Wednesday, June 29, 2011

God is not for sale

The Episcopal Church used to have a curious way of raising money.  Called the "pew rental system," individual parishioners or families would lease a pew for the upcoming year.  Of course, the wealthier you were and the more you gave, the closer your pew was to the front.

This really just boils down to entitlement.  And we all succumb to this temptation.  If we have money, and there is something that we want, then there should be no stopping us.

In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter runs into this same problem.  A magician named Simon was converted and baptized because he saw that the power of God was greater than whatever tricks he could conjure.  As time went on, and Simon saw how powerfully the Holy Spirit was working in the lives of the new believers, he coveted that same Spirit: "Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, saying 'Give me also this power so that anyone whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit" (Acts 8:18-19).  He had money, he felt entitled.

But God is not for sale.  Peter rebukes Simon, "May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God's gift with money!" (8:20).

In our lives as Christians, we are not entitled to anything.  No matter how rich or poor we are, the gift of God is just that, a gift.  

Sermon - The Hills Are Calling

It was May of 1541.  The Spanish conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado was exploring the vast expanse of the American southwest.  Coronado and his men found themselves on a vast expanse, a desolate wilderness stretching for thirty thousand square miles.  This is the famed Llano Escatado, a mind-numbingly flat piece of earth that covers west Texas and parts of New Mexico.  Under a big sky, unhindered by hills, or trees, Coronado did his best to navigate the endless landscape.

The land was so unbroken, so desolate, so devoid of landmarks, that Coronado was forced to use a sea compass to chart a course for the expedition.  After wandering through the yawning grasslands around Lubbock for nearly two years, the expedition finally decided to return to Mexico.  They had not found anything of value.  No shimmering cities of gold.  No springs of eternal youth.  Just grass, and flat tabletop earth.  Two years of wandering, and all they returned with were tales of big sky and ceaseless plain.

Not so with Abraham.  After all of God’s promises and all of God’s faithfulness to Abraham, God had one more grisly task for him.  “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”  With these words ringing in his ears, Abraham gathers up wood, fire, knife, and his son whom he is to slaughter.

Then comes to pass one of the tenderest passages in all of holy scripture.  Isaac says to his father Abraham, “Father!  The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”  We can imagine the pain and the distress, but also the trust it takes for Abraham to say, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”  Then God shows Abraham the mountain where he is sacrifice his son.  He prepares the fire, an altar, and finally binds his son.  As Abraham is reaching for his knife, the tool of Isaac’s demise, his hand is stayed.  An angel of the Lord bids him to stop his gruesome task.  And the Lord provides a ram for the burnt offering.

Abraham set his sight on that mountain that God had showed him.  He was called to do this thing that no father would ever delight in doing.  Nevertheless, he went to that mountain that he did not want to ascend.  Abraham went with a purpose, with a vision, but also with trust.

“The Lord will provide.”

Thousands of years later, in a small village in Roman occupied England, another man ascended another hill of agony.  His name was Alban.  Alban harbored a Christian priest who was fleeing the Romans during one of their persecutions of Christianity.  Though at first he was not a Christian himself, Alban felt compassion for this godly man.  Alban protected him, gave him food, clothing.  The priest shared with him the good news of Jesus Christ.  As the Romans were searching for this priest who had fled, they came knocking on Alban’s door.  Alban,realizing that the priest could share the good news with so many more, bravely put on a holy masquerade.  He switched clothes with the priest.

When Alban opened the door, the Romans saw him as the priest and arrested him.  Alban knew what he was doing.  He was giving his own life, so that another might live.  He was acting just as Jesus Christ acted for you and me.

Alban was brought before the Roman officials.  He refused to pay homage to the emperor, he spat on their idols.  In return, he was sentenced to death on a hill just outside the city. With a calling from God, with a holy purpose, Alban climbed that hill of execution without shame or regret.  In fact, he was so filled with the Holy Spirit, that he could not bridle his tongue from ceaseless prayer.  He knew that his end was approaching.  That he was to die alone for his Lord.

