Saturday, April 30, 2011

three yeses on Easter morning

Easter Sermon preached April 24, 2011 at St. Christopher's by-the-Sea

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Praise God! It’s good to see you. Good to be gathered together like this. Family and strangers and good friends next to awkward acquaintances. All together. All in praise. Singing 'Christ is alive!' Alleluia! Perhaps more this year than most, the last few days have been sustained by this conviction at St. Christopher’s, by the unending life of the Risen One. On Wednesday, just before we entered into the three Great Days of Holy Week, we lost a long-time saint of our parish family, Les Maley, who passed on into the nearer presence of the Lord. The next evening, we were gathered at this altar, washing feet, as the sanctuary was stripped and, on Friday, the death that is common to us all fell on the Lord of all life. These days have been severe. But today he lives! If today has a place in the long procession of death that have brought us up to this day it is because, on this day, death, too, has died. He is risen!

Bishop Reed was with us as we began the Holy Week journey last week, on Palm Sunday. Before the service, he told me about his mentor priest, under whom he studied as a student. Father Sam Todd. Father Sam, evidently, was a character. A parishioner came up to him one morning after worship and said, “Father, I didn’t get much out of service today.” Father Sam was overheard saying back, “To what spiritual flaw in yourself do you attribute that?”

Yikes. And one year he began his Easter sermon this way. He said, “If you don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead, I don’t know why you’re here. If you do believe Jesus rose from the dead, I don’t know why you’re not always here.”

Not very pastoral, but straight to the point. There we are. Get out the way. Today’s not about me, not about you; today's about him. The Jesus whom we crucified, is risen from the dead. Lo, he lives! Let no fear of death or self or failing detain you; let no self-consciousness nor guilt on your part block the way. Let no petty grievance with your brother keep you from the news on which the whole universe bends and turns and finds its meaning: Jesus Christ is risen!

May all be gathered. Let every voice sing the hymn. If you feel like you can’t – maybe that you lack the forgiveness you need, find it here, in his hands and in the wound in his side. If you feel like you won’t – that you somehow lack worthiness, wouldn’t want to muck up the feast, consider that Jesus’s first risen act is to seek out his friends – the same ones who betrayed him. Let every self-doubt be silenced and every obstacle removed, every stone rolled away. The Lord of all life has come back for us. Alleluia! Today is God’s YES to us.

Take a second just now to soak this in: the one with power over death is alive and wants to eat with his friends, to take you out to dinner. That’s the whole mystery called Church. That’s who you are: God’s supper guests. And it begins with this day. The living YES of the living God. And the dinner we share, the bread that we break, is meant not just for us, but for everyone. All of them, too! To be a foretaste of the life that we celebrate on this day.

The everlasting YES of Jesus Christ for us.

Very Good News, but still not the whole story, because today is actually about two yeses. Not just God’s YES to us, though it’s very much about that. It’s also about a second YES, the Father’s YES to the Son. And this is where things get good.

I wonder if you remember a television game show called, “To Tell the Truth?” It started in 1956, but has aired at least one episode in six consecutive decades. This is how it works. “The show features a panel of four celebrities attempting to correctly identify a described contestant who has an unusual occupation or experience. This central character is accompanied by two impostors who pretend to be the central character. The celebrity panelists question the three contestants; the impostors are allowed to lie but the central character is sworn "to tell the truth". After questioning, the panel attempts to identify which of the three challengers is telling the truth and is thus the central character.”

“Once the votes are cast, the host asks, (and this is the famous tag-line) "Will the real [person's name] please stand up?" The central character then stands, often after some brief playful feinting and false starts among all three challengers. The two impostors then reveal their real names and their actual occupations. Prize money is awarded to the challengers based on the number of incorrect votes the impostors draw.”

The Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson says that the risen Jesus is God’s answer to a deep question about who God is: Will the real God Almighty please stand up? And every generation asks this question. The question as it connects to this day goes like this: Will the God of all things stand to be affiliated with a Son who hangs out with prostitutes, tax collectors, makes friends with the ungodly, loves his enemies, even dies for them, puts the sword away, drinks the cup of judgment so that we might drink forgiveness; will the Maker of all that is stand to be represented like this, by this One?

I remember an interview I read with a prominent atheist once who said that he couldn’t take any god seriously who at the end of the day said to love your enemies and to do good to those who hurt you. That was no way to win friends and influence people. That’s the question at stake: will the Maker of all that is stand to be represented like this, by the crucified friend of sinners, Jesus?

