Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Far Cry

7 Easter, Year B
May 17, 2015
Saint Mark's Episcopal Church, Bay City, TX
John 17:6-19

I was in Austin last night at a Rush concert with my brother.  It was a great show, their 40th year as a band, and the 40 years of Rush tour.  During one song from their Couterparts album, I turned to Kevin and said, “we first saw the concert for this album 21 years ago.”  “No,” he said, and then realized, “oh my gosh it was 21 years.”  Then we realized it was actually 23.  It was a joyful moment remembering those times together and thinking about my brother’s and my love for each other over the past 23 years and the 14 before that.

I’ve had similar experiences of nostalgia and remembering life with joy when reading Scripture as well.  Often, reading scripture brings me back to high school, when I first started reading scripture, and I remember the words of Jesus as I understood them then, when life seemed a bit simpler.  Hearing and remembering Jesus’ words brings me joy.

I believe Jesus disciples also found joy when remembering Jesus’ words and prayer for them.  I can imagine them, years after Jesus’ resurrection, facing hard times, persecution, rejection by some, and finding joy in remembering the words Jesus spoke to them in the prayer he prayed which we heard today in John’s Gospel.  I don’t imagine Jesus’ disciples were overly happy when they were rejected, beaten, ridiculed, or generally hated by the world, but I can imagine them being joyful. 

Jesus prayed that they would have joy.  This is different from happiness.  Happiness is good, but fleeting, and generally depends on the situation.  We can’t be happy when we are sad, but we can be joyful. 

So what is joy? For me, joy comes from knowing that I am staying true to Jesus’ way, staying true to my values, even when life is going rather less well than I would have hoped.  Joy comes from the hope of the resurrection.  Joy comes in being with my family.   Joy comes in remembering Jesus’ prayer that we would be one with him, one with each other, and one with God.  Joy comes in remembering Jesus’ prayer that God would protect us from the evil one and help us to walk and be sanctified in Jesus’ ways and in the truth of his word. 

Joy comes in living out Jesus’ teachings and ways.  One example recently was when I got a crack in my windshield.  I had purchased some lumber, and the young man who was helping me load it into my car accidentally cracked my windshield with it.  The look on his face said all I needed to hear.  He was scared and wondering if he would lose his job and wondering how he was going to pay for it.  As he asked for my number to make arrangements to pay for it, I told him not to worry about it.  We haggled a bit, “no, let me fix it,” “no, it’s ok,” and we finally agreed that I appreciated his help and did not ask him to fix the windshield. 

That brought me joy.  I wasn’t overly happy about having a cracked windshield, but I was joyful about giving this young man grace and mercy.  I don’t know what his wages are, but I think it’s safe to assume I am making more money than he is.  I could afford this more than he could.  So, I followed in what I believe to be the way of Jesus, and offered this man grace and mercy.  That brought me much joy. 

Jesus prayed that his joy would be complete in us.  So, my question is, what about Jesus or your faith brings you joy?  Hold on to those things.  Life will not always be happy, but you can have joy, even in the difficult times, as Jesus prayed, that his joy in you would be complete.  Amen.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Conquering Our Schools

6 Easter, Year B
May 10, 2015
Saint Mark's Episcopal Church, Bay City, TX
1 John 5:1-6
John 15:9-17

Last year I spent some time teaching a leadership class in the middle school and a couple of elementary schools here, and one of the biggest challenges I found was that the kids had no idea how to show respect for their teachers.  Sit up straight, look at the teacher when there’re talking to you, wait to speak until you’re called on…some of these basic things, they just didn’t know. 

Some didn’t care, but many didn’t want to be disrespecting their teachers, they just had no idea that’s what they were doing.  They needed to be taught how to show respect.

Jesus said to his disciples, “I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”   We need to be taught how to love others, just like the students needed to be taught how to show respect.  If we are faithful to Jesus, we end up loving one another.

Did you notice, however, that John said that through our faith, we get to conquer the world?  “And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.”
John was talking about a struggle between the faith of Jesus’ disciples, and “the world’s hatred.”  Jesus warned his disciples that the world would hate them because they were Jesus’ disciples.  John was exhorting his community to remain faithful despite any hatred they might encounter. 

Despite opposition you may encounter:
Love God by obeying his commandments, and if you do, you’ll conquer the world.

Well, the first part of that makes sense.  Kids, if you want to give your moms a great Mothers’ Day present, do what they say immediately and without complaint.  That’s how you can show your moms that you love them.
“Abide in my love,” Jesus says, along with, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.”  That could sound rather Machiavellian.  “Obey me to show that you love me.”  But obedience to Jesus is what, that we love one another. 
Jesus gave other teachings, all to the end that we would love one another and by doing so, love God. 

Remain faithful, Jesus is saying.  Remain faithful to Jesus’ teachings.  Remain faithful to his way.  Remain faithful to him, and if we do, Jesus says we’ll be loving one another and loving God. 

John tells us, on the other hand, that if we’re faithful, we’ll conquer the world. 

