Thursday, December 23, 2010

in the darkness

John 1:5 - "The light shines in the darkness; and the darkness did not overcome it."

That verse will be a part of the reading at St. Alban's on Christmas Eve.  Here is what Archbishop William Temple has to say about it:

"Image yourself standing alone on some headland in a dark night.  At the foot of the headland is a lighthouse or a beacon, not casting rays on every side, but throwing one bar of light through the darkness.  It is some such image that St. John had before his mind.  The divine light shines through the darkness of the world, cleaving it, but neither dispelling it nor quenched by it.

"As we look forwards, we peer into darkness, and none can say with certainty what course the true progress of the future should follow.  But as we look back, the truth is marked by beacon-lights, which are the lives of saints and pioneers; and these in their turn are not originators of light, but rather reflectors which give light to us because themselves they are turned towards this source of light."

Be a mirror.  Reflect the divine light of Christ into this world of consuming darkness.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

the heavenly city

Revelation 21 describes the heavenly city of the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven.  The images are pretty awesome.  But after reading it, I think that God must own a mining company.  Just read this litany of minerals and jewels that make the foundations of the city: jasper, sapphire, agate, emerald, onyx, carnelian, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth, and amethyst.  Whoa God, have you moved to West Virginia?

The picture posted on this blog is hilarious, mainly because it tries to depict all of these jewels as if the city of God were really made up of shiny rocks from the earth.  Come on now, that's just silly.

Take, for example, this description of the streets in the heavenly city: "and the street of the city is pure gold, transparent as glass" (Revelation 21:21).  Okay, first of all, is there only one street in the heavenly Jerusalem?  Traffic must be killer.  Second, since when did gold become transparent?  Last time I looked at my wedding ring, you can't see through gold.

My point is this: I find it hilarious that people try to depict the heavenly city with earthly images.  Revelation is juxtaposing these images which make no sense precisely because it is impossible to imagine the heavenly city this side of death.  So everybody chill out - put away your watercolors - and use a little bit more imagination.  The Holy Spirit can do amazing things with a lively mind.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

knowing and the peaceful kingdom

Isaiah 11:9 reads: "They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea." 

Just before this verse, there is a lengthy description of the peaceful kingdom - a time and a place in which the wolf shall lie down the lamb and the nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp.  All of the natural world and every part of creation shall live in harmony and in love.

I know - it sounds like a utopian pipe dream.  But it's only the reality of the Kingdom of God on earth. 

What strikes me is how it is knowledge of the Lord that creates the peaceful kingdom.  In the Old Testament, knowing somebody means having sexual intercourse with them.  So having "knowledge of the LORD" is a wonderful and insightful word play.  In other words, having a deeply intimate and loving relationship with the Lord is a sign of God's reign.  How delightfully...provocative.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

turns out, the Bible is awesome

Check out this verse from Isaiah (9:5):

"For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire."

It seems that the Bible has entered the fray and all of the sudden became weirdly political, apocalyptic, and freaky.  So what the heck is going on?

In a strange sort of way, this prophecy from Isaiah is actually meant to offer consolation and hope.  The Israelites were suffering oppression and occupation at the hands of the Assyrians.  The great hope was that a new king would be coronated to free the Israelites from darkness and tyranny.

Of course, as Christians, we see this prophecy in the long view.  Jesus Christ has been born for us, and all authority rests on his shoulders.  His name is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

Is Jesus burning blood-soaked garments in the fire?  Well, no actually.  Because it was his own garments that became covered with blood in his all-loving sacrifice for the salvation of the world.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Already, But Not Yet

My sermon from yesterday is posted below.  The text is Matthew 11:2-11.  Enjoy.

The disciples of John the Baptist are pesky inquisitors. They approach Jesus with a question much like ours: who exactly is this Jesus guy? They ask, “are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus, being the sly Savior that he is, answers them with no answer at all: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” Jesus won’t give an answers of words, because words are cheap – actions tell the true story.