And the answer is YES!

Jesus is risen, and God as He is stands up. The character of Jesus’s life is held up this day be the Father. The resurrection is the Father’s YES to the Son. To the question: “But is God really like that?” the Father’s answer is YES.

So, finally, this is the joy and challenge of this day for you and me: we don’t have to wonder what God is like anymore. Praise God. If you’ve ever wondered what God is really like, wonder no more. Only follow this Jesus. The risen Jesus. Keep company with his friends. Stay at his table. This Jesus reveals the very heart of God. This is our joy. And this joy is our challenge just to the extent that we, like the atheist, might have wanted a more respectable God. We might have picked a better looking Savior. We might have wanted to make sure he kept kosher, that he tithed, and wouldn’t do anything that we wouldn’t do, but of course he did and he does, and he invites us to follow. Maybe there’s room for one more YES.

The God who is is the God who rose this particular Jesus of Nazareth from the grave. For us and our salvation. For freedom to live lives that start to look like his own. Of course, we know that we cannot will lives that look like his own, but we can begin to live them. Because he lives.

May we sing the praise of this God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with our words, in our lives, with greatest joy, forever.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

because he loved the risen Jesus

Funeral sermon preached at St. Christopher's, the Burial Office of Les Maley, April 25, 2011.

How do you know that the thing you are doing is really worth doing? This question snags most souls at some point or another along our earthly pilgrim walks. Others, though, don’t seem nearly as perplexed, which can frustrate the rest of us. Their answers to questions of self-importance and action are gentle, fluid, and obvious. Lived out in their lives. These ones exude a selflessness centered on something they seem to see clearly, as if on a far off horizon, even if it’s not so clear to the rest of us. They are often marked by a willingness to serve and a gladness and readiness to give without bringing undue attention to the giving. Such a one is clear about his purpose and transparent in his humility.

By all accounts, and on every count, Leslie Earl Maley –Les – was such a one.

Let me say up front that I didn’t know Les. But it’s hard to hear much about the formative years of this parish without his name and Kay’s popping up. And if you’re lucky enough to hear the stories from someone who knew Les or Kay, the warmth of the smile and the regard in the voice is at least as telling as the story.

Talk about Les, as it’s come to me through his friends in this church, often goes something like this: “You know, Fr Jonathan, Les built most of the set for that Vacation Bible School camp, the one called 29 AD. Over 70 people from all over Portland here learning of God. But don’t bother looking for him in the pictures. He’s not the kind to show up in the pictures. That just wasn’t like him.” Or “That coffee kitchen over there – I’m pretty sure Les did that, too, but if he did, you know he just did it – whatever it was that needed to be done. Didn’t talk much about it.” Or “Les wasn’t one to waste many words, but when he spoke, we listened.”

Words you hear folks using to describe Les include: selfless, diligent, not one to make a fuss, loyal, devoted.

So the reading from Wisdom is not out of place with respect to Les: “...the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God.”

Of course, if Les had pursued selflessness for its own sake, or loyalty as an isolated virtue, we’d celebrate a life well-lived today, shrug our shoulders and be done. But that would be to make too little of Les’s selflessness and devotion, a disposition not unlike that of John the Baptist who said, “He must increase, I must decrease.” That is, a disposition that sought to point to and live in the mercies of Jesus.

And because Les sought to point to and live in the mercies of Jesus, we do more today than simply remember a life. We celebrate Les’ entrance into the eternal life made possible by the God to which he pointed.

As we celebrated yesterday, the God to which he pointed is the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Even as we announced plans for this service yesterday, at our Sunday worship, it was in the midst of loud, glad, brash Alleluias! The Easter Feast. And truly today Les is met, married, united to the Good News of Easter. That because Jesus is raised from the dead, we too will be raised. And Christ’s own life reminding us that the life of a humble servant is not too low for resurrection joy.

What a reminder: that we need not fear death or loving one another as servants. Les embodied this reminder, this truth, because he loved the crucified and risen Jesus.

Thank God and praise Him.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

because I see how much He loves you

a maundy thursday homily. st. christopher's. april 21, 2011.

It's a solemn day, but I'm a little distracted. So many sandals. I can't look at you out there without thinking of a verse from Isaiah 52: "How beautiful on the mountain are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the good news that the God of Israel reigns." In case I haven't told you lately, can I just say you have beautiful feet? Feet made to carry the Good News of God.

