prosper all your plans.

We will shout for joy at your victory
     and triumph in the Name of our God;
may the Lord grant all your requests.

Now I know that the Lord gives victory to his anointed;
he will answer him out of his holy heaven
     with the victorious strength of his right hand.

Some put their trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we will call upon the Name of the Lord our God.

They collapse and fall down,
but we will arise and stand upright.

O Lord, give victory to the king
and answer us when we call.

(BCP 608)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A sermon about the weeds and the wheat

Text:  Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43

In the parable of the wheat and the weeds, we are confronted with several realities.

First, good and evil, as well as good and bad, and good and not so good, exist side by side.

Second, they are hard to tell apart until they are in full fruit.

Third, the good often gets damaged when someone tries to root out the bad.

And so, Jesus says, don't spend your time trying to root out the people you think are weeds in your community.  Good people will get hurt in the effort.  And it's not your job anyway.  Trust, rather, that in the end, God will make things right.

These are realities we have seen with our own eyes.  They point to the most basic "Why" questions we and all generations before us have asked.  Why is there evil in the world?  Why, if God's reign is near, and the world is already being made new, why is there still evil in the world?  We have seen it; the kingdom is not completely come.  We are called to trust that in the end, evil will be defeated and the good will remain, but somehow that still sticks like a craw in our throats.

And that leads to this question: since there obviously is still evil in the world, what are we supposed to do about it?  Bringing the question closer to home, what are we supposed to do about people who are not exhibiting the good fruit we think they ought to be producing?  Are we supposed to shun them, are we supposed to kick them out of our community, aren't we supposed to work to root out evil when and where we see it?  Shouldn't we nip things in the bud so that the evil or bad or not good doesn't spread and infect?

Which leads to this question:  Is Jesus suggesting we just sit by and do nothing?

And yet we know that this, too, is true: people get hurt in the process of trying to defeat evil, in the process of trying to keep ourselves unstained by association with those whom we believe are not godly people.  People get hurt.  Not only the not so good but the good themselves are hurt.

We can see this all around us.  There is armed conflict going on all over the world.  Our own country is involved in three wars right now.  When the U.S. military invaded Iraq  in 2003, our President announced that we were going to defeat evil.  But in that and every war from the beginning of time what we have seen is societies torn asunder, and we have mourned and continue to mourn the millions of innocent people killed.  Not just soldiers but civilians, men, women and children; not just military targets but schools and houses of worship and hospitals and homes are destroyed.  We call that "collateral damage" now, as if a change in the name changes the facts, but the reality is that God's people get hurt and God's people are killed in the quest to root out evil.

And of course we have seen purity movements as well.  In Jesus' day, the Pharisees tried to distance themselves from people they considered sinners, and the Essenes were so upset about what they considered abominations in the Temple priesthood that they went off into the desert to live in caves, keeping themselves to themselves.

Our world's history includes persecutions and efforts to rid society of people of other faiths, people considered infidels, people of other tribes, that resulted in massacres, ethnic cleansing and genocide - and in the name of religion.  Remember the Crusades, Bosnia, Rwanda and the horrors that continue in the Sudans.  Remember witch hunts and the Inquisition.  And of course remember the Holocaust.

Yet we continue to see purity efforts in our own church communities.  People want to kick other people out of church because they believe those people are immoral or ungodly or whatever - they believe those people are weeds.   And of course they believe themselves to be wheat.

It's a very ancient practice, kicking people out of communities large and small - from families, from groups, from countries - for fear of a taint that will spread by association.   My own family history and  stories I've heard from others include parents cutting off relationships with children, or sisters and brothers refusing to speak to each other, because someone disapproves of someone else's behavior.  There is a  deep-seated, ancient fear that we have to remove the ungodly from among our midst in order to keep God from destroying us all.

It's an ancient fear, and yet the whole story of Jesus shows us that that is not how God works.

Interestingly, the ancient Hebrews mostly considered purity to be a thing that was not about the person's being, but something that was on the outside like dirt or a crust.  Being in a state of impurity was defined by  rules and laws, and even inanimate objects could be defined as unclean.  Everyone was expected to have impurities, regularly.  That was just the way life was.  And the way to deal with  impurity was to remove it by way of rituals.  And even if someone had to stand outside the community for a short period of time, there were always ways for them to be able to rejoin the community.

But by the time of Jesus, things were a little more cloudy and even the Jewish community was engaged in shunning and denouncing,  putting people out, and even stoning them for their beliefs.   Look at Jesus himself, whom the religious leadership charged with blasphemy.  People were ostracized because of their work, like tax collectors, and despised because of where they lived, like Samaritans, and it was a scandal that Jesus associated with them.

It's a strong strong pull, that desire for purity, and it's potent, especially when it's accompanied by self-righteousness and indignation.

But hear what Jesus says.  It's not our job to go around yanking out the weeds.  Because people get hurt when we do that.  We will get mixed up in evil ourselves.  We are called to resist evil, yes, and trust that God will make things right in the end.  And in the meantime, we've got better things to do.