But, just as with Abraham, the Lord provided.  He provided a companion.  As Alban was approaching the place of execution, praying and giving thanks to God, the Holy Spirit began to move among the people who were there.  The executioner, the man with a sword in one hand and orders to kill Alban in the other, saw Alban and believed.  He threw down his sword, fell at Alban’s feet, and proclaimed that he too believed in Jesus as Lord.  For that holy man Alban who was climbing the hill did not fear death, he did not fear that hill of agony to which God had called him.  And the executioner wanted a faith like that too.  So when the time came, and the swords fell, they died together.  They died as martyrs, Alban and his nameless companion, two men who professed Christ as their Lord in order to die.

Alban, of course, was not forgotten.  In the annals of Christian history, Alban is remembered as the first martyr in Great Britain.  He was a man who was called to a grisly task, who climbed a hill of pain, but is now remembered around the world.  This church, and hundreds of others like it around the globe join together on this day to celebrate this faith that sometimes calls us to what we do not want. But even if we do not want it, the Lord will provide.

In light of Abraham’s story and of Alban’s story, the story of Coronado and his men may seem more appealing.  Little was required of them.  And though the big plains of West Texas can be mind-numbing, at least he wasn’t called to die, or to deal death.  But as Christians, as followers of a Lord who died on a hill outside of Jerusalem, our calling is not like Coronado’s. Our calling is that of Abraham, is that of Alban.

Each one of us knows that hill, that mountain very well.  All around it is a vast plain through which we can wander ceaselessly.  But that mountain, the one that God is calling us to, is always looming.  Compared to the vast plains, it may seem that the mountain is too high, the path is too treacherous, the final terminus too frightening.

That mountain that looms in our lives, that steady landmark, has many names.  It is the mountain of owning up to some fault of our own.  It is the mountain of speaking truth to power and sacrificing our privilege.  It is the mountain of following God’s call, wherever it may lead, even to death itself.  It’s not an easy decision, but there’s good news.

Even though choosing the mountain road is the harder one, the Lord will provide.  The Lord provided Abraham with a lamb, Alban with a companion.  The Lord will provide the church with the gifts to feed the hungry and heal the broken-hearted.  The Lord will provide you with the strength and the courage to be a disciple in this confusing and messy world.  We cannot live scared to follow our Lord because we may not have what it takes.  Because we don’t have what it takes.  Only Jesus does.  When we are need, when we are following God’s call, the Lord refuses to abandon us.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Peace

Episcopal Peace Fellowship
When I was in college, I had this button pinned on my backpack.  The logo is that of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship (EPF), a group that started following the first World War as the Episcopal Pacifist Fellowship.  The tag line, "Peace is the Church's Business" is genius.

Now, if you don't already know, I spent a whole lot of time researching the Episcopal Peace Fellowship while I was in seminary.  Right now, I would classify myself as a "friend of the EPF."  I'm not quite all the way there, and here's why I can't quite make the plunge and sign on the dotted line.

Peace, without exception, comes from God alone.  Peace cannot be manufactured by protests, peace cannot be enforced by strength.  As humans, acting alone, if we attempt to create peace we find that we have created a new Tower of Babel.

Peace is simply God's kingdom come to earth.  All too often, I believe, EPF and other well-meaning Christian groups advocate for a kind of established peace, something that can be built through cooperation and tolerance.  But peace is not built, like love and blessings it is freely given.

No, Peace is not the Church's business.  The Peace of God is the Church's business.


The Peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord: And the Blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you, and remain with you always. Amen.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Genesis - Who We Are

Above all else, the book of Genesis is a collection of stories.  Genesis contains the stories of Noah, Abraham, Joseph, and a whole host of other characters.  The stories in Genesis are about God and how people relate to God.

Yet Genesis is not exactly a “nice” book.  There are stories of deceit, murder, and immorality.  This should not shock us.  Since the stories in Genesis are stories about people, then deceit, murder, and immorality are to be expected.

Of course, God has also given us the gifts of peace and happiness.  This Sunday's reading from Genesis is one story that serves as an example of the joy and love that two people can share.  Isaac, mourning the death of his mother Sarah, finds companionship and comfort in Rebekah. 