Today the Church observes the day called Maundy Thursday, or commandment Thursday, after we untangle the Latin. Commandment Thursday, the first of the three great days of Holy Week. The three days that signal the heart of what everything else has led up to until now: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil and Easter, all Good News.

The three-fold, three-day mystery of Jesus Christ for us.

Tonight we enter the mystery.

Commandment Thursday. Jesus, at the table with his closest friends, sharing the meal he has longed deeply to share. Taking, breaking, bread, drinking wine, symbols of redemption – the provision of God and the night on which God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt – but this time, in Jesus’s hands, something other. Something more. “This is my body. This is my blood. For you and for many. For the forgiveness of sins.

“Do this in remembrance of me.”

“Do this.” That’s where Commandment Thursday comes in. We pay attention on this night to what Jesus commands his friends to do around this table. “Do this,” he says. Jesus at this table giving his disciples the commandments that are to shape their lives from this moment on. These are the pillars on which his friends are to understand their life together and its meaning after he leaves them. This is Jesus entrusting to the would-be Church the most cherished moments of his story.

And what exactly is it that Jesus commands them to do?

The bread and the cup. Holy Communion. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s gospels, this command stands alone.

But in John’s gospel, the one we just read, Jesus interrupts this meal, the Last Supper, with another commandment: taking off his robe, bending down, he washes their feet and commands them that “you also are to wash one another’s feet.” Another commandment. Then he adds, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” And finally, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

"Do this." Thus Commandment Thursday. "Do this." The day the Church remembers the night on which we receive the commandments of Christ. The things we are to do in the days after his death.

I don’t know if you feel it, but there’s an uneasy tension at this point in the evening. Even as we hear the things we’re commanded to do, and probably breathe a sigh of relief that the list seems fairly manageable (that is, it’s a short list – eat this bread, love one another), even so we can’t escape the feeling that the simplicity of this night nonetheless holds a dark secret.

Or maybe that we in ourselves hold a dark, mocking secret.

And the secret is that we receive the things God commands us to do on the same night we’ll betray him.

Like the disciples, we say, “Surely not I, Lord?” But by the end of this night, all are deserters, unable to keep even the simplest command, “Stay awake, don’t fall asleep.”

On a night when we know the truth of who we are like this, who am I to say what I will or will not do with God’s commands?

The day of commandments is also the day of betrayal; rejection; my total failure.

Commandments can’t be the whole of the story. At least not if our hope is in how well we will keep them.

No, there’s something else at work here. Though we may not see it all the way until acts 2 and 3 of the three-act mystery, it’s already present here, in act 1, here, Maundy Thursday, as he lifts up the bread, as he washes the feet, even of the one who will send him to the cross; it’s simply present in him, the beating heart of the mystery, and forgiveness is the heart of the mystery.

So forgiveness is also the beating heart of the Church.

Pope Benedict XVI says that this is why Jesus made Peter the head of the Church: not so that one man might wield power over many– no, he argues that that would be to forget the particular role of Peter on this night; Peter, not as leader, but Peter as deserter, Peter, all-talk and no-walk and bitter tears at the ending, what he thought was the ending; "no, I don’t know that man." No, Pope Benedict says that Peter was not made the head of the Church so that the Church might be ruled by the might of one man, but so that the Church – and especially her leaders – would never forget her need of forgiveness. Peter, the emblem of Christ’s tender forgiveness. We are never not in need of forgiveness.

This is my blood, for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins.

If the cup is forgiveness, and we are commanded to drink it, you are, in a sense, commanded to let go of your inability to keep the commandments. Or at least entrust your inabilities to the tender compassion of the God who washes feet. Be reconciled to God. Taste the forgiveness of God.

For how else are we made able to wordlessly, silently, stoop down and wash each other’s feet, if not as those forgiven by God?

This day begins as commandment and bends toward forgiveness so that it can finally be about him, who is our forgiveness, and the love he has for his own. And he does love you, his own.

So, finally, tonight, it becomes impossible for me to pick up your foot and wash it as a token of my humility or my sincerity or my best good intentions, but only because I see how much He loves you.

Let us pray.

Merciful Lord, you revealed your glory by humbly serving the one who would betray you. Shower us with your mercy, Lord, and grow us up to be merciful.1


Friday, April 22, 2011

what do you pray for? a good friday homily

Sermon preached at St. Christopher's by-the-Sea, April 22, 2011

What do you pray for? For what do you pray? In quiet; in darkness; on days like today. The still of your heart. Time to reflect between you and your Maker. And he’s listening. When all of the names of the sick, your loved ones and family, your friends, have come into mind and gone out again, when your immediate worries and prayers for protection depart from this earth, lifted up, and there’s still some time left, for what do you pray?