And Jesus’ actions are pretty awesome. Medical and social ailments vanish into thin air as Jesus lays hands on the lame and cures the lepers. This isn’t just good news – this is great news! Finally, it seems, once and for all, pain, poverty, and mortality have met their match in Jesus the Christ. The Messiah has come into the world to make us whole.

Except when he hasn’t. And the good news becomes a false alarm.

One dreary November morning what vanished into thin air was not any malady – but my very confidence in life. On that dreary November morning I received a phone call from a blood lab. The faceless voice on the phone said, “Jimmy, your blood sugar is five times higher than what it should be. You have juveniles diabetes.”

Packed into that phone call were all sorts of messages that I have learned in the four years since that diagnosis. “Jimmy, you may lose your feet one day. Jimmy, there’s a good chance you’ll go blind. Jimmy, your chances for heart attack and stroke have skyrocketed. Jimmy, there’s a good chance this disease will kill you.”

My story is not unique. I do not have to catalog the innumerable medical and social ills that come crashing down upon our lives. I know that you have received that phone call, that letter, that email that has irrevocably changed your life – and maybe not for the better. And in the face of the sheer madness of it all, what does Jesus say? “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.” Speaking for myself, a little part of me rolls my cynical eyes and says, “yeah…right.”

Now on the surface, it probably appears that I am a walking, talking, praying oxymoron. Because, as a matter of fact, I do believe that Jesus Christ did indeed cure the blind and raise the dead. He walked around in first century Galilee doing all manner of marvelous works. But I also know that Jesus Christ has not cured me. I prayed for healing, hoping that the phone call was just a bad dream. And then I stick my finger and check my blood, and yeah, I am still incurable.

Now all is not lost.

I want you to imagine a giant Venn Diagram. Do you remember those? The educational tools that your teachers made you use in middle school English? Just imagine that in one circle you have everyday, common life. And in that first circle there is joy and happiness yes. But there is also an unequal share of pain, misery, anguish, and evil in that first circle. There is what it means to be human – to know what that first circle is like.

In the second circle you have – for lack of a less theological term, the Kingdom of Christ at the second advent. The second advent is when Christians believe that Jesus, in some form or fashion, will return to and restore the entire earth. That’s when all disease, all hurting, all pain, all misery and evil will be vanquished, once and for all. The Kingdom will swallow up death forever.

So what’s left in the middle? That little sliver of both circles that is supposed to show how two different things are similar? You have us – living in the time of the first advent. We live in an age when Jesus Christ healed the sick and raised the dead, but also in an age when we still succumb to disease and perish. We recognize that yes, indeed, Jesus and the Kingdom of Christ have broken into this world – but not fully yet. Because we also recognize that we are still susceptible to the vagaries and harshness of fleshy life.

Now being stuck in the middle can cause us to throw up our hands and say, “what’s the use!” But rather than giving it up, there is something we can do in the meantime.

In the meantime, we have to keep our eyes open for those little glimpses of the Kingdom of Christ that have broken into our world. Because we live in a world where God’s grace seasons our lives with unexpected miracles and joys. Many of us witness the work of Christ all the time. Take my wife, Maggie, for example. She works as a physical therapist, and everyday single day she sees the Kingdom of Christ breaking into this world. Jesus said that the lame are now walking. And if you were to go to work with her you would see those words coming alive. We also have these wonderful little medical gadgets – glasses and hearing aids. Yes indeed – the blind can see and the deaf can hear. Why can’t we say that these are glimpses of the Kingdom of
Christ breaking into this world of ours? They’re not perfect, but they are signs of the coming age when all eyes shall be sharp and all ears shall be keen.

In the meantime, we are living in a very, very long Advent. We are waiting, waiting, waiting, with great expectancy. We are looking forward to that final and triumphant Christmas Day when the Kingdom of Christ breaks into this world not as a little baby, but as the re-creator of all things. So in the meantime, before the final dawning of that magnificent Christmas morning, take up an Advent discipline for life. Become like those disciples of John who came to Jesus.