This summer, we will be reading through large sections of Genesis in our worship services.  Sometimes, like today, these stories will be happy.  However, some stories may be unsettling.   Through it all, remember that the stories in Genesis are describing the world around us, a world of both pain and joy. 

We must take the stories in Genesis seriously, because the stories in Genesis describe what it means to be a human in relationship with God.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Binding of Isaac - The Warring of Nations

One of the more disturbing stories in the Bible is the binding of Isaac in Genesis 22.  After all that Abraham has gone through - believing in the promises of God, fathering both Ishmael and Isaac, then sending Ishmael away - God speaks to Abraham one more time.

"Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you" (Genesis 22:2).

As they approach the mountain with the wood and knife, Isaac asks his father where the lamb is for the sacrifice.  In a moment of tenderness and trust, Abraham replies, "God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son" (22:8).

As the story goes, Abraham binds his son and is about to slaughter him when an angel tells him to stay his knife.  The Lord then provides an animal, a ram in a thicket, in order to perform the ritual sacrifice, while Isaac is spared.

When we read this in the Bible, it's incredibly disturbing.  But what about when we read it in the newspaper?

Everyday we bind our nation's sons and daughters and slaughter them in war.  We strap them down with debt from college, we bind them with jingoistic patriotism.  We encourage them to enlist in our military and offer themselves for our protection, telling them that this is the highest calling.

Yet as there was for Abraham, there is always the voice from above telling us to cease our warfare, to stop our warring madness.  At the moment before the knife falls or the order is given, there is always an opportunity to stop, to let live rather than let die.

But we do not hold back.  Our sons and daughters are slaughtered on our command in the deserts of the Middle East and in the highlands of central Asia.  The story of Abraham and Isaac may be disturbing.  But the stories that are written everyday in our newspapers are worse.  Abraham did not sacrifice his child.  We do.  And we are.  

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Are you ready?

Get it?
James with Jimmy in July starts in less than two weeks!  I'd like to whet everybody's appetite with a few brief remarks on the letter of James.

James is unlike the other epistles in the New Testament with its emphasis on ethical and moral purity.  These exhortations, however, take two forms, inward and outward.  "Pure religion" is "to care for orphans and widows in their distress" but also "to keep oneself unstained by the world" (James 1:27).

This epistle also describes faith differently from Paul and other New Testament texts.  For James, "faith without works is dead" (2:26).  Faith cannot save us if that faith is not enlivened and acted upon.

Compare this to both the letter to the Hebrews and to Paul.  "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1), and  "Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1).

Now I am not trying to say that for these three authors, faith in Jesus Christ is different.  What I am saying is that these three authors emphasize different parts of faith.  This should not be disconcerting, but rather heartening.  Faith is trust in God, the fruit of the forgiveness of our sins, as well as the inspiration to live holy lives.

I'll see you in July!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Saint Alban

Martyrdom of Alban
Today the Church is blessed to celebrate the witness and death of Alban, the first known martyr in Great Britain.  Sometime in the second or third centuries, Alban was converted to Christianity by a priest fleeing from a Roman persecution.  Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Alban volunteered himself to the Roman soldiers so that the priest could flee.  To make a long story short, Alban refused to honor the pagan gods and allowed himself to be decapitated.

"Well that's weird!  Why would celebrate somebody getting their head chopped off?"

One of the readings for today is from the first letter of John: "We know love by this, that [Christ] laid down his life for us - and we ought to lay down our lives for one another" (1 John 3:16).  This is not some hokey, super-America statement, but rather a radical call for Christians to love their fellow disciples as much as Christ loves them.  And this is what we find in Alban; a disciple willing to die for the sake of a fellow Christian.


Monday, June 20, 2011

Sermon from Sunday

Ditch the Workout, Join the Party
There is an exercise dance phenomenon called Zumba. Z-U-M-B-A, Zumba. The only way that I can describe Zumba is by saying it’s a strange mix of Richard Simmons meets Brazilian Carneval meets country line dancing. In Zumba, the exercise dancers line up facing their instructor. With loud, fast, Latin music blaring over a sound system, the dancers mimic the moves that the instructor is doing.