I was walking the stations of the cross one Friday a few weeks ago. Some of you were there. Here. We walked together the fourteen stations of this day, Good Friday. A kind of practice for this day. A steeling of the soul. From the station at which Jesus was condemned to die to his falling on the road, to the man who carried Christ’s cross beside him, to the women he met on the way, to the stripping of his garments from his body, to the death and the cry, the vinegar and the blood. Jesus in the arms of his mother. The silence of the tomb.

Fourteen all together. Fourteen stations.

Each with a certain order. A kind of painful monotony. We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, we said. Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Each station, that’s how we started. Then you read the story, quoting Scripture. Invited us to pray.

Fourteen times, fourteen Scriptures. Fourteen prayers you offered.

That’s what I noticed on that particular Friday. The prayers.

What do you pray for, what does one ask for, in the shadow of the cross and this day?

It’s not all rhetorical. I made a list that night, when I got home, of each of the things we asked God for at the end of each station. Call it a collection of cruciform - or cross-shaped - prayers. Allow me to share them, briefly: the petitions of the prayers from those fourteen stations:

That we may find the way of the cross to be the way of life and peace; that we would learn to walk in this way. That God would grant us courage to take up our cross and follow. That the Lord would grant us strength and protection to support us in dangers, especially our temptations. That we may share in this passion and so also share in resurrection joys. That God would bless those who give themselves to the service of others, that they may minister with wisdom, patience, and courage to the suffering, friendless, and needy. That we may be strengthened to bear our cross, and changed into his likeness. That we may walk in the way of his suffering, also share in his resurrection. That we may be taught to mourn our sins, and to leave them, so that the results of our iniquities would not be visited upon our children and their children. That we may so glory in the cross of Christ that we would gladly suffer shame and loss for Jesus’s sake. We prayed for grace to accept the suffering of the present time. We asked that the Spirit would clothe us in love, so that our hands would so share God’s love that others would know Jesus. That we may die daily to sin, and walk in resurrection joy. That we would follow in faith where Christ has led the way.

Let me be the first to confess that, left to my own devices, these are not the things I would pray for. For starters, they’re a little redundant. More than that, left to myself, the days I would pray to suffer shame and loss are few and far between. Most of the things that we prayed for that day are things I wouldn’t have come up with on my own. As a child, when I prayed, I might have asked for a bicycle. Or more seriously, more grown up, prayed for a less stressful day, less trying life circumstance, healing for my mother, reconciliation with my brother; even on my best days something along the lines of a materially and peacefully prosperous world for the all of us.

But with the God of all Creation before me; with the ear of the Almighty listening to me; in the still of my soul, and the darkness of this day, with this day as my chance to open my honest desires, the requests of my heart before His face, this is what I ask for. This is that for which what I pray. That I would be changed; taught to lament; made to suffer; and serve; even sacrifice. Die daily to sin. Made to walk the way of the cross, and walking it, find it to be the way of life and peace.

As opportunities to get what I want go, the prayers I offer this day are a waste. Don’t make sense. Ask for healthy children, healthy heartbeats, healthy 401ks. And long life. But the way of the cross?

And yet, because it is here, beneath this cross, that I find him, for what else can I pray? This man on this day is my center. And my whole life revolves - or is learning to revolve - around these moments and these days and the one who hangs before me here. Here I learn, here I see, the face of the living God. For what else can I pray?

When I survey the wondrous cross

On which the Prince of glory died,

My richest gain I count but loss,

And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,

Save in the death of Christ my God!

All the vain things that charm me most,

I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,

Sorrow and love flow mingled down!

Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,

Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,

That were a present far too small;

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all.

And God’s People said, “Amen.”

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

the company of saints

This year, the Presbyterians have invited us to partner with them and other churches to provide a community-wide VBS program. May 31-June 3. Anyway, I'm excited. Serving with brothers and sister who up 'til now have been strangers. Living gospel. Newbigin, maybe Claiborne, would be proud. And then, at a partner planning meeting at 1st Pres, an unexpected gift: this stack of photos from the last time these churches partnered like this: 25 years ago. Wonderful. Also sobering. Not only had they been there done that, they did it a loooong time ago. A quarter century! (for perspective, I may or may not have been old enough to attend their camp). They, just like us, now coming together. Just like us now, praying to live out this gospel. So thankful for their company just now; for their witness. Praying to take a small step in the direction they imagined-following the footsteps of our Lord. Grateful.

