Thursday, January 26, 2006

Epiphany IV, RCL Texts for January 29, 2006

GOSPEL READING: Mark 1:21-28 "Have you come to destroy us?"
Viktor Frankl, in one of his books, tells the post-Concentration Camp story of a young woman in a relocation camp in Eastern Europe. The evacuees were sleeping on cots in a large room like a gymnasium or an armory. One woman kept wailing every five minutes, "I am so thirsty." No one could sleep because of the noise she was making. Finally an attendant brought her a glass of water. Things were quiet for 15-20 minutes, then the woman began wailing, "I WAS so thirsty!"

Frankl points out that thirst was not the woman's real problem, it was what therapists call her presenting problem. Her real problem was a need to be loved, or at least noticed, paid attention to. Though her physical thirst was satisfied, her emotional, spiritual thirst remain unabated.

In our Gospel lesson, the man with the unclean spirit has established his identity as "the man with the unclean spirit", and he fights off losing that identity. "Have you come to destroy us?"

Most of us fight off the love of God because God's love in Christ is a two-edged sword, which must first cut, slay, destroy that which it would save. Remember Jesus said so. "To save your life you must lose it." Paul reminds us that to be baptised is to die in order to be raised again.

And the fact is, the old Adam does not want to die. Most of us do not want our lives to be changed by the Gospel; in order for change to happen, something must die, and we are loathe to change, afraid of death.

So the man with the unclean spirit speaks aright, speaks that which most of us are too proper, too"Christian", to say. He knows that to follow Christ is to have our safe, secure, middle-class lives, if not destroyed, then seriously challanged and altered. And he is honest about not really wanting that to happen.

Here's a question. What is our unclean spirit which fights off conversion?

There is a story about the early missionaries to Germany. The fierce Teutonic warriors accepted baptism, yet they held their sword hands out of the water, reserving the right to fight.

What are we holding out of the waters of Baptism, seeking to protect that piece of our lives from death and renewal?



Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Epiphany 2: RCL texts for January 15, 2005

FIRST READING: I Samuel 3:1-10 "Then Eli perceived that God was calling the boy."
GOSPEL READING: John 1:43-51 "Phillip said to him, 'Come and see.' "

I have been deeply confused over the concept of hearing the voice of God ever since an incident which happened when I was a little boy. I grew up next door to my Grandparents and ate breakfast with them 3 or 4 times a week, which was good, because Aunt Mildred who lived with them, was a great cook and made especially wonderful biscuits; but it was bad because you could not speak during breakfast because the folks, Grandpa and Grandma and Aunt Mildred, had to listen to their favorite program while they ate:

It started with somber, funereal organ music, then a deep, basso profundo voice intoned, WELCOME TO THE MOODY'S OBITUARY COLUMN OF THE AIR. Fred Jones, of 3331 Mockingbord lane passed away last evening at Northern Surry Hospital. His is survived by . . .
He was employed by . . . .He was a member of . . . . Funeral to be held at . . . conducted by the Rev. . . .Memorials may be ent to . . . . etc. for about 10 to 20 names, all read with great dignity b y that deep, deep voice.

I was about 5 or 6 at the time and concluded that the voice on the radio was the voice of God.
Who else would know all those things about a person, all those details? And the Church we attended then laid a lot of stress on the Second Coming and the Rapture and the Like A Thief In the Night and stuff like that. They especially talked a lot about ehther you'd be ready to go when the Man Upstairs decided it was your turn to face the final Judgement. SO, I decided the voice on the radio was God sending out a message: THESE ARE THE ONES I TOOK LAST NIGHT. ARE YOU READY, REALLY READY, TO MEET YOUR MAKER?

One day, my Daddy dropped me off at Elmer Timmon's Barber Shop to get a haircut while he ran over to town to get a truckload of fertilizer. I had just learned to read a bit and was very happily looking through the Boys Life magazines when I got scared out of my skin. the Man in the chair opened his mouth and out came that oh so familiar voice: ELMER, COULD YOU TAKE A LITTLE MORE OFF THE EARS. Oh my God, Yes MY GOD was there, right there with me in that Barber Shop. Oh NO! My time had come. He had come to take me home. It was time for me to face the Final Judgement. And of one thing I was never more certain; I was not ready to go. SO. I hid in the Bathroom until he left, cowering in the dark under the sink.

So, this whole audible voice of God in the night thing is a little unsettling for me. I have never heard another audible voice that I thought to be the voice of God, and yet I believe God has called me into the Christian life and that God has called me into ordained ministry and that God has called me to various churches, and that God has called me into my present position and that God has many more calls left for me before my call to stand before the Judgement Seat.

And the words of verse 8 have been very helpful to me in all these calls: "Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy." God lives in community, perhaps God only lives in community, I don't know. But I do know that I need community to live in God. I need the encouragement and correction and opportunity to love others and to let them love me. And I especially need them to help me hear the voice of God, to perceive with me that God is calling me.

