Monthly Archives: March 2013

Love not Punishment


ImageMy sermon from Three Holy Hours on Good Friday 2013 at St. Peter’s by-the-Sea Narragansett, RI. 

I think there are a few traps that are possible for us to fall into today if we do not pay attention to what is really going on: if we are not intentional about how we understand what is happening.  There is the temptation to pretend that we are experiencing Good Friday as if we were there; as if we walked with the disciples as they watched their rabbi be put to death.  The other – and opposite side of this – is the temptation to think that what we are doing is simply a reenactment of what happened to Jesus two thousand years ago.  This is not a reenactment; reenactments are for Civil War battles in the summertime. What happens this day isdifferent.  On this day our story and our time, become one with this story and God’s own time.  The term for what happens as we commemorate the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ is anamnesis.  This liturgical theology understands that what we do is not a simple passive process of watching what happens, but a process by which we can fully enter into the Paschal mystery.  When we enter fully into the Paschal mystery we become active participants in what is happening – we develop a relationship with what is unfolding before us.  It seems to me that relationality is at the core of what we have come to remember – what we have come to experience today.   TheCross is all about our relationship with God, and how we describe what happens and why it happens sets the terms of this all important relationship.

224972_570011183024774_1044234017_nThere is a theology of the Cross, called penalsubstitutionary atonement.  What this does is put our understanding of the penal system into the theology of theCross.  The understanding here is that we needed to be punished for our sinful ways.  Instead of punishing us, God punishes Jesus.  Jesus is substituted for us as a way to appease an angry and wrathful God.

To look at this in another light, image if we lived by thisrule in our daily lives.  Think of a relationship you have with another individual, a relationship in which you have been hurt.  What happens if you return the hurt they have caused you with further hurt and punishment?  Does that solve the problem? Does that restore your relationship? This system does not work in our lives because we do not learn by being shamed, punished, and humiliated.

If we believe and understand God and the Gospel message to be that of love and restoration, how do we reconcile that understanding with a punitive understanding of the Cross? I wonder, what happens to our understanding of the Cross,if we apply the lens of love and restoration?

Think again of that personal relationship where you have been hurt.  What happens if you forgive them and do not punish or hurt them in return? What does that do for the other person? What does that do to your relationship?  Forgiveness and restoration require that the one who has been harmed bears the burden of forgiveness in order that there may be healing and wholeness in the relationship.  In the Cross, God in the sacrifice of God’s Son, bears the burden of our sins and offenses.

Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus makes the ultimate sacrifice for us, He gives up His life in the complete service and obedience to God.  It is that obedience that takes the shame, humiliation, and death of the Cross and turns it into glory, honor, and life. It is through God’s deep and abiding love for us, that Jesus dies and we are made whole – we are made holy.

The story of the Cross does not end today. It is carried out each and every time we bring our lives to the liturgy and the liturgy to our lives.  It is carried out when we come to this table for solace and for strength, for pardon and renewal.  It is carried out when we come before the Cross: when we venerate the Cross as an expression of our adoration for God that Love’s redeeming work has been done.

Today we live in a broken and hurting world filled with suffering and injustice.  We recognized the war, pain, and violence when a few moments ago we prayed the Solemn Collects.  We prayed – we continue to pray – that God will kindle our hearts with peace and love, that those who are suffering will be comforted, and that we will be strengthened in our ministry to be an example of God’s love in the world.  We pray, not only that we may be changed and transformed by God’s love, but that the world may be transformed as well: that the world may be made whole and holy once again.

In a moment we will venerate the Cross. I invite you come forward not in grief and sadness, but in thanksgiving and hope.  Behold the wood of the Cross, that has healed us and made us whole.

AMEN

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“We wish to see Jesus.” Really?

My sermon from tonight’s Eucharist (Tuesday in Holy Week) at St. Mark’s, Warwick

seeJesus

There is a story told about the fourth-century Egyptian monastic leader, Anthony the Great.  The story goes like this: a senior monk and a young novice would journey each year into the desert to seek the wisdom and counsel of Anthony.  While the monk was asking questions, the novice would simply stand quietly and take it all in.  This pattern continued year after year after year.  Finally Anthony questioned the young novice, “Why do you come here and never ask any questions? You never desire my counsel, and you never seek my wisdom.  Why do you come?” The young novice responded, “It is enough just to see you.  It is enough, for me, just to see you.”

This young novice made this yearly pilgrimage to do two things: to listen and to see.  It seems to me that is what the lessons for this day; what this day itself is all about.

“Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away!” Listen to me.  We hear the call of the Servant.  That Servant is understood to be Israel, and the call is to bring God’s salvation to “the ends of the earth.”  This passage from Isaiah is read this day, as a way of reflecting the Church’s long held understanding of the connection between it and the final days of Jesus’ earthly life.  The Servant – whether it be Israel or Jesus – has been chosen to bring the salvation and the glory of God to far away peoples and to the ends of the earth.

We too, are reminded of our task to bring God’s glory into the world.  Paul in the first letter to the Corinthians writes, “Consider your own call . . . Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise . . .” God calls each of us before we are born to be instruments of God’s love and mercy in the world.  God calls us, you and me, and not because we are strong, smart, wise, rich, or powerful.  Remember, the way of God does not follow the logic of this world.  We are called to be servants, and it does not matter how many excuses we have, how many limitations we can name, or how illogical that call may seem.  As the events of this great week unfold, one way we could characterize them is as illogical – at least by our standards.  In God, in service to God, death brings life, shame brings glory, humiliation brings honor.  We are called – particularly this week – to live by God’s logic, not our own: to walk with Jesus from Jerusalem, to the cross, to the glories of His resurrection.

The Gospel we heard a few moments ago opens with some Greeks asking to see Jesus.  But what are they seeking? What is it, who is it, that they wish to see? In this passage we do not learn anything new about Jesus, or the events that will soon unfold.  Instead we see Jesus, we see Jesus coming ever closer to the cross.  But, I wonder what happens if we replace the Greeks in this story with ourselves.  I wonder; what is it that you seek? Whom do you wish to see?  Do you really, I mean really, wish to see Jesus?

I think it is safe to bet that we all seek Jesus.  Why else would we be here this night, last night, tomorrow or any other time for that matter.  But, do we really wish to see Jesus? Do we really want to walk with Jesus?

Despite how tempting it might be – we cannot go from Palm Sunday directly to Easter.  If we are to truly understand what the death and resurrection of Jesus is all about we must walk this week with Him in its fullness.  From Palm Sunday, to yesterday and today, to Spy Wednesday, and the Triduum Sacrum – the Three Holy days.  We must be at the betrayal, the last supper, in the garden, at the arrest, the trial, the crucifixion; we must be at the tomb.  The only way we will truly see Jesus is to see all of him, not just the parts that make us feel good.  Jesus says, “Whoever serves me must follow me.” I do not believe that there is a qualifier that allows us to follow Jesus only where we wish to go.  We must follow, we must witness the death, shame, and humiliation in the service and complete obedience of God to truly understand the glory and honor of this week: to understand what it means to be a disciple and follower of Christ.

I invite you to continue your journey through this great and holy week. Not as a reenactment out of some sense of obligation, but as a way to walk with Jesus in God’s own time: to be at the last supper, in the garden, at the cross and at the tomb when it is covered and when it is empty.  May we leave room for God to enter and transform our lives as we listen, see, and walk through all of the events that are about to unfold.

My friends, the light is with us for a little while longer.  Listen, see, watch, and walk with the light, so that the darkness may not overtake us.

AMEN

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You have to give them hope

This is long over due.  I spent sometime this morning organizing some files on my computer so I could actually find documents that I am working on.  In the course of that I found my Epiphany sermon in a folder labeled, “Lent.”  Anyway, here are some thoughts on Epiphany to break up your Holy Week activities. 

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Well friends it is finally over.  For the past five weeks we have prepared for, welcomed, and celebrated the birth of the baby Jesus.  We have journeyed through Advent and Christmastide, and today we arrive at the end of this incarnational season as we gather to celebrate the feast of the Epiphany: the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles – to all peoples of the earth.  I don’t know about you, but these seasons of Advent and Christmas have not unfolded for me the way I thought they would.

For the first two, almost three, weeks of Advent things were going exactly as planned.  I continued my daily prayer and reflection routine, and, to be honest, did not spend much time thinking about the reality of what I was preparing for.  I just did the same things that I do every Advent.  I was focused more on writing my Ember Day letter to Bishop Knisely, than thinking about how to prepare for Christmas.  But, that all changed on December 14th.  As the events of that tragic morning unfolded, I think we all stopped in our places and took stock of our lives and what we were doing.  We could no longer continue our Advent preparations in the same ordinary ways, and it seems to me in those days and the days following the Church had its own Epiphany.

