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draughting theology

Updated: 2016-02-03T17:49:54.186-05:00


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Have you never read the scriptures?


I'm pretty sure that Jesus could not have hurt the Pharisees any worse than by asking then, "have you never read the scriptures?"  That was their job. They were among the very few who were literate. They were the teachers, nee the perfecters, of the law. All they did, day in and day out, was read the scriptures and argue about their meaning in daily life.

When Jesus asks them, "have you never read the scriptures," he says openly what he's been veiling in parable all this time, "y'all don't have a clue."  It hurts to have your worldview challenged like that. Especially as it relates to one's religion, to be accused of being so ignorant of the basics as to have never even read the scriptures, that's about the worst challenge I can think of.

No wonder the Pharisees, realizing he's talking about them (clueless even here), want to arrest Jesus immediately.

As an Episcopal priest, I have two sacred texts: the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.  It assumed, rightfully, that I've read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested both of them.  Despite some holes in the narrative of the Old Testament that I've failed, as yet, to inwardly digest, I can honestly say that I take those texts very seriously, and when it comes to the BCP, when I break a rule, I do so knowing the tradition in the rubric and the reasons for my changes.

What comes to mind this morning, is that challenge.  What could Jesus look at in my life and ask, "have you never read or heard or lived my message?"  That, I'm certain, would sting just as much as it did for the Pharisees.

the produce?


When Jesus asks the Pharisees what the father would do to the evil tenants in his parable, they highlight something that is easily glossed over in this story, especially as it gets used in many pulpits as the basis for the first sermon in stewardship season.  Their response is as succinct as it is hard to hear, "The father will put those wretches to a miserable death and lease the vineyard to tenants who will give him his produce at the harvest time."

Did you catch it?  Here's a hint, look at the title of this post.  Riiiight, the produce.

The story starts, after the allusion to Isaiah 5, with the landowner sending his slaves "to collect his produce."  They didn't go to take his cut of the profits.  They didn't go to get the first fruits.  They didn't go for any partial payments.  They went to get the produce.

All of the produce.

Or at least that's how I read it (disagreeing with my recent favorite translation the NLT in doing so).  We did stewardship during the Great 50 Days of Easter, so our worship services in October are safe from the fall stewardship campaign, but lots and lots of preachers will use this text as a reminder to give God his due.  Then they'll say something like, "and the biblical model of giving is the tithe, 10%."  Which is well and good, and if everybody gave 10% the Church would not be in need, ministries to the poor and sick would be overflowing with cash, and natural disasters wouldn't require a $10 donation by text message, BUT the biblical model of giving is not 10%.  The biblical model of giving is the Father sending his slaves to collect his produce.

None of it is ours. It is all a gift from God who created the land, built the seasons, waters the plants, and gives breath to the workers.  Lopping 10% off the top is going about it the wrong way round, God gives us back 90%, which is more than we could ever need.  The evil tenants in Jesus' parable don't get it.  They think they've done all the work. They think they can rebel and take ownership of the vineyard.  They forget where it all came from.  And often times, so do we.  Offer the Lord his produce, and you'll be amazed at the results.

but... and...


At lectionary group yesterday, I noticed something.  When M read the lesson appointed for Sunday, the NIV differed from the NRSV in its usual ways.  Except for one big difference, coming in verse 44.

NIV - He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.
NRSV - The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.


These are very different words, and, at least as far as my Greek knowledge goes, both are acceptable translations.  There is the funny form in Greek that makes a statement contingent but doesn't define its contingency.  So verse 44 could read "but" or it could read "and."

Let me tell you why I prefer the "but" translation.  I think, what Jesus is asking for in this exchange with the Pharisees, elders, and chief priests, is that they lay themselves down upon the altar of the Lord - the altar finished by the capstone of Christ.  Sacrifice to self. Death to self. Repentance. Baptism.  This plays to the surrounding context in the story and is the call of discipleship right through time to today.  Die to self, live for Christ.

He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces...


But he on whom it falls, the one who refuses to die to self, who seeks after selfish ambition, who ignore the pleas of the poor, who hoards the kingdom for himself, who defines who is in and who is out.  On that person the altar of the Lord will fall hard, and they will be crushed (and literally in the Greek scattered).

Jesus desires that we repent and live.  He desires that we choose to be broken into pieces and rebuilt in his image.  But when we refuse, he'll do that work for us.

So I choose "but."  I'm sure others will read this differently, like, say, the folks who translated the NRSV, but I'm OK with that.