My favorite.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Follow Me to Freedom, or at least read the book

Just finished 'Follow Me to Freedom: Leading As an Ordinary Radical' by Shane Claiborne and John Perkins. Not gonna lie, I have struggled with Claiborne up until now. Growing up a deeply rooted Anglo-Catholic, I had a hard time understanding the need for a 'new monasticism,' when the old one had so much to offer by way of Christian example. Where were the Church Fathers and Mothers in the conversation? Plus, he smelled of hipster before hipster had a label. Dark-rimmed glasses, rough cloth get-up. But I'm starting to think that the labels with him don't come from him, but from people like me who want to know what to call him. Moreover, and especially through this book, I really came to appreciate his imagination and follow through for how the life of faith can be lived out in flesh and bones and cars and kumquats and community and things in the realm of touch and the tangible. He's not going to think himself into inaction.

I had read some of John Perkins before, too, and his train of thought loses me sometimes, but I appreciate the 'been there, lived that' honesty and humility that births the wisdom he offers.

With that in mind, I want to recommend the book, and also share some highlights that I scribbled around across the pages. Some of it is Captain Obvious type stuff, but a good reminder. Other stuff is less obvious, just as good. None of it, as I read over it, does justice to the book or the thoughts in context. But hopefully you'll read it, too, and tell me what I missed.

"If we cannot be reconciled with people that look different than we look, then what is reconciliation?" p 17

"[Their dependence on God] put the early Christians in a position where not only were they to practice hospitality, but they were also to be dependent upon receiving it. As one of the early Christians said, 'We have no house, but we have homes everywhere we go'...From that we can learn that vulnerability is a value, not a threat. It's something that good leaders know well: they need other people." p 36

"Good leaders and good followers interrupt each other, yet somehow pause to listen to each other too - and that is the key. Count on it." p 29

"'Unearned suffering is redemptive.' To me, that means, 'I haven't had the problem, but I'll go and suffer with you.'" p 32

"God did not make too many people or too little stuff." p37

"The Christian life is about surrounding ourselves with people we want to become." p 54

"God seems to have an aversion to power...not because people are a threat to Him, but because they are a threat to themselves." p 61

"You are as young as your dreams and as old as your cynicism...and I am younger than any of you." p 64 (quoting Tony Campolo)

An interviewer asked Mother Teresa:
"Is your work going to live after you?" She quietly and respectfully dismissed the question, saying, "That is of no concern to me." It was like she was saying, "That's God's business." p 67

"All great leaders have the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of the people in their time." p 73

"I know you're strong enough to do it alone, but are you strong enough to do it together?" p 85

"That is one of the key ways we discern God's will, by asking, "Does this - this community, this spouse, this leader - move me closer to Jesus?" Can I smell the fragrance of Christ on them? p 97

"I don't understand begging Christians to do God's work. I don't understand it at all. It's a contradiction. He created us and saved us so that we might be His workmanship. We are here to serve Him, not to use Him to serve us." p 121

"...we have over-evangelized the world too lightly. We've gotten a lot of people to have supposedly asked Jesus into their hearts, but they are not living with any gratitude. They've got Jesus working for them instead of them doing His work in the world." p 123

"Leadership is about protecting folks from themselves before they destroy themselves." p 132

"Throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our houses and threaten our children and we will still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory." p 141

"...anything worth doing is beyond our power to do alone. We cry out to God because we know we need help." p 158

"For some, 'I will pray for you' becomes a convenient excuse to not act. Real prayer is this: 'Lord, what would You have me to do?" p 194

"We cannot simultaneously love our enemies and prepare to kill them en masse." p 217

"It seems that 'emerging church' has become little more than a box where you can put anyone who is under 40 and has fresh ideas - and not have to listen to them." p 219

"Above all else I urge that there should be no murmuring in the community." St Benedict of Nursia, p 230

"'Issues'...that's how they're presented to my generation, and that's how we interact with them. We get to pick and choose what we want to get involved with - even going along with what might be trendy. After we've joined a Facebook group, forwarded an email or even taken a short-term mission trip, we might move on to the next 'issue.' Of course, the bouncing from one issue to the next runs counter to what both [of the authors] say, and it's counter to what God asks of us. So there will always be 'issues,' but do we recognize them as 'pains'? p233

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