Saturday, July 31, 2010

things


"things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made"

This short quote is from the collect for ordinations in the Episcopal Church.  It echoes what the apostle Peter says in Acts 2, today's Daily Office reading: "But God raised Jesus up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power." 

These are holy things.  Me, you, things that have been created, things that have died, things which have grown old.  They are common in that they decay and die.  They are holy in that they are given new life in Jesus.  And not just life here and now; I mean a fuller life in the life after life. 

This has implications for ministry.  Bishop Dyer, of the Virginia Seminary, says "If you do not believe in the resurrection, then your ministry is built on false pretenses." 

All of our ministries, be it teaching, leading, praying, feeding, have to be built upon this single incontrovertible foundation; Jesus has been raised from the dead.  If I did not believe that all things would eventually be made new, what's the point of taking those kids on the mission trip?  Why would I spend four sleepless nights on a dilapidated air mattress with seven other stinky dudes?  Why would I wake up early to feed breakfast to the hungry?

What's the point, if not for Easter?  The point is, all things will be made new.  You, and I, and that homeless guy who reeks of body odor and hasn't brushed his teeth in a month will be raised again.  This is the church's hope, this is Peter's hope, and this is the only thing that I can hold on to in order to make sense of my life.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Mission Trip!


This past week, I had the privilege of going on a mission trip to downtown Houston with the St. Alban's youth group.  I had a blast getting to know Jericha, Alex, Diane, Travis, and John.  They are wonderful kids - the future of the church is in good hands.

We did everything from serving meals to the hungry, organizing school supplies for needy kids, distributing groceries to deserving families, clearing invasive species from Buffalo Bayou, and having a whole lot of fun along the way.  I know that each one of us came away from this experience with a different view on life, and a greater appreciation for the blessing of family and friends on every side.

Theologically, I tried to drive one point home to the youth group during our trip.  Especially when we were serving meals, I told them to think about our Eucharist and how the example of that service should give us the image of service to others.  So, when Diane was serving up grits to the hungry and homeless, I asked her to think "Body of Christ, bread of heaven."  When Jericha was distributing glasses of orange juice, I encouraged her to say to herself, "Blood of Christ, cup of salvation."

Our worship as Episcopalians is the model for how we are to serve.  No wonder that we call it a "service."  We must take that image of Jesus giving everything he had, spiritual and physical, for the nourishment of his followers, and even the one who betrayed him.  In that sense, even when the clients at these ministry sites were gruff or angry, I reminded the kids that Jesus broke bread and shared wine even with Judas, who was far more than gruff or angry. 

My prayer is that Jericha, Alex, Diane, John, and Travis take this image with them as they return to school.  Our worship is service, and service is worship.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

mysterious doings afoot

Yesterday I had the joy and privilege of taking communion to a homebound parishioner.  This old saint has been a member of St. Alban's since dinosaurs were running the Altar Guild.  She wore her 80+ years of joy, prayer, sorrow, and wisdom on her face.

By happenstance, she had not received the body and blood of our Lord for over a year.  Yet after she ate and drank the holy meal, her entire disposition was drastically changed.  It was as if I had waved a magic hand over her.  She brow was no longer furrowed, she didn't slouch as much.  Her smile was "Mona Lisa-esque."  I asked her what she was thinking about, partly because I'm a minister, but mostly because of my own nagging curiosity.

"Trinity," she said.  Then, "you know what?  It's the mystery that we have to understand.  We can't understand it, but that's the way it's supposed to be." 

Right then and there I told her that she is one helluva theologian.  And, what's more, she's right.  We can't ever hope to understand the mystery; instead, we are to learn that it's a mystery.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Lord of the living dead

In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul writes:

"We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living."

This is part of my vision of the Church.  It's a community that transcends time, space, and even the border between life and death.  The Lord that you and I know is the same Lord that Paul, Augustine, and Luther knew.  The Lord is head of all, not just here on earth, but those in heaven. 

  In other words, we are not irreparably separated from those who die in the name of the Lord.  Though we are now removed from their presence by sight, they belong to the same assembly of the faithful.  And when we die, perhaps things won't be that different after all. 

Jesus Christ is Lord now, and Jesus Christ will be Lord over there.  And I wonder, are we the ones that are living, or are we the ones that are dead? 

Monday, July 19, 2010

one down, five hundred and sixty three to go

I looked at my calendar today and realized that I have been ordained for exactly one month.  Now, I don't believe in any of that hocus-pocus that says the ordained person is somehow of a different nature from the lay person.  That's what I call a power-trip and an inflated ego.  I'm no different from you, from the Pope, from our earliest bipedal ancestors.