The weird thing to me is that Zumba isn’t just an exercise routine – it has become a culture. You can go online and download some of the newest dance moves to prepare for your next workout. Dancers can become faithful followers of certain instructors. You can even buy your own Zumba shoes.

Now, to be honest, when Maggie, my wife, first told me about Zumba and I looked it up online, I told myself that I was never going to go. I could come up with a variety of rhythmic excuses, and say that I prefer to workout alone. But the truth is that I’m just a big wuss and I’m afraid that I would look stupid. But even Zumba has something to say to people like me: “Ditch the Workout, Join the Party.”

What intrigues me about this slogan is how shockingly Christian it is. When I was looking up Zumba on google, I didn’t expect to be confronted with one of the core truths for disciples of Jesus. In the life of faith, you and I cannot be followers of Jesus alone. You see, there’s no such thing as a Lone Ranger Christian.

That is why we have church – this is our gathered community; a safe place where we can pray together and worship together. And, on certain occasions, we can even stuff our faces with chili together.

To be a part of the church, we have to ditch the workout. The workout is the drudgery of thinking that we’re the only people who can pray for ourselves. The workout is trying to follow Jesus and not telling anybody else. The workout is trying to find happiness or meaning in this crazy world without trusting God.

But the party, well the party is awesome. Joining the party is being part of a community that gathers around this table for our weekly feast. Joining the party is throwing away the idea that religion is a personal issue, because it’s not. If you’re going to join the party, and if you think this party is worth coming to, you have to think that everybody should be at this party as well.

I’m not saying this just because I want St. Alban’s to grow. After his resurrection, Jesus shares one last moment with his disciples. He doesn’t scatter them individually to the four winds. He doesn’t even tell them to be nice people. No, Jesus’ last words to his disciples are to go and make more disciples from all people. Jesus drank the Zumba kool-aid. He tells his disciples that it’s not enough to be great Christians by yourselves. You have to go and tell everybody that they need to ditch the workout, and join the party.


Now, from the looks of it, Zumba seems really hard. After Maggie came home that first time from Zumba and I looked it up on YouTube, I was shocked. How can anybody dance that fast for an hour? Maggie told me that if you just sit there and watch, it looks really hard. And it is hard when you start, but once you jump in and just start doing it, the dance moves become easy. You forget how fast you’re moving because you’re tuned into the instructor. You can feel the energy of everybody else around you.

And again, I was confronted with one of the great truths of Christianity. Being a follower of Jesus looks really hard. In fact, from the outside, it looks impossible. Just the simple act of waking up early on Sunday morning and coming to church looks impossible if you don’t try it. Asking for a friend to pray for you sounds awkward until you’ve actually asked. Giving your lunch to a homeless man sounds silly until you’ve gone hungry and he’s been fed. And it seems impossible that the Holy Spirit works in this world if you’ve never looked for it.

There are all sorts of things in the Christian life that seem impossible from the outside. If we just sit on the sidelines and try to figure it all out, things just don’t add up. From the outside, it seems backwards that the King of Kings was born in a barn. But when you start worshiping Jesus, you see that’s our model for humility. From the outside, it’s weird that we worship a God who was executed. But when you’ve celebrated Easter, you know that the empty tomb is where we find our hope.

On days like today, Trinity Sunday, we celebrate this topsy-turvy nature of grace. From the outside, things like the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are just silly. If we sit around and try to figure out the Trinity, it isn’t ever going to make sense. Because Christianity is not something you figure out, it’s something you live. Once you jump right in, when you start dancing with the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, you’ll see that nothing could ever be better. When you start doing works of justice and mercy and love in the name of God who is three persons, you find that you’re dancing with God.

You, the people of St. Alban’s are dancing with God in all sorts of ways. Some are dancing by teaching Sunday school to our children. Some are dancing through their work with our outreach partners. Others are dancing by praying for us. We are dancing with God in our worship, in our music, in our works of mercy.

So what’s holding you back? Is the music too fast? Do the dance moves look too hard? It may seem that way. It may seem like it’s best to sit back and allow others to do the work of ministry. But that’s not how we learn to dance with God.