On the one week anniversary of the events in Newtown, CT, Churches, community centers, schools, and other organizations paused for a moment of silence and to ring bells in honor of those lives lost that day.  For many organizations, certainly what the media called for, was the ringing of bells twenty-six times.  But that is not what St. Peter’s did.  This parish church, and churches around the diocese rang their bells twenty-eight times.  In those moments the Church was reminded of what it is that we stand for: we were all reminded that every human being is a beloved child of God, no matter how heinous and evil the acts they commit are.  Adam is as loved by God as anyone one of us.  This is something that is not easy to say or to proclaim, but it is the truth of our Christian faith.  By ringing our bell 28 times, we stood as a beacon for our community: not of fear, hatred, and retaliation; but as a beacon of light, love, and hope.  We stood as a witness, as a manifestation of Christ’s love in this clearly hurting world.

As all of this was unfolding around us, I could not help but be reminded of one of my all time favorite characters from American political history.  In 1977, Harvey Milk was elected as a member of the board of supervisors for San Francisco, CA.  If you are unfamiliar with Harvey Milk, I recommend you watch the 2008 movie MILK staring Sean Penn. One of Milk’s most famous speeches is what has become known as the Hope Speech.  In it he encourages those around him, to use their prophetic voice to stand up for those who are oppressed by hatred and violence: to be a beacon of light in an otherwise dark world.  At the end of the speech Milk said, “The only thing they have to look forward to is hope.  And you have to give them hope.  Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great.” He goes on to conclude, “And you and you and you, you have to give people hope.”

It seems to me that that message is what this season of incarnation is all about.  It is about hope coming into a fear filled world, it is about – as we heard proclaimed on Christmas Eve – the people who walked in darkness, have seen a great light.  Something miraculous has happened, the wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting father, the prince of peace has come into the world.  How awesome is that!

Throughout the Old Testament, we hear of stories like that of Moses having to turn his back because he cannot look directly on the image of God.  Those gathered at the foot of the mountain were told not to touch it, because God was there, and they would surely perish if they did.  This, previously untouchable, unseeable God has come into the world to be with us: to abide with us.  We are now able to see God, to touch God, and through Jesus we are made worthy to stand before God.

In today’s Gospel reading we hear the story of the wise men.  Those crazy astrologers from the East traveling to pay homage to the new-born king.  And yes, I did say crazy.  How often do we look up, leave our lives behind, and follow a star across the world?  I am pretty sure that if I said to you, “hey guys let’s follow that star because I hear something wonderful has happened” you all would look at me as if I were out of my mind. If you don’t already think so, you would think I’ve gone absolutely bonkers.  But, that is what these travelers did.  They looked up, they saw a star shining in the night sky, they found a beacon of hope and knew they had to go see what had taken place.

So here we are at the end of this season of Incarnation, we have completed our yearly reminder that Christ has come among us to abide with us.  But, where does that leave us? Can we simply go on as if nothing has happened? Can we return to business as usual? No, of course not.  If the answer were “yes” to any of those questions, why would I bother preaching this sermon?

The miracle of the incarnation is heralded into the world by those least likely to do it.  Elizabeth, old and barren, conceives a child; the forerunner; the one who will prepare the way for the messiah.  Mary, a young, teenage, unwed woman was greeted by an Angel, “Hail Favored One” and by the power of the Holy Spirit He became incarnate form the Virgin Mary and was made man.   The Shepherds – those living both literally and figuratively on the outskirts of society – were the first to hear the news of great joy.  The wise men traveled from a foreign land to offer gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  It wasn’t Emperor Augustus or Quirinius governor of Syria that first heard the message; but rather those who are least likely  – women, shepherds, and foreigners.

This is something really important to pay attention to.  Because when Elizabeth conceives; when the Shepherds are filled with joy; when the wise men bow down; when Mary says “yes”; we loose our ability to say “no.” Here is a woman who has every reason to say no.  To say, “I’m not good enough”, “If God only knew”, “There has to be someone better.” But, she doesn’t: She answers God with a resounding yes.  We can no longer live by the same excuses Mary could have used.  We are called to – with joy and gladness – say “yes” to God.  To go out and be God bearers in the world – to be beacons of light, love, and hope to those around us.

The emergence of God’s grace and glory comes with responsibilities for us who receive this great gift.  “Arise, shine” as we heard the prophet Isaiah proclaim, is not a meek request is it a strong demand.  The light – the Messiah – has come into the world not to rescue a few chosen people form the darkness, but so that all people of the earth will be drawn from places of pain and brokenness and brought to places of joy, hope, and light.  It is time to “Get out of bed” as Eugene Peterson writes in The Message.

We have seen a great light, and now we have work to do.  We must be signs of hope and light for the world: showing others what we have come to know and what they are still yet to see.  The end of this season reminds us that we are called to arise!, to get out of bed, and carry out our own incarnational ministry in the world.

