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.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

With(out) The Resurrection

Easter Sunday - Year B
April 5, 2015 
Saint Mark's Episcopal Church, Bay City, TX
John 20:1-18

I love Jesus and the resurrection. As a Christian, that may seem obvious, but those two things are why I am a Christian. I love who Jesus was, the God of the universe become human to unite us with God. I love what he did and taught, his way, and how he treated people. Those were not just things that Jesus did, that was who Jesus was.

We saw who Jesus was exemplified in his final night with his disciples as he washed their feet and prayed that they would love one another. Then, when Jesus was resurrected, he found that his prayer had been answered and his commandment followed. At least some of his disciples were still together.

When Mary thought someone had taken Jesus' body, she knew where to go to find Peter. They were still together, still loving one another, and when they went back to see the empty tomb, Peter and the other disciple seemed to have some inkling of what had happened. They remembered Jesus' words that he would be raised, perhaps? John doesn't write that, but they seemed to have some hope at least.

Mary Magdalene, on the other hand remained weeping beside the tomb. Then Jesus appeared to her and consoled her, showing her the truth of his resurrection. Without the resurrection all of this is nothing. Without the resurrection, Jesus wasn't God; he was just a pretty good preacher who had a following.

With the resurrection, however, we see that all Jesus said and did, all that Jesus was is true. Mary saw Jesus resurrected and knew that Jesus was true, that there is life after death, and there is truth of everything he taught and did. All that Jesus was, he still is in the resurrection. Jesus told his disciples they were one with him, remember. He prayed that just as he and the father were one, so would they be one.

With Jesus' resurrection, then, all that Jesus was (taught, did, loved,etc.) the disciples were also. So we too are one with Jesus, and are all that he was. Jesus' teachings, his way, his loving is not just what we do. Love is a verb, we do love, but it isn't just what we do. It is what we are. We share in his life, in who we are, and we will also then share in his death and share in his resurrection.

Even when we are weeping by the tomb, we weep with hope, hope that Jesus will come and reveal himself and his resurrection to us. In the mean time, we gather with our fellow disciples to be Jesus for each other, sharing his life together, just as we will one day share his death and share his resurrection.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

When Jesus Is Gone

Maundy Thursday - Year B
April 2, 2015
Saint Mark's Episcopal Church, Bay City, TX
John 13:1-17; 31-35 

Sometimes it feels as though Jesus is gone, like he is simply not there in our lives. Jesus has declared us to be one with him, as made evident in the last supper, and yet in John's Gospel, he does not tell about the last supper...at least not about the bread and wine being Jesus' body and blood. That has been discussed in chapter 6. In John's Gospel, the final meal Jesus had with his disciples is told primarily through the story of Jesus washing his disciples' feet, and commanding them to love one another as he has loved them.

This was Jesus' death bed prayer for his disciples. "Little children", he calls them. I am reminded of an image of a parent on the death bed, telling his kids that he will no longer be with them, and praying that they will stay together and love each other after he is gone.

We harm each other, as the Body of Christ; there are times when we are not overly loving to one another. Jesus' death bed prayer, however, was that when we do harm each other, we would forgive each other and love one another as he has loved us. We need each other.

There are and there will be times when we feel lost, when we feel as though Jesus is not there. In those times, Jesus' prayer is that we will turn to each other for love, strength, and support and that Jesus will be with us through each other, even when he is arrested, and crucified, and in the tomb. Amen.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

What Are You Willing to Risk?

5 Lent - Year B
March 22, 2015
Saint Mark's Episcopal Church, Bay City, TX
John 12:20-33

Jesus’ response to the news that some Greeks were looking for him seems odd. “The hour has come for the son of man to be glorified.” Just before this, Jesus had come into Jerusalem, the crowds cheered, and the Pharisees said, “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the whole world has gone after him.” The Greeks’ appearance and searching confirms what was said by the Pharisees – “the whole world has gone after him.” The cat’s out of the bag and there’s no stopping it now.

They were right. Early church had no buildings or organized support. They could not worship in the synagogues, nor in the Roman temples, and yet the church, Jesus’ believers spread like wildfire.. They had to believe in Jesus, trust in him, and risk for their belief in Jesus…and the church thrived.

The Gospel of Jesus and belief in Jesus spread like wildfire.

Contrast with: How many articles, seminars, discussions have I read, attended, and participated in which have to do with growing the church again and reversing the decline of church attendance? People have spoken of church as a business – we need more people in order to keep the lights on. I love our church, our buildings, etc. I recognize the reality that with church attendance decline, the thought of this building not being here in 100 years is a possibility. I don’t operate out of fear of that possibility.

 “Those who want to save their life will lose it.” Ultimately, we’re talking about risk. Greeks risked. Early followers of Jesus risked being kicked out of their synagogues, which they were. Gentiles risked being ostracized. Gospel of Jesus demands risk, and it demands that we invite others to share in the Gospel, not solely for our sake, but for theirs as well, we risk becoming something other than what we are.