Actions speak louder than words


Here's my sermon from yesterday.  You can listen here - or read below----Posts are going to be behind this week - sorry.  I'm just behind already.I heard a story this week about a guy, let's call him Jason, right here in town, who got a phone call at home one evening. On the other line was a person who lived next door to one of Jason's rental properties. Seems someone had broken into his vacant rental house a block or so from where he lived. He hung up, called the cops, grabbed his pistol, and met the would-be robber on the front porch. As the robber tried to continue on his way out, Jason suggested as kindly as one can with a loaded gun, that he should probably not move. The robber responded by saying, “Did I break into your house? I didn't mean to break into your house, I meant to break into another one.” Obviously neither Jason, nor the police took much solace in the man's story. Actions, it seems, always speak louder than words. That's the theme of the story Jesus tells the elders and chief priests in this morning's gospel lesson. In case you missed it, which you most likely did since the lectionary skips the details of it all, as our long summer season of Pentecost comes to an end, we join Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem during the final week of Jesus' life. In between the portion of chapter twenty we heard last week and today's lesson, Matthew's gospel tells the stories of the mother of James and John asking Jesus for choice spots at the dinner table for her sons. Chapter twenty-one begins with the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday which brings Jesus into the Temple Court where he turns the tables of the moneychangers and heals the blind and the lame. Monday finds Jesus cursing the fig tree for not bearing fruit and promising his disciples that if they have faith they can tell the mountain to jump into the sea. AND THEN, we get to our lesson for today. Jesus is back in the Temple after yesterday's tirade. If you look carefully, you can still see the glimmer of a piece of change or two, strewn across the Temple floor, as the men who make their living selling sacrificial animals try to put their businesses back together. The collective breath exits the room as Jesus walks through the door, and order to eliminate any further problems before they start, the elders and chief priests meet Jesus near the Temple gate. “By whose authority do you do these things? By whose authority did you mess up our well established system? By whose authority are you causing a raucous? Who gave you such authority?” They know that the only valid answer is “from God.” They know that only the anointed one of God could justifiably act like Jesus acted. They also know that if he answers that way, they’ve got him, dead to rights, for blasphemy and treason. Jesus knows that too. Jesus knows that the trap has been set; it’s been there a long, long time. He can see the writing on the wall, but the time isn’t right. It’s only Monday, there is still a lot to accomplish before it all comes crashing in on him. And so, as a good Rabbi, he answers their question with a question. The long running game of oneupsmanship continues as Jesus looks at the group standing before him and pulls something of a Willy Wonka, “I’ll tell you where my authority comes from... but first, answer me just one, simple question. Where did John the Baptist get his authority? Was if from heaven? Or was it merely of human origin?” And with that, the hunted-one escapes to fight for at least another day. Matthew spells out for us the catch-twenty-two. If they say that John’s Baptism was from God, then they admit that they didn’t catch on to what God was doing at the time. If they say it was merely human, they risk a mob scene as the vast majority of Jerusalem had heard John, been baptized by him, and believed his message of repentance and the kingdom. Collectively, they look at their sandals, shuffle their feet, a[...]

Jesus' actions speak louder than my words


There are four possible outcomes in the story of a dad asking his sons to work in the vineyard.  Two of them, the two that sit in the gray areas of life, are mentioned by Jesus in Sunday's Gospel.

1) Son says "yes" but doesn't work.
2) Son says "no" but does work.
3) Son says "yes" and does work.
4) Son says "no" and doesn't work.

Ideally, as we discussed yesterday, the son says "yes" and then goes and does the work, and I think I'm leaning towards this as THE only scenario in which the will of the Father is actually fulfilled.  But, it seems clear from the interaction between Jesus and the elders and priests that one can, at the very least, partially fulfill the will of the father by going out into the vineyard.

Actions speak louder than words.

Saying yes and doing no sucks.  It is a lie.
Saying no and doing yes is pretty crummy, but at least you DID something.

It is the work of the vineyard (a topic of conversation last week, this week, AND next week) that is important. In Jesus' setting, Israel was the vineyard.  God asked the priests to tend his vineyard, to help the people grow in faith, to live the will of the Father.  The priests, in taking on the mantle of their office, said "yes," but failed miserably at the task at hand. The prostitutes, tax collectors, and Joe the Plumbers or Israel, the vineyard, were left to figure it out on their own.  Weeds were growing unabated, irrigation ditches were clogged with debris, grapes were going unharvested.  And so the Father went to his only Son and said, "go to work."

Jesus said yes, went to work, and died because of it.
Jesus fulfilled the will of his Father.
Jesus made the vineyard ready for harvest.

As much as I want this story to be a moral tale that we should "get to work," I'm realizing this morning that the work has already been done. In many ways, I'm just a grape. My job is to soak up the sun, the drink in the water, to receive the gifts of grace from the Father, and to await the harvest.

Use your words


We'll deal with actions tomorrow.

On Wednesdays, because of five15 and Draughting Theology on Ice, my work day begins at noon.  It is my attempt at keeping some semblance of a family life in this 24/7/365 world.  This morning was a bit of a rough one as FBC decided to sleep past 6:30 for the first time in months.

Trouble is, the school bus stops right outside her window at 6:55am.  The squeaking breaks woke her up, of course, and she was a grouchy, sleepy two-year-old until nap time blessedly arrived at 11:55.  When she is tired like that, her favorite activity is the point and cry game.

She points at what she wants and cries until she gets it.

This is not my favorite game.

All morning SHW and I took turns saying, "use your words. Tell me what you want. I don't know what uhhh-ahhh means."

What, you know this game?  Great, then you're up to speed.

Anyway, for whatever reason I thought of the annoying brothers featured in Sunday's Gospel lesson.  They both use words, but neither uses them positively.  The first says, "heck no, I'm busy," but puts down his Edward Forty-hands and goes out to work. The second says, "sure dad, I'll do it," and then goes back to playing Halo Reach on XBox Live.

Earlier in Matthew (5:37 to be exact), Jesus is teaching about all sorts of serious life issues like divorce, revenge, and vow taking.  Here, he rather famously states, "let your yes be yes and your no be no.  Anything else comes from the evil one.  I take this to say that neither son did his Father's will, despite what the Priests and elders suggest in 21.31, and another lesson in the ongoing saga that is "use your words."

Use them honestly.  When you say yes, honor it.  When you say no, mean it.  When your word is suspect, what else is left?