In the Gospel lesson Jesus calls Phillip and Phillip "passes on" the call to Nathanael, inviting him to come and see this Jesus of Nazereth, and the community which he has called together. We sometimes talk about Jesus going about preaching and teaching as if he was mostly alone with a group of silly disciples/fishermen/tax collector groupies around for comic/foil purposes. We often fail to see that Jesus came out of his wilderness experience realizing his deep need for community in the life he had been called to live out in the world. His first act was to gather such a community of love, support and companionship. Just as Jesus needed that community, so do we.



Wednesday, January 04, 2006

THE BAPTISM OF OUR LORD: RCL Texts for January 8, 2005

FIRST LESSON: Genesis 1:1-5, “God created the heavens and the earth. . .’

NO, NO, NO! I’m not going to get into Creationism and Darwinism and Intelligent Design and Dover, PA and the Kansas Board of Education and all that. We all know more about that than we need to anyway.

What I’m really interested in is the issue of creativity and responsibility. Felling responsible for the life of one’s creations; and a recognition of the fact that once a thing has been created, the creator often has little or no control over it.

I first started thinking about his stuff when my first child, David, was born almost 23 years ago in West Columbia, SC. Up until then, most of what I had personally had a hand in creating didn’t seem worth worrying about: sermons, term papers, tobacco crops, the occasional pound cake or pan of corn bread. But now, this was something, this was incredible.

I remember lying on my back in the playground of the elementary school across the street for the Lutheran Seminary and next door to my apartment house. Deborah and David were at the hospital. It was late at night, I was a little giddy from a lack of sleep and birthing excitement, (okay, and a beer or two (or three) to celebrate). As July 31 turned into August 1, I looked up at the stars, puffed on my cigar and pondered what it meant that Deborah and I had brought a new life into the world. It scared the hell out of me.

It was not so much the fragility of a little baby; I had been a day care worker in college; babies didn’t scare me. It was more the responsibility of introducing a new life form into the universe, a life form that could do great things; great good things or great bad things.

There were, I knew, certain things I could do to nurture and guide this new life in certain directions, but ultimately who he was and what he became and what he did with this gift of life was out of my hands. It was, as I said, a frightening thought.

God created the world, and what a risky thing that was (is). To bring into existence that which was not, and to allow it the freedom to grow and develop in unpredictable directions. We are called upon to trust the Creator. It amazes me how much the creator trusted the creation.

Okay, maybe just one creation/Darwin comment. It seems to me the whole debate ends up being about having some sense of control over the process, being able to predict what it will do or how it will go. For the Creationists and the IDers, having a God or Intelligent Designer in charge and in control feels safer than random chance. And for the Darwinists, being able to figure out and predict the “Laws of Evolution” feels safer than a capricious, mythological figure like a supernatural “GOD.” And me, I just look up at the sky and say “cool”; because as a parent I have already figured out that we creators have no control of our creations and probably shouldn’t have either.

SECOND LESSON: Acts 19:1-7 “we didn’t even know there was a Holy Spirit”.
(Delmer version)
I have sometimes referred to this as the mainline memory verse. We middle class believers, we Middling Methodists and Lukewarm Lutherans; we Equivocating Episcopalians and Proper Presbyterians; we want nothing to do with a religion filled with things we can’t harness and control and direct; especially no speaking in exuberant and unknown languages and healing people with prayers and olive oil.

This is the sort of thing people in Storefront churches do, or more likely those rapid-fire preachers on television, the ones with fancy haircuts and $1500 suits, strutting around in front of 5000 adoring fans, er, parishioners, and backed by a band Sammy Davis, Jr. would have been proud of. This Holy Spirit stuff is fine for them, but not for us.

But NO, actually, the Holy Spirit moves in, with and under us as well. Not in exactly the same way. Well, okay, not in anything like the same way. I mean; with us its movement is almost imperceptible. But the Spirit does move, and it does move us.

It moves us to acts of generosity and love in response to things like hurricane Katrina and the large amount of response generated by the Lutheran/Episcopal Disaster Response of Mississippi; the work of the United Methodist Committee on Relief and the equivalent agencies amongst the Presbyterians and others.

It moves us to write our checks to the church and to deliver meals on wheels and to volunteer in the nursery and to sit on the evangelism committee, etc. etc. It moves us to be honest in our workplace and kind to our neighbors; and it empowers us to do those things when it feels like it is more than we can do.

And true, many times it doesn’t feel like the spirit, sometimes we forget that it is the Spirit which works in us, but it is the Spirit, whether you remember that or not. It is in our baptism that we, like Jesus, receive the mandate and the means for ministry and mission in the world. The Spirit sends us forth to serve in Jesus name.

GOSPEL: Mark 1:4-11 verse 11, “and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,”

One of my favorite stories. Fr. Desmond Tutu says that when he was a young priest in South Africa, he had a large Catechism class of young boys, 12 and 13 year olds. He gave them a written test on the New Testament. One of the questions was, “What did the voice from heaven say when Jesus was baptized?’ Most of the students gave an answer somewhere close to right, but one young scholar wrote that the Spirit said, YOU ARE THE SON OF GOD, NOW ACT LIKE IT! Delmo says, if you can’t make a sermon out of that, you can’t preach.