Learning to dance takes a lot of hard work and practice. It means that sometimes we are going to get sweaty, and sometimes we are going to step on our partner’s feet. But if we’re scared and blame it all on our two left feet, if we don’t ever try, we’ll never know how much fun it is. If we hold back and never live a life with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then we’ll never know how lovely it is to be a part of the God who is love.

So go ahead, don’t be shy. Come and dance with us. Dance your way to your neighbors and your friends and invite them to this great party. You know who they are. Dance with Christ in his ministry to this hurting and broken world. Dance as you make disciples of all nations. Dance as you get your hands dirty by setting the captives free from their sins, their insecurities, their poverty. Because this world needs lovely people like you to dance with.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Body of Christ

the bread of heaven
On Sundays, the single phrase that I say the most is, "The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven."  It is quite an honor to distribute the bread which is given for the life of the world.

But there is always a theological wrestling match going on in my head when I say those words.  When I talk about heaven, what do I mean?  Am I describing a place with puffy clouds and angels and harps and pearly gates?

If so, then I would rather not use that phrase when distributing communion because I don't believe in a place with puffy clouds and angels and harps and pearly gates.

I believe in a life, a life that is complete and full with God that can only be described as heavenly.  This is a life that is completely dependent on God and can only come from Christ's everlasting love for us.  Here in this earthly existence, we see glimpses of heaven all the time.

And communion is one of those intersections between heaven and earth.  We are eating the bread of heaven right here, on earth!  We don't have to wait until we die to eat the heavenly bread, it is freely offered right now.  At the sound of the last trumpet, in a twinkling of an eye, don't be surprised when we find that heaven is on earth.
Because heaven has been on earth for ages.

The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven...The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven...The Body of Christ the bread of heaven.......

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pentecostal, Baptist, Episcopalian

In the life of the Church, today is a very special day.  Today is Pentecost, the great feast that takes place fifty days after Easter.  We celebrate how the Holy Spirit empowered the disciples on that first Pentecost to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. 

Today is also special because we are celebrating the baptism of Debbie Williams.  She has made the choice to wash in the waters of baptism and commit herself to Christ.  We have much to celebrate!

In the truest sense of the words, we are both a Pentecostal church and a Baptist church.  As Episcopalians, we are not tied to one celebration or the other. 

We are a Pentecostal church because we believe that the Holy Spirit inspired the followers of Jesus to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth.  We are a Baptist church because we believe the followers of Jesus, you and I, are still being inspired by the Holy Spirit through baptism.

St. Alban’s is neither a Pentecostal nor a Baptist church.  We are both.  Put simply, we are Christians.  We are followers of Jesus who are inspired by the Holy Spirit to do the work of ministry.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Words

The 7:30 AM service at St. Alban's is a cozy one.  And it's quiet.  Though I'm only half-awake half of the time, I really do enjoy it.

Unlike many other Episcopal churches, all our services are Rite II; that is, we use modern language.  The only place that some of the older, Elizabethan language creeps in is at the offertory at the 7:30 service.  After the offering plates are brought and the gifts of the people are presented, the priest takes the plates and says:

All things - money, bread, wine, food...
"All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee."  

I always thought it was some old curmudgeon who had penned that phrase.  Turns out, it's from 1 Chronicles 29:14 (duh! who hasn't read 1 Chronicles lately?).

In this passage from the *popular* book of 1 Chronicles, King David is standing in front of the assembled people thanking God for the gifts bestowed upon the people.  In return, the people and King David have set aside portions of what God had given them for the building of the Temple.  At the height of his thanksgiving, David says, "For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you."  

It is an honor, then, for me to repeat those words at the Eucharist.  To stand in the place of King David, to receive the gifts of the people, and to thank God on the community's behalf.  These words are about God's abundance and our reliance on him.  But if we think about it, these words must have been the words of Christ.