DT on Ice #1 - air puffers and rubber gloves


Draughting Theology (on Ice) the real-life, face-to-face, get together restarts tonight at Gelato Joe's and the Tropic Ice Deck Bar @ 6:11pm.  We're loosely basing on conversations on the Rob Bell & Don Golden book, Jesus wants to save Christians.  Here's tonight's handout for those who can't make it but want to be involved.Air Puffers and Rubber GlovesBut first... The introduction to the introductionRules1. Courtesy and respect will be shown at all times.2. Commitment will be made to listen to the perspectives of others.3. All statements that are not explicit facts must include the attitude of “it seems to me.”4. All participants will work hard to increase their understanding of the issues between meetings.Disclaimers“In the Scriptures, ultimate truths about the universe are revealed through the stories of a particular people living in particular place. As [we] explore, the nation of Egypt and the Jewish people feature prominently in the biblical narrative. When we [talk] of Egypt then, we are not [talking] about Egypt today. When we mention the Jews then, we are not speaking of our Jewish friends and neighbors today. We realize that some of these words, such as Egypt and the Jews, have power to evoke feelings and thoughts and attitudes about the very pain and division in our world that [Jesus wants to save Christians and this group] will address. We join in this tension, believing that the story is ultimately about healing, hope,and reconciliation.” (p. 008)DefinitionsTheology – from the Greek theo meaning “God” and logos meaning “word” - Theology is a word about God.Draughting – the British variation of draft – here we use it two ways. Draught – verb – to make a blueprint of – our vision of God is never fully formed, the box we use is always too small, here in this group we strive to hold loosely to what we already have, while always seeking to redraw our theology of God. Draught – noun – beer from a keg, you are welcome to have some, but always in moderation. OK, now to our topic at hand – Jesus Wants to Save Christians by Rob Bell and Don GoldenIntroduction - Air Puffers and Rubber GlovesBiblical Text – Genesis 4:1-16 (Cain and Abel)Now Adam slept with his wife, Eve, and she became pregnant. When the time came, she gave birth to Cain, and she said, "With the LORD's help, I have brought forth a man!" Later she gave birth to a second son and named him Abel. When they grew up, Abel became a shepherd, while Cain was a farmer. At harvesttime Cain brought to the LORD a gift of his farm produce, while Abel brought several choice lambs from the best of his flock. The LORD accepted Abel and his offering, but he did not accept Cain and his offering. This made Cain very angry and dejected. "Why are you so angry?" the LORD asked him. "Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you respond in the right way. But if you refuse to respond correctly, then watch out! Sin is waiting to attack and destroy you, and you must subdue it." Later Cain suggested to his brother, Abel, "Let's go out into the fields." And while they were there, Cain attacked and killed his brother. Afterward the LORD asked Cain, "Where is your brother? Where is Abel?" "I don't know!" Cain retorted. "Am I supposed to keep track of him wherever he goes?" But the LORD said, "What have you done? Listen-- your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground! You are hereby banished from the ground you have defiled with your brother's blood. No longer will it yield abundant crops for you, no matter how hard you work! From now on you will be a homeless fugitive on the earth, constantly wandering from place to place." Cain replied to the LORD, "My punishment is too great for me to bear! You have banished me from my land and from your presence; you have made me a wandering fugitive. All who see me will try to kill[...]



I enjoy going back and forth on issues of churchmanship with friends who are of a higher ilk than me.  We rag on each other about vestments, manual actions, and all the minutia of life as a parish priest.  It is usually good natured, sometimes funny, and never to be taken too seriously,

Putting all that stuff aside, since most everyday disciples don't care much about it anyway, the real question of the warring factions in our church, be it the high church, low church battles of the 19th century or the progressive, evangelical arguments of today, surround the question of authority.

By what authority do you do these things?

My anglo-catholic friends would say that we operate under the authority passed down from Christ to St. Peter and through the laying on of hands in the Episcopate.  This is not a bad argument, though I feel like it gives too much power to people.  Instead, my argument is that we operate under the authority of Christ as He is continually revealed through the Holy Spirit.  I like the authority buck to stop at someplace higher than some human being's desk.

Either way, the authority we carry as lay and ordained ministers of the gospel, is given to us, primarily through our being made in the image of God.  We are his children, inheritors of his kingdom, and our work, be it through the Church or through the Spirit or both, is done under the umbrella of the authority of the King.

Questions of authority plague the Church.  They have been the motivating factor behind the vast majority of schisms throughout history.  They have been the impetus for war.  They continue to muddle the message of the kingdom to this day.

No matter where we think our authority comes from: Bible, Bishop, Bag-o-tricks - we must not forget that their authority only matters because it has been given them of the Father.  May God guide us in his will, for his honor and glory.

ahead of you, not instead of


Rob Bell's latest book Love Wins happened because of an event at a community art show held at Mars Hill church, where Bell is a pastor. Here's Time Magazine's take on the event.

As part of a series on peacemaking, in late 2007, Pastor Rob Bell's Mars Hill Bible Church put on an art exhibit about the search for peace in a broken world. It was just the kind of avant-garde project that had helped power Mars Hill's growth (the Michigan church attracts 7,000 people each Sunday) as a nontraditional congregation that emphasizes discussion rather than dogmatic teaching. An artist in the show had included a quotation from Mohandas Gandhi. Hardly a controversial touch, one would have thought. But one would have been wrong.

 A visitor to the exhibit had stuck a note next to the Gandhi quotation: "Reality check: He's in hell." Bell was struck.