But, in one sense, I am different.  In the course of this month, the black shirt of a clergy person has brought me to all sorts of scenarios that a layperson wouldn't have encountered.  I've been to hospitals, federal courthouses, coffee shops, wedding receptions, and funerals with this black shirt and white collar.  I made eye contact with a nun, and we both instantly understood the others' spiritual/sartorial situation.  I've put my arm around a near stranger who was grieving at a graveside, simply because I represented a big Something.

Please, don't think I have a big head.  It's the farthest thing from that.  Instead, I realize how little I am and how great God is.  I've been ordained for 1 month; I have 563 months to go until I have to retire at 72.  I pray that I am 563 times more humble by then.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Holy History!

The Old Testament story from today's Daily Office is actually quite entertaining.  Two young Israelite secretly enter the city of Jericho in order to spy on the city that Joshua is planning to attack.  They are taken in by a prostitute who hides them and lies for them so that they are not caught by the Jericho authorities.  Then, under the cloak of darkness, the spies are let down the city walls by rope.  Who would have thought that the Bible was filled with such intrigue and espionage?

When I first read the Old Testament, I was shocked at the very human stories that are described.  This isn't all about nice guys and gals hanging out in some heavenly garden.  No way; the pages of the Bible are filled with sex, lies, murder, deceit, and then with even more sex, lies, murder, and deceit. 

But wouldn't it be weird if the Bible, a book about people and their dynamic relationships with God, be missing something if it wasn't filled with these very human stories?  I think that the Bible is true because it reflects the human condition, it's not afraid to bare it all and expose humanity (the best and the worst) as it really is.  The hope and good news in the Bible is that amidst all of the sex, lies, murder, and deceit, God is constantly loving and is a loving constant.  The Old Testament should not be thrown out the window because it's a story of humanity.  Rather, the Bible makes even more sense to us because it's not foreign; sometimes it's shockingly similar to the lives we live.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Be strong and courageous

Over the past few days, the Daily Office reading for the Old Testament have depicted the escalating tension as the Israelites are on the cusp of entering the Holy Land.  Two days ago in the readings, Joshua was given authority, Moses died yesterday, and today Joshua was told to "be strong and courageous."

What an understatement!  Joshua is taking command a large rabble of nomads who have been trekking across the wilderness and living on the knife's edge between starvation and abundance.  They have proven themselves to be rebellious, quirky, slow to understand, and quick to judge.  Now, this young man is supposed to lead this people across a river and into a new land.  He will be required to call upon all of his military acumen, political skill, and Godly hope to accomplish the task set before him.  Telling Joshua to be strong and courageous at this point is like telling Nolan Ryan to throw strikes.  Duh.

Unless we look at it the other way around.  Perhaps we should see these two commands, to be strong and courageous, as the foundation, rather than another set of attributes among a long litany.  When you are crossing the Jordan River of your life and entering the unknown land of promise, you know what you have to do.  "I have to love my wife."  "I have to graduate from school."  "I have to work to please my client."  But perhaps these should be second on the list to "I have to be strong.  I have to be courageous."  If we can nail down these two elusive characteristics, loving, studying, and working isn't so daunting anymore.

The rest will come, only be very strong and very courageous.

Friday, July 9, 2010

these too will pass

In a stark wilderness, an old man passes on all of his accumulated wisdom, experience, and courage to a younger man.  The old man's journey is over; he goes to his death having known what exactly it means to live with fullness and faith.  The young man looks forward to the future, and looks to the vast multitude behind him, and trusts that what the old man has said is indeed true.

So Moses passes on the mantle of leadership to Joshua.  A young man for an old man.  Although Moses did not complete the entire journey of the Israelites, he had run the course of his journey.  He dies without setting foot on the Promised Land.  This broad and good swath of land will always remain just that for Moses, a Promise. 

We too have a land of promise.  The Jordan River of death stands between the Now and the Later.  The priests, bishops, holy men and holy women that we follow on the way there may not always be the ones leading us.  They may die before our arrival.  And that's okay, because we have faith that the Lord will raise up among us new leaders to see us through.  Then, eventually, we will have no need of these earnest, good-hearted men and women; we will have the Great Shepherd himself herding us across that Jordan River that lies between life, and life after life.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

oops, i missed a day

I've been trying to make Wednesday my book review day.  So I'm going to transport backward in time and offer a brief comment on Michael Chabon's "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh."