Some see this as promise of military-like subjugation of all non-Christians under a throne of Christianity.  Well, unlike ISIS, we don’t conquer through subjugation.  Jesus conquered by letting the world kill him.  It was the most loving thing he could do.  He loved the world and gave his life in order to care for and protect the world.

That was God’s command to humanity through Adam an d Eve.  Have dominion over the earth and subdue it, God said.  Care for all of the earth and pacify it.  You are caretakers over all the earth.  Have dominion or conquer the world by loving the world and taking good care of it.

That is how we conquer the world, by lovingly caring for the world.  Doing so fulfills God’s first commandment to the man and woman he created in his image.  “Be fruitful.” 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

I Am Because You Are

5 Easter, Year B 
May 3, 2015
Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church, Bay City, TX
1 John 4:7-21
John 15:1-8

I’m going to talk today about a concept called “Ubuntu”.  Ubuntu comes from the Bantu language in southern Africa, and roughly translates as “humanity toward others”.  Ubuntu is also a concept of our interconnectedness as people, the basic idea being, “I am because you are.”   We are not human beings by ourselves, and we cannot be truly human without others.

Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the first black archbishop of Cape Town South Africa, spoke often of the concept of Ubuntu in his and a major voice in ending apartheid there.  He preached peace and reconciliation

Of Ubunto, he said:
Ubuntu is a concept that we have in our Bantu languages at home.  Ubuntu is the essence of being a person. It means that we are people through other people. We can’t be fully human alone. We are made for interdependence, we are made for family. Indeed, my humanity is caught up in your humanity, and when your humanity is enhanced mine is enhanced as well. Likewise, when you are dehumanized, inexorably, I am dehumanized as well. As an individual, when you have Ubuntu, you embrace others. You are generous, compassionate.

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached,
In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.

This doesn’t exactly square with rugged American individualism, but Ubuntu does square with Jesus’ teachings. 

Ubuntu is the essence of Jesus’ teaching about the vine.  Jesus is the vine.  His Father is the vinegrower.  We are the branches.  We are connected to one another, even when we feel that we are disconnected.  These feelings of disconnection were made clear again last week with the riots and looting in Baltimore, following the death of a man while in police custody. 

Folks seemed to feel they were on different vines than each other.  I doubt if one of the looters saw his best friends’ store, that he would harm it.  Seeing a strangers’ store, however, it seemed like something on a different vine.  I’m not defending the looting.  It was wrong.  It highlights, however, that people feel very disconnected from each other, even as if on two different vines which attack each other then in contact. 

In reality, we all belong to one another, and none of us can grow as we should when some of us are not growing as we should. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Why We Are Episcopalian

I preached on Sunday about God's mission to reconcile all things to him, and the church which Jesus formed to live out and enact God's mission.  Reconciliation to God and each other through repentance and forgiveness of sins is God's mission for which he formed the church. 

We in the Episcopal may not be uniquely situated to fulfill that mission, but we are certainly well suited to the task.  Many churches kick members out for not living up to various standards of morality or for not believing particular doctrines without doubt.

In the Episcopal Church, we uphold both morality and doctrine, but we do so while acknowledging that both are simply tools to help us be reconciled to God and each other.  We uphold morality, and we sometimes behave immorally.  We believe in our doctrine (the core beliefs of the church), and we sometimes doubt.

When we doubt and behave immorally, we are not exiled.  We are not removed from Jesus' body.  We are loved and upheld in prayer.  We are offered correction to our behaviors and made aware of the damage we have caused, through love and compassion.  Reconciliation is a sacrament, part of our prayerful way of life.  Our mission is not to be perfect and blameless.

Many have been beaten up, hurt, and bruised by churches who seem to offer very little grace to those who make poor choices in their lives and those who have difficulty with faith. 

We are here to welcome them in.  We are here to live out God's mission of reconciliation.  For those who have stopped believing through the harm caused by other churches, we are here.  We are here to seek them out and to invite them.  When many churches offer strict morality and unyielding doctrinal obedience, we are here to offer them Jesus. 

We are here to invite folks to come with their scars, with their doubts, with their messy lives and meet Jesus.  Through our worship, through each other, through our prayer and witness, come and meet Jesus.
Everliving God, whose will it is that all should come to you through your Son Jesus Christ:  Inspire our witness to him, that all may know the power of his forgiveness and the hope of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.
                                                                                          - Book of Common Prayer p. 816

The Lord Bless you and Keep you,


Monday, April 20, 2015

Morality Does Not Equal Reconciliation With God.

3 Easter - Year B
April 19, 2015 
Saint Mark's Episcopal Church, Bay City, TX
1 John 3:1-7
Luke 24:36-48

Bishop Doyle has said that the church does not have a mission, rather, "God's mission has a church" in order to live out that mission.  God's mission is to reconcile all things to himself, and that is the mission that the church was formed to live out.  Sometimes, however, we lose our way and forget what God's mission is.

Not long ago, I spoke with a young woman who had grown up in the church and then fell away from the church during college.  This was largely because she was with a campus church group for a while, but when she revealed to them that she was not a virgin, they told her that she was no longer a Christian, and they kicked her out.  They did a very effective job too, because she is now not a part of any church and barely even nominally Christian.  They replaced God with their morality and put it in the place of God's mission to reconcile all things to himself.