Really? he recalls thinking.
Gandhi's in hell?
He is?
We have confirmation of this?
Somebody knows this?
Without a doubt?
And that somebody decided to take on the responsibility of letting the rest of us know?
Read more 

There have been numerous discussions like this one that have come up in my life in the Church. Is Gandhi in hell? What about those with special needs? What about those who live on a deserted island? What about... Heck, is Rob Bell going to heaven? My answer is always, "I don't know." I can't. I'm on the wrong side of the River Styx to have definitive answers. I know that I believe Jesus when he says "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me." But I kind of think that confining one's ability to live in grace to the years they spend on earth is selling God short.

Anyway, this all came to mind today as I read the Gospel appointed for Sunday. Jesus is embroiled in a debate with the religious powers that be. After he tells a parable (more on that later in the week) he tells them, point blank, "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you." For the first time, I was struck by that one, simple phrase, "ahead of you."

So much of our time is wasted trying to change what Jesus says here from "ahead of you" to "instead of you." We want, for whatever reasons, for some people to be outside of the Kingdom. We want to know, for certain, that there are boundaries, walls, even pearly gates, that will keep riff-raff, wrong believing, nasty types out. And while Jesus does, very clearly, tell us there will be some outside the Kingdom, most of the time, the people he describes as in are those nasty types.

Prostitutes and Tax-Collectors?

And those wrong believing types, the Pharisee, Saducees, Scribes, and other powers that be? Well even they are still in, just at a later seating. There is a lot of power in Jesus' declaration of "ahead of." I'm just beginning to wrap my head around it.

anxious about earthly things


The prayer appointed for this Sunday is one of my least favorite. Not because it isn't eloquent, it is. Not because it isn't theologically compelling, it is. Not even because it is hard to understand, it isn't. I dislike the Collect for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A because it hits too close to home. As I preached and written about before, I am an expert worrier, and to pray that God might grant that I might not be anxious about earthly things means that I'll have to find another use for a lot of brain power I otherwise waste worrying. I worry about how I might spend that time I now spend worrying. I might be alone in this. Perhaps you don't worry. Perhaps you've got it all together. Perhaps the Spirit is active in your life that you don't have time to worry. To be honest, I'm kind of anxious that I'm the only one who does worry. How great would it be, in the midst of things that are passing away, to hold fast to those things that will endure? How great would it be to be free from worry? Not by my own merits. Not by my own hard work. Not because I've some how convinced myself that I've got it all together. Not because some big toothed "pastor" told me to think of every day as Friday. But because I trusted in God enough to say, "it isn't about me and what I can or can't do, but it is about God and the amazing, mighty, miraculous things he does." How great would that be?

Angry? Yep... angry enough to die!


The end of the Jonah story is tragic. You can watch the VeggieTales interpretation, one I've seen too many times to count, on youtube. The story closes with a question mark, and not just because it ends with a question from God. It ends with a giant question mark because we never hear Jonah's response. We never hear Jonah's response, I think, because he's too angry to speak. God asks him, after the Unpredictable Plant dies and Jonah gets miffed about it, "Is it right for you to be angry?" Jonah's response is emphatic, "Yes! Angry enough to die!" Sometimes, God's grace is like that. The story is usually about the serial rapist/murderer/child abuser sitting on death row who is converted by the prison chaplain, and as they come to the end of their days, they are at peace because they know they will be with Jesus and the thief who repented in paradise. It offends us. It makes us uncomfortable. It just doesn't sit right. For some people, it makes them angry enough to die. Or at least angry enough to leave the church. As it is with the story of the generous landowner, God's grace is offensive to those of us who keep worldly score. The undeserving always get God's grace. Of course, we forget that we too are undeserving. It is just that our sins are paltry compared to that other guy. Our failings don't hurt anybody... right? For some people, the extravagance of God's grace is just too much to bear, too offensive to be plausible, too big to be accepted, and that is a real shame. As soon as I narrow down God's grace, I'm afraid the first one falling outside of it is me. I'll end today's post in the same way Jonah ends, with a question mark. Should God not be concerned with those who still need his grace?

What time did you show up?


I think I've written on this topic before, but I can't seem to search it in a way that blogger/google can find my old posts, so I'll write this as if it is a new idea. Caution! The story Jesus tells about the landowner and his day laborers is a trap! I'm guessing you fell into it. I know I did. The trap lies in this question - what time did you show up? In the scene that follows this parable, Jesus predicts his death for the third time. Immediately following that, the mother of James and John brings them to the feet of Jesus, kneels down and says, "Grant that one of these my sons will sit at your right hand and the other at your left in your kingdom." Or, to put it in the context of the parable, "Jesus, my two sons, James and John, have been in the field since before sun up. They were there yesterday, and they'll be back tomorrow. Promise me you'll pay them better than everyone else." The assumption made by Mama Zebedee is wrong in two ways. 1) How does she know what time her sons showed up? 2) She forgets that the last will be first and the first will be last. I've been in church since I was three. I went to Sunday school. I attended 3 different youth groups. I accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior at 17. I answered the call to ordained ministry at 22. I plan on (and hope to) serve the Lord in full-time ministry for the rest of my days. I'd like to think that I'm the worker who showed up first thing in the morning. And if I am, I'd like to think I'll be happy with my full days wage, no matter what everybody else gets. I'd like to think these things, but I know myself better than that. I know that most days, I don't really show up until at least noon. I know that most days, I'm relying on me rather than God. I know that most days, I'll be grumbling when we all get paid the same. See the trap? We all like to put ourselves in the starring role in Jesus' parables, but more often than not, I'm showing up late, grumbling, weeds sown on rocky soil. But God loves me anyway. And for that, I'm eternally grateful.