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this fantastic author, you are missing out.  He is a Pulitzer prize winner in fiction for "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" and has written numerous other novel, most famously "The Yiddish Policemen's Union."  Chabon has a knack for using the English language in ways that are funny, insightful, melancholy, and downright funny.

"The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" is about the summer wanderings of a young college student whose father is a gangster and whose friends are drunks, screw-ups, and gays.  Out of this mishmash of characters, who actually aren't that removed from reality and who are eerily similar to many characters in the novel of my life, Chabon magnificently portrays the main character (Art Bechstein) as the impressionable, quirky, and relate-able young man who lives inside all of us.

a day of eucharistic feasting

Well, actually, I didn't go to a service of Holy Eucharist yesterday.  I never intentionally met with other Christians to share the body and blood of our Lord.  But then again, I did...

Yesterday morning I met with the Men's Bible study at Lolita's here in Waco.  Though we didn't have bread and wine, we did have breakfast tacos and coffee.  And we did quite a bit of talking about Jesus.  And we did share a table together.  In essence, what we did was eucharistic.  We ate and drank together, giving thanks and remembering the work of our God in Christ. (The word "Eucharistic" actually means "thanksgiving.")

And then I had lunch with Jeff.  Then yesterday evening, I had dinner with some parishioners.  All of these meals were eucharistic in this sense: we were fellow Christians, bound together by our faith, sharing food and drink with one another over a table and giving thanks to our God. 

These meals were eucharistic.  The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is everywhere.  Will you continue in the apostles' fellowship and in the breaking of the bread?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

need i say more?

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39

Monday, July 5, 2010

Dude, you don't even know

The truth of our spiritual life is that we don't know how to have a spiritual life.  Speaking for myself, it seems that no matter how hard I try to live in constant prayer, praise, and worship of God, the rest of my life manages to get in the way and muck up the works.  Bummer, right?

But perhaps that's exactly why I can't seem to get to that next plateau of the spiritual life.  Because I'm trying too hard to do it on my own.  Paul explicitly says in Romans 8 (today's Daily Office reading) that "we do not know how pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words."

Ahhh.  It's as if my inner self just took a tall drink of water on a hot afternoon.  There are things that I will not know how to pray for.  My measly words just cannot possibly say all that I want to pray for.  When oil is spilling into the Gulf of Mexico at mind-numbing rates, I need to let the Spirit pray within me.  When friends die, I need to let the Spirit pray within me.  When I cannot pray because I do not know how, I need to let the Spirit pray within me.

Thanks be to God that we don't have to do everything by ourselves. 

Saturday, July 3, 2010

"I think I got lipstick on your dress."

This evening, I had the honor, joy, and privilege of serving at the wedding of Steve Chudej and Elizabeth Wilson.  It was a fantastic event, full of all the happiness that comes with weddings.  Blessings to the newlyweds!

As the assistant officiant, I had an extraordinary view of the proceedings.  Watching the bride and her mother make their way down the aisle was awe-inspiring; watching members of the bridal party furtive blot away tears was heart-warming.  This wasn't work for me, it was simply downright fun.

But here's something that was sort of funny: during the peace, I gave the bride a hug in my flowing cassock and surplice (the big white robes that clergy wear).  Then, after we pulled away she gasped and whispered, "I think I got lipstick on your dress."  Poor Elizabeth, she was truly upset!  Like I cared, this was her day, and it wasn't my dress.

Friday, July 2, 2010

I can do only what the Lord commands me to do

The story of Balaam and Balak in the book of Numbers is actually quite funny.  That is, the idea for a talking donkey came long before the popular movie "Shrek."  Read it to your kids, I bet they will love it just as much as I do.

But the story gets better.  Balak, one of the rulers whose territory is threatened by the wandering Israelites wants Balaam to curse this holy multitude.  Yet in a dream Balaam understands that the Lord does not want him to curse these people as they are under his special protection and guidance.  Although Balak's wrath is kindled, Balaam can only do what the Lord commands.

This story must be distant, odd, funny, and irrelevant.  But it manifested itself in my life today.  Just two weeks ago I gave my solemn vow to "serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely."  Today, I went and visited a parishioner in the hospital.  Wracked by pain and the loneliness of the hospital, she was one of "the least of these."  I am not trying to puff up my own pride, but in visiting her I fulfilled my vow; I did only what the Lord had commanded me to do.

So the talking donkey isn't so far gone.  Just about any old ass might be the Lord's messenger.