May we live into the incarnation as we continue to be manifestations of Christ light and life in the world.  May we, like the wise men, be crazy enough to look up and follow a star to the unknown.  May we, like Mary, be brave enough to say yes to God – to be beacons and examples of hope and light in this dark, broken, and hurting world.  Because at the end of the day; the only thing they have to look forward to is hope.  And you have to give them hope.  Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow. And you, and you, and me – we have to give this world hope.

And all God’s people said,

Amen.

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The desire to love

Last week I posted a reflection James K.A. Smith’s book, Desiring the Kingdom.  If you haven’t read link to blog it yet, I hope you will.  On that post, my colleague Ana Hernandez posted a comment that I have spent a lot of time thinking on.  Ana writes:

love

One thought: before we had liturgy, God loved the world into being. Love is what creates a lasting desire to come together and grow in the things that truly feed us. If we value liturgy and certainty outside the context of neighbor love, we risk building large, empty rooms. We’ve already done enough of that. My greatest desire is to make more love, so I work on spiritus orandi and spiritus vivendi (not big on the law/lex).

I was particularly struck by her reflection on the need for love.  After reading and rereading Ana’s comment, and going back and rereading the blog post, I realized that I she and I – I think – are talking about very similar things.  And I think I could have been a little more specific in describing the type of person we are formed to be through our corporate worship.

When I think about what lex orandi, lex credendi, I do not think of the literal transtion of the word “lex” as “law.”  I have come to understand this phrase in the colloquial way that is has come to be translated, “What we pray, is what we believe.”  So what is it that we are praying? What kind of person is our life of faith is shaping us to be?  There are lots of answers to this questions, but in the past week two things have come to mind.

First, is a very familiar passage form Matthew’s Gospel.   Like many parishes, my parish, Church of the Redeemer, has a Wednesday night Eucharist.  This past Wednesday, we remembered the 17th century priest and poet, George Herbert.  The Gospel reading appointed for this day, is Matthew 5:1-10 – the Beatitudes.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . Blessed are those who mourn . . . Blessed are the meek . . . Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness . . . Blessed are the merciful . . . Blessed are the pure in heart . . . Blessed are the peacemakers . . . Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” As I stood there, listening to the proclamation of this Gospel, I could not help but wonder what this was calling me to do.  What type of person this was shaping me to be. What this Gospel lesson causes me to desire.  One thing is certain, there is nothing in this Gospel that is trying to form me in the same way that most of our secular liturgies are trying to.

The second thing that crossed my mind this week was the Baptismal Covenant.  It’s Lent, I work for a local parish, that means that my brain is already into the Triduum.  This week at St. Peter’s, we started drafting our bulletins.  As I read through the Easter Vigil bulletin, I did a double take during the Baptism portion of the liturgy.  I read through it all and said to myself, “Wait a second, there is a lot of love in these promises.” (Not a new revelation, but always something good to be reminded of.)

“Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” By virtue of our Baptism, we are called to love and serve all people.  There is no question what this incredibly important liturgy is calling us to desire.  We are promising to live into the love of Christ in the world.  There is only one way we can do that: with God’s help.  Where is it that we receive the grace and blessing of God every week – in the Eucharist.  (So I lied, I guess I’ve go three things.)

At St. Peter’s, like other Episcopal Churches, we are using Rite I for Lent.  Every time I participate in a Rite I Eucharistic liturgy I am struck by the following words, “Whereby we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies.  Grant, we beseech thee, that all who partake of this Holy Communion may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, and be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction.” We come to the altar, our selves, our souls and bodies, our entire selves and pray that God will fill us with His grace and heavenly blessing.  It is that grace that calls us to something more than ourselves, and our buildings.  If we believe what we pray, we cannot come to the altar week in and week out; we cannot partake in the Blessed Sacrament, and go about living the rest of our lives as business as usual. If we pray that “God so loved the world” then we too must love the world – we must love all of humanity.

In the words of the great Harvey Milk, “The only thing they have to look forward to is hope.  And you have to give them hope.  Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great.” We give them hope, by loving and serving them in the same way that God loves us.

As we prepare for worship this morning, I hope you will pay attention to the language of love that we use in our liturgy.  How we are called to treat and respond to others; how we ask forgiveness when we fail to live into our call as disciples of Jesus; how we invite God to dwell in us and we in God.

May your prayer this morning shape and form you to love friend and stranger; and may the beauty of holiness found in our particular Anglican way of worship remind you of the beauty of the life that God calls us to live.

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