bad for business


For good or for ill, my brain thinks in management terms. Cost/benefit analysis, while not always the perfect model in parish administration, is my go to decision making tool. Thus, it always grieves me to read the parable of Jesus assigned for Sunday. I guess it is well and good that the Kingdom of Heaven can be related as a generous land owner, but it is just bad business. Imagine the scene the next day. The landowner hits the Home Depot, ready to pick up another mess of day laborers, and, low and behold, nobody is there. He returns at nine; nobody. Noon; nobody. Three; maybe a few brave souls. By five o'clock, with the day nearly spent and nothing accomplished, he returns to find 100 guys ready to work for a full days wage. What about the poor slobs who own other pieces of land? Are they supposed to suffer at the hand of this landowners generosity (i.e. foolishness)? When Jesus told parables, people got mad. That rarely happens when we read the parables of Jesus these days, mostly because our cultural vocabulary is so different. But this parable makes me angry. As one who holds a BS degree in business administration, this makes me angry. And, if I'm honest, as a disciple who like to think of himself as one who was in the field no later than 9am, this makes me angry. Am I the only one?

The Lord is full of compassion... and we are not.


Here is the unedited text of today's sermon. The audio will be up tomorrow. The text is Matthew 18:21-35 and my life experience in the 10 years since 9/11. The LORD is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger, and of great kindness... So began our reading of a selected portion of Psalm 103. Truth be told, the Lectionary allows the option to read all of Psalm 103 on the 19th Sunday after Pentecost, but it seems to me, that on this day, we should echo the prayer of David by giving particular attention to this ancient creedal statement, The LORD is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger, and of great kindness. And we should probably rightly finish it by adding, “and we are not.” The LORD is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger, and of great kindness... and we are not. Which is, for many of us, why gathering for worship on this particular day, this 11th of September, 2011 is so very different than just about every Sunday we have experienced. We join with Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Agnostics, Atheists, and whatever else, united not by creed or color, but by universal memory, we all mark this day as a somber anniversary when two-thousand-nine-hundred-seventy-seven men, women and children senselessly lost their lives and more than six-thousand others were injured. If you are anything like me, you come today with a myriad of mixed emotions, which is why, I believe, our mantra for today should be, “The LORD is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger, and of great kindness... and we are not.” September 11th, 2001 fell on a Tuesday, and by the weekend, for most of us, life had at least found its way back to some semblance of routine. On Friday night, as was my custom, I joined my work buddies in the basement of the Travelodge to drink some beer while terrible karaoke singers ruined good songs. We were all a bit dazed, still in many ways in shock at the events of the week, but as is the case after tragedies, life, though changed forever, goes on. I remember this evening more vividly than most, not because the singing was any better or any worse than usual, but because of an impromptu speech given by the Karaoke Jockey. With words unfit for the pulpit, he turned his emotions into a very graphic description of what he would do to Osama Bin Laden should he ever run across him on the streets of Lancaster or the caves of Aghanistan. I remember feeling icky, to use a technical term, profoundly icky. I want to think I felt that way because, even thought I was a 21 year-old who spent too much time at the bar and not enough time in church, I could recognize the dignity of every human being, and the thought of one human being feeling such hatred and anger toward another made me uncomfortable to the point of feeling icky, but I'm afraid I felt icky because, in a lot of ways, I understood what the guy on stage was feeling, and I didn't like those emotions in me. The LORD is full of compassion, and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness... and we are not. On the 26th of May, 2009, Lt. Col. Mark Stratton, very much a child of this parish, died with two others, from wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated as their Humvee traveled the well worn road outside of Bagram Airfiled in Eastern Afghanistan. Mark was serving as the commander of a Provincial Reconstruction Team helping to rebuild the war torn region, and was, in many ways serving to ensure and protect the freedom of the Afghani people more so than his own country. To think that people tasked to build a school that would help bring children up from the depths of poverty would be the target of such an attack is hard to stomach. This[...]

not for the purpose of quarreling


Paul's advice to the church in Rome is sound, "welcome those who are weak in the faith." Here at St. Paul's we are taking a look at the ways in which we welcome the stranger, whether brand new or a mature disciple, when they walk through the doors. One topic we haven't broached is whether or not we should welcome them for the purpose of quarreling with them. Maybe it is because Paul has already made it clear we should not. In many ways, however we (St. Paul's, sure, but the Church as well) do welcome the stranger and immediately get to quarreling. Allow me to explain. How many folks, weak in the faith as they may be, walk into a church and are expected to: 1) Know the layout of the physical plant, including but not limited to bathrooms, nursery, and even the worship space 2) Know which of the five books in the pew to pick up when the service starts. 3) Know how to read music and/or follow along to words on a screen with no music 4) Know what H82, BCP, S108 means 5) Recite the Creed 6) Know the proper procedures for receiving the sacraments/blessings 7) ... ? Maybe we don't take them to task on the theologies they carry with them through the door, but often we do a pretty good job of making them feel like a big, fat, outsider - often before the first hymn is sung. My friend Eric tells his congregation, ad nauseam, that the church is the only institution that does not exist for the benefit of its own membership. I agree, but I wonder how often, by our very nature, we work toward the opposite goal? This, quite frankly, has no bearing on a sermon for this week, just a question that bounced around my brain as I read the lessons today.