All was given to him - the power, the authority, and the magnificence of God.  But Christ gave all of that on our behalf.  1 Chronicles, though it is typically forgotten in the pages of the Old Testament, contains seeds of the gospel truth - that Christ received all and gave all for us.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Jesus is Lord

Jesus is Lord of the living and the dead
The process of becoming an Episcopal priest is a long and daunting one.  I first sensed my call when I was sixteen.  I was twenty-five when I was ordained.  For nine years I trusted in Christ's call upon my life, fully believing that I was created to be a priest.

And I still know this is true.  Everyday of my priesthood there is something, some affirmation, that reminds me of who I am and why I am doing it.  I am a priest.  And I do it because God created me to do it.

That being said, my relationship with Jesus changed throughout those nine years.  At first, I saw Jesus as an inaccessible, other-worldly figure.  I was more afraid than anything else.  As I matured I saw Jesus as a friend, a companion.  I had moved from being afraid to being comfortable.

Now my creed is simple: "Jesus is Lord."  For me, this brings together what I used to think of Jesus.  Yes, he's powerful and glorious, but at the same time he is also loving and on my side.

Was I wrong at any point along the way?  No, it's just that my relationship with Christ changed.  And that's okay.  What really matters is that we are able to take a step back and reflect.  Who is Jesus in our lives?  What's his role?

Once you start asking these questions, you find yourself lost in a marvelous world of prayer.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Grand Inquisitor

In a recent conversation with a parishioner, I was exhorted to read "The Brothers Karamazov" by Fyodor Dostoevsky.  This is one of the Russian tomes that makes you wonder if it's easier to walk across Siberia or get through the novel.

Last night I read the chapter entitled, "The Grand Inquisitor."  This particular chapter is famous for its critique of Christianity and the Church.  After reading this chapter, without knowing the rest of the book, many have labeled Dostoevsky as an atheist.  That's not the case, but I'm not going to dwell on literary criticism.

But I do want to address some of the points made in this chapter; points made by many critics of Christianity and the Church.

In my reading of modern day atheism (most especially "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins), I have found a curious non sequitur.  Dawkins, with others, attempts to disprove the existence of the Christian God of love by critiquing the transgressions and errors of God's followers.

It goes like this: "If God was so good and loving and powerful, how could his followers have produced such evil, despicable events as the Crusades?  Or how could it be that white slaveholders in the South used the Bible as their means of keeping shackles on their slaves?  This clearly shows that Christians are deluded in their faith and beliefs."

You can see the problem.  When we start at how awful humanity it, it doesn't take us very long to get to a place of despair.

But that's why Christianity starts with Christ.  God is not defined by who we are, what we do, or what we say.  Personally, I believe that the convicted murderer on death row can proclaim "Jesus is Lord" just as truthfully as Mother Teresa can.  True, the criminal has sinned, and sinned terribly, but his crimes don't disprove God.

We don't define God - God defines us.  

Monday, June 6, 2011

Money

On Friday and Saturday I went to a conference on stewardship (that's church code word for the spiritual practice of sacrificially giving our money, our abilities, and our desires).  One comment really struck me:

"Americans are anxiety junkies."

It's true.  We're anxious about everything.  We're anxious about the stock market.  We're anxious about the Mavs beating the Heat.  Heck, we're even anxious that we're so anxious.

And hoarding money doesn't help our anxiety about money.  Just look at Bernie Madoff.  That dude was so anxious about money that he just had to get more and more until it literally destroyed lives.

Giving of whatever it is that we treasure is what God desires.  When we release ourselves from what controls us, from what  creates anxiety, then we're free to love freely.

Years ago a woman walked into St. Alban's looking for help.  She had a new job and needed gas money, so the church gave her some cash.  It wasn't the money that was important - it was the fact that the church wasn't anxious about not having enough for the next person who came in looking for help or anxious if she would use it to buy booze and cigarettes.

Just today we received a donation from her.  She had made some money in her new job and was back on her feet.  She freely gave what was given to her.  It wasn't the actual amount that mattered - what mattered was that she was free to freely love.  She wasn't anxious - she was liberated.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Churches Aren't Buildings

The Transfiguration
Jesus climbed a mountain with Peter, James, and John.  As they were at the summit, Jesus' appearance change into dazzling appearance.  The radiance of heaven was all about.  Moses and Elijah also appeared with Jesus.