Does that mean our country does not go to war against an evil enemy?  People great and small have debated this question throughout the ages and we continue to wrestle with it still.  All I  know is that innocent people are always hurt and  society is always torn asunder because of war.

But are we to sit idly by while bad things happen to good people?

This, too, is such a hard question.  Deitrich Bonhoeffer likened Nazi Germany as led by Hitler to the situation of a madman driving a vehicle  into groups of people - was he called to comfort the dying or was he called to wrest the steering wheel away from the madman?  Was there a way to stop the madman short of killing him?

And yet we know that killing another person makes us killers ourselves.  That getting involved with evil can damage us so that in the end we might not be able to tell if we ourselves are wheat or weeds.  Think of the soldiers who come home with PTSD, who are unable to cope with life at home after what they have been through.  Think of the bitterness that takes root in the lives of people who have kicked someone out of their family in order to distance themselves from what they believe to be immorality.  Think of the hate that people spew towards one another as they proclaim the other to be a weed.  It becomes hard to tell the wheat from the weeds, and everything seems so messy and tangled up.

I don't think Jesus is suggesting we just sit there and do nothing, though.  People like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa and Mohandas Ghandi have shown us that non-violent resistance or working for positive change is not rolling over and doing nothing.

What Jesus does say is that, yes, there are always weeds but we've got other things with which to concern ourselves.  Tending to the weeds is not our job.

What is our job is tending to the business of bearing good fruit ourselves.  Elsewhere in this Gospel, Jesus emphasizes the necessity of bearing good fruit.  By their fruits you will know them, he says.

It's a matter of focus, perhaps, but this is an important distinction.  We can spend our time focusing on bad people and bad things, or we can spend our time focusing on bringing forth good fruit ourselves.

So how do we do that?

Well, as I said, it begins with focus and moves forward with action.  Looking for what God is doing in the world and then doing what we can to work with God in that endeavor.  We have to develop the eyes to see God at work instead of allowing our gaze to fixate on the stuff or people we wish would go away and infecting ourselves with bitterness and hate.  We have to learn to listen for God, to see God at work and then join God in that work.

Perhaps we regularly give blood in times of war (which is always). Perhaps we work in relief efforts after disasters.  Perhaps we focus on feeding the hungry and befriending the stranger and visiting the sick and providing sanctuary.  Perhaps we work on developing the courage to stand up for the least of these in the public square against those who would shove them aside like many clergy and religious groups have stood up in Alabama and Atlanta recently, in response to merciless immigration laws.

Perhaps we let go of our need to protect God from the ungodly.  (God doesn't need our protection.)

Perhaps we let go of our need to be saviors.  (We already have one.)

None of that is sitting idly by.

And so I go back to where I began.  In the parable of the wheat and the weeds, we are confronted with several realities.

First, good and evil, as well as good and bad, and good and not so good, exist side by side.

Second, they are hard to tell apart until they are in full fruit.

Third, the good often gets damaged when someone tries to root out the bad.

And so, Jesus says, don't spend your time trying to root out the people you think are weeds in your community.  Good people will get hurt in the effort.  And it's not your job anyway.  Your job is to work at building up the kingdom as well as you can, to bear good fruit yourself, trusting that in the end, God will make things right.

Collect for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

New Church and Social Media Blog Sets Sail!

Introducing #chsocm!

I'm really, really interested in promoting the use of social media by church and clergy for ministry and connection.  Both by using it and by helping others understand why it's valuable and how to use it.

And so occasionally, I venture into the realm of social media and the church here at The Party.   And while I think that's good - I'm all about gathering and welcoming and communicating and interacting - I also know that this blog is mainly about prayer and reflection.  And I don't want to change that.

And so, my good friend Meredith Gould (Roman Catholic lay minister, author, and marketing communications pro) and I (Episcopal clergy person) have started a new blog together, in our two separate and - let us hope - complementary voices, that will be the place where I post about church and social media stuff.  Because, you know, it's a blog about church and social media.

So visit us early and often at the #chsocm blog, and follow @chsocm on Twitter to be part of that conversation if you're interested.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming here at The Party.

Saturday Morning Movie: Jonathan Conducts Beethoven

This little guy, Jonathan, at 3 years old, is a musical prodigy. He feels and reads (with all of his senses) music with sensitivity and surety - and yet....  Watch this awesome clip of him enthusiastically conducting excerpts from the fourth movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and remember Jesus' words about entering the Kingdom of Heaven by being like a child.


(hat tip to Greg Troxell of All Saints' Episcopal Church in Carmel, CA)

Morning Prayer for Saturday

Almighty God, who after the creation of the world rested
from all your works and sanctified a day of rest for all your
creatures: Grant that we, putting away all earthly anxieties,
may be duly prepared for the service of your sanctuary, and
that our rest here upon earth may be a preparation for the
eternal rest promised to your people in heaven; through Jesus
Christ our Lord. Amen.

(BCP 97)


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