Joseph speaks an extremely interesting line as his tumultuous story comes to a head in this week's Genesis lesson. His brothers, having once again attempted to lie, cheat, and steal their way through life, come seeking (maybe) forgiveness in the hopes (certainly) of not being killed for their past sins. Joseph, unable in his humanity to offer much forgiveness, lays it all at the foot of God. "Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good..." Margaret Odell over at WorkingPreacher does an amazing job with this whole story, but her understanding of this peculiar line is extremely helpful. Whether we know it or not, this response of Joseph gets a high place in modern, western Christian philosophy. How often has it been said, "God has a plan"? How often has tragedy been shrugged off by saying, "God's will is perfect"? How often has damage been inflicted to a grieving family member, especially when a life has been cut way. too. short. by a well meaning friend or pastor who said, "We may not understand this, but God knows what he is doing"? That is, admittedly, one way of reading Joseph's word to his brothers. God's plan includes short-term evil, but in the end, it is all good. This is, I'm afraid, a terrible image of God. Odell argues, and I have no reason to disagree, that this word "intend" has its roots in weaving, and so we should read this not as God using evil to make good, but that evil stuff happens, children die, planes crash, cancer strikes and God, in his infinite wisdom, can even incorporate, can even weave, that great evil into his good plan. See how that turns things around? David Lose can say it better than me, "Joseph perceives that God can weave from whatever strands of brokenness, heartache, or calamity we have suffered a future that is, in the end, good. Care needs to be taken with these potent words -- "what you intended for harm, God intended for good" -- as they have too often been used to relativize evil or suffering in light of some larger "plan." That is not, however, what I think this scene -- or certainly the whole of Scripture -- advocates. The betrayal and treachery of Joseph's brothers is real. But so also is God's relentless intent to wring redemption and healing even from the most difficult of circumstances." It doesn't help with the "why bad things happen" question, but it does make some progress into the way in which God's plan plays out in everyday life. And for that, as a human being and as a pastor, I am exceedingly grateful.



That's it. If you are preaching from the Revised Common Lectionary on track 2, then forgiveness is the theme of the lessons for Sunday. Joseph's brother's conniving attempt to receive his forgiveness. The Psalmists understanding of the way in which God blots out our offenses. Paul's call to cease judgment. Peter's hope that there is some end to the river of forgiveness. That's what you have, dear friends, forgiveness. Normally, this would be easy enough to preach. Even those of us who desire platitudes rather than sermons could find something to say this Sunday. "I remember the time my brother stole the last slice of key lime pie..." 7, 77, 490 - forgive. But this Sunday isn't just another Sunday. This Sunday is already headline news, already the stuff of the History Channel, already inundated with PBS specials for this Sunday, in case you haven't heard (or looked at a calendar) is the 10th anniversary of 9/11/01. This Sunday has weight that many (nee most) other Sundays do not. If you live in the greater New York and Washington DC metropolitan areas, the weight might be too much to bear. If you live on the Eastern Seaboard, it'll be tough. If you live on or near a military base, it'll be a different kind of heavy. And in some locals, it won't feel too bad at all, but watch, every person who walks through your doors will be carrying a little extra baggage. What then, does forgiveness look like on the 10th anniversary of 9/11? How does the releasing of the other's yoke lessen the burden of our own? How do we extend the question of Peter about a member of the Church (literally "a brother") to this pluralistic world? How can I, like Peter, limit the bounds of forgiveness? How does God, in Jesus, call me to the carpet for doing that? It is a tough Sunday on a short week. Forgive me, I've got a lot to do.

Gentiles and Tax Collectors


As I said earlier this week, the good Lord willing, I'm not preaching this Sunday. That being said, I'm not delving exegetically into the Gospel lesson as I normally would on a preaching week, therefore I'm not as up to date on the current debates surrounding Matthew 18:15-20 as I could be. But I bet I can guess what they're talking about. "If the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector." It is the great question of church discipline. What do you do with the person who refuses to repent, acknowledge fault, seek forgiveness, is a stubborn pain in the...? Jesus tells us to treat that person like a Gentile and a tax collector. Fine. But treat them like who treats Gentiles and tax collectors? If we treat them like the Pharisees do, then we ignore them, leave them for dead, and pray that God never brings them and their rampant uncleanness back into our lives. If we treat them like the earliest of early church leaders did, then we pray that they might be converted to right living (and, in the case of Gentiles, expect circumcision to be a sign of that right living). I fear that these two understandings have dominated the interpretation of Matthew 18:15-20 for, I don't know, 1900+ years. Maybe not in the the ivory towers of academia, but certainly in (too) many pulpits. If we treat them like Jesus treated Gentiles and tax collectors... well, then we're screwed. We have to eat dinner with them. We have to talk with them when we see them. We have to engage them, and though that might be nice and dandy for Jesus, it is really, really hard for us. This, I think, is where grace comes in. And not that happy, clappy, white light, gentle breeze, peace pipe sort of grace, but the down and dirty incarnational kind of grace that puts that stubborn SOB in your path over and over and over again, until you have no choice but to summon every bit of strength the Holy Spirit has to offer and offer a handshake, a hug, a cup of coffee, you'll know the right course of action for this particular gentile and/or tax collector in your path. It ain't easy, folks, but its the way of the kingdom. No wonder so many of us choose to walk in the ways of the world.