The three disciples were astounded.  They had seen the glory of the Lord!  They had laid eyes on Moses and Elijah!  But Peter, James, and John wanted to do what any good Episcopalian would want to do:

"Let's build a church!"


Now, of course they didn't build anything on that mountaintop.  Jesus didn't put down roots, he moved on.  Our Lord was a nomad.  He told his disciples to follow him, he didn't tell them to build churches.

Over the past 20 centuries, the Church has forgotten this message.  Groups of Jesus' followers have had profound spiritual experiences in one place or another; so they felt compelled to put down roots.  They built quaint churches and grandiose cathedrals. 

Sadly, brick and mortar soon replaced the glory of God.  The beauty of stained glass drew our attention away from the true beauty of the Transfiguration.  Magnificent pipe organs proved to be poor substitutes for hopes of the heavenly chorus.  Then when the community of followers feels called to move, to be nomadic as our Lord was, they are stuck with costly buildings and structures that prove to be a burden rather than a blessing. 

We worship in spirit and in truth, not in quaint churches or grandiose cathedrals.  We follow Jesus, wherever that may take us.  On your journey with Jesus, pack a tent - and leave the architects behind.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Ascension Day

Happy Ascension Day!
Today the Church celebrates Ascension Day.  In our worship we remember that Christ ascended into heaven.  This is good news for us because Christ not only dwelt among us here on earth and destroyed death, but he also reigns at the right hand of God in glory everlasting.

This morning, one of my priest buddies said, "Now that's one rapture to proclaim!"  Rapture is the fundamentalist idea that souls and bodies will fly up to heaven at some appointed day in the future.  Biblically, our fundamentalist friends are so close, yet so far off, because they are missing one important step: Good Friday and Easter.

Jesus didn't walk around on the earth as if everything was hunky-dory, perform some cool miracles, and then fly off to heaven on some random day.  Jesus did walk on earth and did some super-awesome miracles, but he also died.  God died on Good Friday.  And then God rose again on Easter.

And this is our life in God.  We walk around on this earth, doing some good things, doing some bad things.  And then we die.  Yes, we all die.  But we also live again in Jesus Christ.  The tombs, the graves, the coffins that try to hold death are powerless.  Only after death and resurrection are we brought into heaven with God.  This is the final step in God's grand story of our redemption.  The good news of Jesus Christ doesn't stop on Easter Day - we continue on to Ascension Day as we celebrate that we too will one day be glorified, we will be remade like God in glory everlasting.


Christ, taking flesh, and dwelling among men, declares that Heaven has stooped to earth.  But here a great many would stop, they would bring back Paganism through Christianity.  The Son of God, they say, has become incarnate; now fleshly things are again divine; earth is overshadowed by Heaven; it is no longer sin to worship that which He has glorified.  In the manger of Bethlehem they sink the Resurrection and Ascension: they will only look at one part of the great Redemption, not at the whole of it; at the condescension to our vileness, not at the deliverance from that vileness, which the Son accomplished when he sat down at the right hand of the Father. - F.D. Maurice

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

James with Jimmy in July

So do you remember how awesome our study of Revelation was?  It was the jam!  I could feel the Holy Spirit moving through our conversations as we discovered together what Revelation meant for our 1st century Christian brothers and sisters and what Revelation means for us today.

But there is still plenty for us to learn!  We will be tackling another difficult book of the New Testament, James" in July.  We're calling it "James with Jimmy in July."

The book of James is often found right alongside Revelation in the list of "undesirables."  Essentially, James is the counterweight to Paul - a sort of balancing measure that calls Christians back to the reality that we must do the right thing as well as believe the right thing.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. -James 1:27


"Oh schucks!" you may say, "I'll be out of town during July!  I'm going to miss this incredible opportunity!"

Have no fear.  You will be able to follow our Bible study at stalbansbiblestudy.blogspot.com.  During the month of July, you will be able to read a short commentary from me and then post comments or questions.  I will respond to them, and we'll have our very own digital Bible study.  Doesn't studying the Bible while you're laying on the beach sound pretty cool?