I wonder if they had John 3:1-7 in mind when they kicked this young woman out of the church.  "Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness.  Sin is lawlessness.  You know that he was revealed to take away sin, and in him there is no sin.  No one who abides in him sins.  No one who sins has either seen him or known him."

Well, I guess that just clears everything up.  They were right, and the young woman should have been kicked out!  Except that the passage doesn't clear everything up, and they were wrong.

When we sin (not simply break a rule - Jesus broke rules to do what was right), when we harm someone else or ourselves, then we're not really living into God's love.  When we harm people, when we sin, when we miss the mark, not abiding in God.  We're not living into God's way of being open-hearted with ourselves, with each other, and with God.  That's what John is saying.

What did Jesus say God's way was, the way that was to be proclaimed to all nations?  In Luke 24, Jesus told his disciples that God's way is "repentance and forgiveness of sins".  That is God's way, God's mission for which he made the church, to reconcile all things to himself.

You can't do that if you kick someone out for messing up.

We can't replace God with a moral code.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A few corrections before we continue on...

I have been sitting on this for far too long, and it is time now that I finally speak out.  With what is coming in the next several months, I simply cannot sit by and not say anything.

Episode I:
Anakin should have been 15 or so, Padme 17 or so.  I get that Anakin as a little kid pulled at people's heart strings, thinking of him as Vader, but seriously we didn't need to see that.  Make him about Luke's age when he stared with the Force, and make Padme closer to his age.

Episode II:
There was no reason for Anakin's and Padme's love to be forbidden.  Nothing pointed to celibacy for Jedi in the previous movies, and having their relationship be forbidden did nothing for the plot or character development...it simply added a mundane and uncomfortable side plot.  Also, make Anakin less whiny and a bit more adept with a light saber.  Duku can win and all, but the dual saber part of the fight was too short and lame.

Episode III:
Ok, here we go.  Anakin and Obi Wan should have fought Duku together the whole time and defeated him together (making the final fight scene between Obi Wan and Vader plausible...not to mention making Obi Wan a lot cooler).  Then, once Duku was handless and defeated, Anakin should have killed him with Obi Wan protesting and Palpatine cheering him on.

Then, when they return to Coruscant, Anakin would be in trouble with the Jedi Council, them sensing his rage taking over, executing Duku out of vengeance.  Anakin is now demoted back to training, and he doesn't take to that very well.

He leaves and spends the rest of the movie by himself, with Palpatine as his only companion via Anakin's ships' coms and then later via Jedi telepathy.  Anakin fights the baddies with Palpatine cheering him on, teaching him about the Dark Side like he did in the movie.  Palpatine tells Anakin that he is indeed a Sith Lord, but that he is really a good guy and that Duku had gone against him, making the separatists.  Anakin grows stronger and stronger, relying more and more on his anger.

Notice I haven't mentioned Padme yet.

Anakin doesn't see her in the beginning and doesn't know she is pregnant.  With him in exile, she doesn't tell him, afraid of him.

Eventually, the Jedi council finally figures out that Palpatine is the Sith Lord (they knew he was surrounded by the dark side of the force, and he wouldn't give up power once Grievous was killed).  He recalls Anakin, knowing what is coming.  The council confronts him like in the movie, and Anakin intervenes, like in the movie.
Then, when Mace Windu tells Anakin that Palpatine has to be killed, Anakin gets really angry, saying, "so now it's ok, but for me it was exile?"  He then kills Windu out of anger and hatred...Padme has nothing to do with it.

The rest of the movie goes basically like the real one, except that Padme doesn't die.  She goes to Alderan with Leia and dies several years later when Leia is young, but old enough to have "images" and "feelings" of her mom who died when she was very young.

This makes Anakin's betrayal of the Jedi more plausible, and ties in better with the first three movies.

You're welcome, world.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Thwarting God's Salvation?

2 Easter - Year B
April 12, 2015 
Saint Mark's Episcopal Church, Bay City, TX
John 20:19-31

We heard today about Thomas doubting that his fellow disciples had seen the risen Jesus, and we hear about Jesus giving the Holy Spirit to his disciples and telling them to continue his work of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Have you ever heard someone say, "May God forgive you, because I never will"?  I think I've heard it more in movies than in real life, and Queen Elizabeth I is reported to have said those words, but I'm guessing she's not the only person in the history of Christianity to utter those words.  "God may forgive you, but I can't."

Who are we to think our complaint is greater than God's so that we can't forgive?  Of course we don't forgive and feel that we can't when we still feel the darkness of the hurt that was caused and we see the other as that person who caused us pain.

How then does God see us, that he can forgive us?  God sees us as beloved and broken, and hurting each other out of our brokenness.     God forgives us and sent Jesus to forgive us, and then Jesus sent his disciples to continue God's work of reconciliation and forgiveness.

"Receive the Holy Spirit," Jesus said to his disciples, "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."  Jesus sent his disciples to continue his work.

So when we don't forgive others, we are actually thwarting the work of Jesus.  We're denying the work of God when we don't forgive.