Aidan of Lidnisfarne


Did I spell that right? Anyway, here's my homily for his feast today. “Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first” This is one of those statements that most of us wish Jesus had never said, the classic catch 22, damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. If you listen to the world, and follow the American dream, if you seek success, luxury, material happiness, if you strive to be first, if you get everything you wish for on earth, you will only end up last in the kingdom of God. If, instead, you seek after the kingdom, giving up material luxuries to help the poor, risk being used to help the needy, endanger your relationships to love the unlovable, if you seek after God by giving up everything and becoming last in this world, well, then, you will be first in the Kingdom of God. It would be a whole lot nicer if we could be first both ways, right? First here, first there... shouldn't it work that way? Jesus says, you can't have it both ways, and Aidan of Lindisfarne, whom the Church remembers today, learned that the hard way. Christianity first made its way to northern England in 627 with the conversion of King Edwin of Northumbria, but after his death in 632 a vicious pagan uprising threatened to squelch the Gospel for good. Eventually, Edwin's nephew, Oswald became king and summoned from his place of exile, the island Monestary of Iona, a missionary named Corman, who failed miserably in his attempt to convert the Anglo-Saxons of northern England. Bishop Corman, note that key title, returned to Iona complaining that the Northumbrians were a savage, stubborn, and unteachable people. Here's where the story gets fun, or at least where the story gets real human: a story that could have taken place anywhere at any time in human history. The young upstart, Aidan, suggested to the good bishop that “perhaps he was too harsh with them, and they might have responded better to a gentler approach.” Needless to say, Aidan found himself on the first ferry off Iona with instructions to convert Northumbria. The first shall be last. But the story doesn't end there, as I believe, it doesn't in Jesus' classic conundrum. Aidan, an Irishman who spoke no English, now on a hopeless mission to convert the English speaking Northumbrans, would, by the grace of God find his way back from last and least, to a saint remembered fifteen hundred years later. So successful was his mission, that it has been suggested that Aidan be named the Patron Saint of all England. His approach was simple, be a human being and talk to people. Aidan would walk from village to village, politely conversing with whoever he met along the way and slowly bringing forth in them an interest in what made him tick: his faith in the resurrected Jesus. It is said that King Oswald, who often acted as interpreter for Aidan, gave him a horse so that he wouldn't have to walk, but Aidan promptly gave it to a beggar. Aidan patiently walked along side people, he talked to them on their own level, and turned the tide of Northumbria toward faith in the risen Christ. Often, I make the mistake of reading Jesus' words without any human quality to them. They become like fortune cookie slogans, useful only on face value. But this well known saying of Jesus, that the last will be first and the first will be last, I'm starting to think of it more like shampoo instructions: wash, rinse, repeat. The first will be last, the last will be first, and when the first become last, they're next in line to be first, and vice verse. As I'm keen[...]

tell two or three...


And then the whole congregation will know.

I'm guessing that's not what Jesus had in mind as he explained his disciplinary procedure to his disciples. Gossip, I'm sure, was not what he hoped for in the ideal situation.

But, we're human, and we sin, and we all know that gossip happens. It is the reason why prayer lists are closely guarded secrets. It is the reason that HIPPA laws make going to the doctor a matter of national security. It is the (a? probably a) reason why confession has gone out of style in most denominations. It is part of what makes my job difficult - a long history of priests (and bishops) who couldn't keep other people's secrets under the stole.

And, in many ways, it is the reason why we all read these instructions from Jesus, roll our eyes, and come up with Title IV revisions. (Title IV is the portion of Episcopal Church Law that deals with misconduct).

What if, in our conflict averse, gossip-page obsessed culture, we took these instructions from Jesus seriously? What if we, privately and with tact, told people when they hurt us? What if we trusted two or three elders to help mediate? What if the Church, the ekklesia (yes 18:17 is the other place Matthew uses this word, and he uses it twice) the community, was serious about its role in real reconciliation (and not just the white guilt sort of reconciliation that for too long has defined the *former* mainline)?

Imagine the example that would set for the whole world? Imagine how it might impact Washington? Imagine how what it might mean as we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11. What if Jesus knew what he was talking about?

Ekklesia - when community is broken


My friend Evan wondered aloud on facebook this morning whether preachers would re-preach this weekend whatever they talked about two weeks ago.  Seems as though Matthew and the Revised Common Lectionary people are very much concerned with what the church is binding and loosing.  I'm not preaching this weekend, and Keith talked about the keys rather than the fetters of the Kingdom, so I'm guessing he won't just rehash everything.  I'll probably come back to the whole binding and loosing thing later this week, but today I'm pondering the implications of ekklesia (community) or rather the lack thereof.

See, the NRSV translates Matthew 18:15 as " another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one." But alas, this isn't the only other time Matthew uses that great word, Ekklesia, in his gospel. Instead, he chooses to translate Jesus' word as adelphos, brother.

The NIV gets credit for the better translation this time, "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over." The implications are clearly for the community of the faithful, but the word here is not community, not church, but it is about one person sinning against another (all singular), and boy how that changes things.

Or does it.

When members of the body of Christ act as individuals, and not surprisingly, screw it up, how does it effect the community at large? How does forgiveness and reconciliation or the lack thereof affect the larger body? What difference does it make that a brother sinned against a brother?

Jesus seems to make it clear that the first step is one-on-one relationship (re)building. Go and meet with that person alone, point out the fault, and if reconciliation happens, rejoice. But if it doesn't, if it begins to spread like a cancer to the whole community, well then additional steps are needed. More on that tomorrow.