In the meantime, go into all the world, and tell them what is happening and what will happen. Go and tell that the blind are beginning to receive their sight, but at the end, they will all see. Go and say that the lame are beginning to walk, but at the end, they will all be leaping for joy. Shout from the mountaintops how the lepers are being cleansed but at the end they will be fully clean, that the deaf are beginning to hear, but at the end they will all hear. Go and tell that the poor have heard the good news, and at the end, they will be the good news. And finally, in the meantime, go and tell them that the dead are being raised and on that final Christmas
morning, all the dead will be alive again. Tell them that yeah, I’m incurable, I have a terminal case of being human, but tell them that you have seen the Kingdom of Christ, and that you know how the story really ends.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

nine years and counting

Today I go before the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Texas for one final interview before my ordination to the priesthood.  It has been a very, very, very long road.  I first felt this call nine years ago - and now here I am, on the very cusp of fulfillment.

What have I learned in all this time?  Well, I've learned how to be patient.  Waiting 3285 days just for some dude to put hands on your head takes a lot of patience.

But I have also learned what it means to be dedicated.  I don't think I could have waited all nine years if this calling was made up. 

But most of all, I've learned that my clock doesn't run on the same time as God's clock.  God has watched me go through this process, go to college, leave for seminary, and now work here at St. Alban's - all with this goal in mind.  But I believe that God has always seen me as a priest, and these nine years have been about teaching me what it means to live into this vocation.  For God, I was ordained to the priesthood when I first said "Here am I; send me!" 

What happens ten days from now will just be a formality, a temporal and material affirmation of what is an eternal and spiritual truth.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Here am I; send me!

The Old Testament reading for my ordination service will be Isaiah 6:1-8.  In a strange quirk of liturgical calendar, that is also today's reading for the Daily Office.

Now of course the last line, "Here am I; send me!" is perfect for ordinations.  But there are other reasons that I treasure this passage.

First of all, I love the majestic and magnificent image of the Lord's presence and glory filling the temple.  The hem of the Lord's robe (God wears clothes?) filled the temple.  Whoa, that's huge.

It's so huge and magnificent that the angels of the Lord have to hide from God's very presence.  Apparently they have six wings (also weird).  With two they fly.  With two they cover their faces from the glory of God, it's just too much for even them to bear.  And with two they cover their faces (i.e. genitals).

What gets me is that these messengers and servants of God, heavenly beings, have to hide themselves from God's glory.  But the prophet, just a lowly human named Isaiah, is given the gift of speech with God.  Whoa, that's really huge, and super awesome.  But take note: the prophet can only speak with God after his lips have been cleansed by a burning coal.  That's intense! 

But you and I have been given a better coal and a more righteous cleansing.  Any guesses?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

love letters

How long has it been since you have written a love letter?  I mean a really sweet, loving, caring piece of correspondence.  It doesn't have to be to your spouse or partner, but it could be to a dear friend or a relative.  And not just a quick email or a text message.  Even more than posting on somebody's Facebook wall.  Speaking for myself, it's been a long time indeed.

We often forget that the New Testament is a treasure trove of love letters.  First Thessalonians is just that.  Paul is expressing his deep-seated love for the congregation; and not in a weird, creepy sort of way, but in the truest sense of the word.

Now this is also the time of year when most of us send most of our paper correspondence for the year in the form of Christmas cards.  I plan on my own feet to the fire on this one - I actually want to write love letters to the people I care about.  It's the deep-seated love that is repairs wounds, makes stronger bonds, and knits together the Body of Christ.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Statue at the U.N. headquarters

This oracle appears in both Isaiah and Micah:

"He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war no more (Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4: 3)."

These words, both in their beauty and in their judgment, can speak to our time.  Now, I do not think that this side of the resurrection our world will be without violence or destruction.  Nor am I advocating for the dissolution of the Pentagon.  But that does not mean that we should punt and just wait around for the Last Day when the lion shall lie down with the lamb.

This is what disturbs me: the Episcopal Peace Fellowship reports that we spend $720 million a day on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And right here in Waco 30% of our population lives below the poverty line.
I do not say these things because I am a liberal or a conservative or any sort of "-ist."  I only say these things because I believe that if this is God's final vision of the world, then I'm all for it.