For now, I'm really wondering about that word, brother, and how it impacts the whole issue of sin and forgiveness within the ekklesia.

Who's the Co-Pilot Here?


You can listen to my interpretation of the text below by clicking here.--I find bumper sticker theology to be a fascinating area of study. Somehow, in the space of twelve inches by three inches, hopefully in a font size big enough to be read by the car behind, whole systematic theologies can be spelled out. Take, for example, a few of my favorites, “Warning: In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned.” Obviously, this is a dispensationalist Christian, who expects Jesus' second coming to not only be soon, but also to involve the immediate whisking away to heaven of all believers. Another classic reads, “If it ain't King James, it ain't the Bible.” Assuming the owner of the vehicle isn't being cleverly ironic, this is a grammatically challenged biblical literalist who understands the only true English version of the Scriptures to be the beautiful, if difficult to understand, prose or the 1611 King James Version. One of the best theological bumper stickers ever made is actually a response to one of the worst. The original bumper sticker read, “God is my co-pilot.” Some wise person, upon seeing all the flaws contained in such a statement, printed another set of stickers that read, “If God is your co-pilot, swap seats!” I can't be certain, but I'm pretty sure this bumper sticker is directed at St. Peter.Things are looking great for Jesus and his disciples during their visit to Philip's newly updated Ceasarville. They have paused for a bit to regroup after a series of storms, miracles, and a few run ins with the religious and political powers that be. Last week we heard Jesus trying to get a feel from his disciples of the popular opinion, “who do people say the Son of Man is?” Then, in that great turning point moment, we heard Simon Peter declare without question that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one, the Son of the living God. The passage ended with Jesus sternly warning his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. Did anyone wonder about that? I did. Why keep important news quiet? Why not tell the whole world? The disciples had an idea of why they had to keep things quiet, it was the wrong idea, but that didn't much matter at the time. The best way to enter Jerusalem and overthrow the Roman occupiers would be through the element of surprise. Keep the news quiet until an army is gathered, then BAM, strike down the Romans and their sympathizers in the Sanhedrin: the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes. Remove them from power before they even know what them. A brilliant military strategy, but a terrible understanding of the way in which God works, for Jesus, you see, had other reasons why things should be hush hush.“From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hand of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Let's be honest, none of them heard anything beyond “be killed.” To a man, their brains began to swim with anxiety, misunderstanding, and, most likely anger. And so Peter, as spokesman, takes Jesus aside to explain to him the error of his ways, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” This way Jesus is describing is messy. It is unseemly. It is not the way things are supposed to work out for the anointed one of God and his disciples, and so Peter, as spokesman, as favored son, as the Rock, politely tells Jesus, “why [...]



I am a terrible follower. I'm an even worse passenger. I hate being out of control. I hate not knowing where were going. It isn't that I don't trust someone else to lead or to drive or to instruct, it is just that I'd rather do it myself.

This makes being a disciple very difficult, but don't take my word for it. Peter learns very quickly and very harshly how incongruent it is to be a disciple in the driver seat.

Peter wants to be in control. He is fine with Jesus being the Messiah, but that anointedness comes with a certain set of expectations that do not, in any way, include Jesus being arrested much less killed.  Peter is so worked up, it seems as though he can't even hear Jesus finish his thought: the whole, rise on the third day lynch pin to the Incarnation gets lost in translation.  Jesus rebukes Peter, "Get behind me Satan!"  Or, as I like to imagine it "Follow my plan, my route, my way! Let me sit in the driver seat, Peter, I've got it under control."

As the bumper sticker above says, Peter's in the wrong seat, and often, so am I.  A good friend of mine has just been formally accepted into the discernment process for ordination to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church.  As I talk with him about "the process" it brings back all sorts of memories that are deeply wedged into the recesses of my mind.  I'm reminded of the thousand ways I tried to hijack the process from God's hand in order for it to fit the way I wanted it to work.  I'm reminded of all the times that I fought to get my hand on the yoke, only to send the plane into a sputtering tailspin while begging God to take over again.  I pray he doesn't struggle in the same way.

It is really hard to be a control freak and be a disciple, but, it is possible.  Jesus graciously invites us to hand over the reigns and follow his lead.  Jesus gracefully leads us forward into the unknown.  Jesus mercifully forgives us each and every time we wrestle control away from him (even if that mercy feels a lot like an angry rebuke).

What about you? Are you any good at following?

What has Jesus begun to show you?


We are halfway through Matthew's Gospel and Jesus is just now beginning to show his disciples what's in store. They've seen healings, heard teachings, storms have been calmed, thousands have been fed, and they've been sent out to share the good news.

And now he tells them he's going to be arrested, killed, and on the third day rise again.

Sometimes we take for granted that the disciples had all the details, and they most certainly did not. Sometimes we take for granted that we know all the details, and we do not.

Jesus is always out there, on the horizon, at the margins, on the edge, calling us to follow him. I wonder, what has Jesus begun to show you?

And as he unveils us, are you able to receive it? Do you want to keep moving forward? Or are you content with where you are? Peter, as I said yesterday, has a set of expectations - he wants Jesus to act a certain way, and as Jesus begins to show him this different way, this better way, it is hard for Peter to get on board.

The same is true for all of us. Change is hard, but when we put God in control, change is inevitable. He loves us just the way we are, but he loves us too much to leave us there.