Saturday, February 28, 2009


I am NOT dead. I did not quit blogging, honest.

This Lent my goal is to explore new ways to approach the season. Not a problem.
I traveled all day on Ash Wednesday and didn't receive ashes until the evening. Thursday brought a parish quiet day that wasn't especially quiet, (my fault) but we had a lively discussion that I'm sure took many of us deeper. Then an afternoon of spiritual direction before traveling again. Friday brought more traveling for an afternoon with rectors of parishes, and today will be another quiet day at a different parish. Then it's on the road again. Jesus walked everywhere. At least I'm traveling by car.

Where am I? In Wyoming, the state that gives true meaning to the expression WIDE-OPEN-SPACES. Unless, of course, it's snowing. Then you're lucky to see two feet in front of you. We've had a good bit of the snowing part since I arrived on Wednesday, but for now the sky is clear, the sun has just risen and a new day begins. 

Let us bless the Lord.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

athletic training camp

I Corinthians 9:24-27

Instead of preaching on the Gospel, today our celebrant gave his sermon over to Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, what he termed "a terribly energetic passage".

When the lessons for today were first being read, I remembered I had once preached a sermon on these same texts... (if interested, you can read it here). Had three years passed so quickly? So... it was especially exciting to hear something new and different. This particular celebrant is both a Biblical scholar and a teacher; his sermons have a little of the lecture quality about them. I come away from his sermons knowing more about the Bible than I did before, yet feeling less adequate. I'm thinking that's not such a bad thing, especially as I prepare for several retreats I must lead over the next months. Humility has never been my strong suit, but it's a virtue I'm still trying to acquire. Not to be confused with humiliation... one doesn't necessarily follow the other.

But back to the sermon. In this passage, our preacher suggested, Paul portrays the Christian life as an "athletic training camp." He makes it (Christianity) come across as a competition. Everyone tries, but only those fit succeed. The best trained will come out the big winners while the less trained will be the big losers. And for that he added, we are all in big trouble. And to use the boxing metaphor, we all may as well throw in the towel.

Paul himself points out that we're all several laps behind him in persecution alone, so who can ever hope to pass him in the final lap? But we were reminded that this entire athletic metaphor was taken out of context. Today we only get a few of the verses, but the entire letter is to be read in the context of Christian freedom. Salvation is not a prize to be won; it is a gift from God. The point of staying fit and disciplined is to help others recognize the gift.

Paul points out in his letter that although (in Christ) he has been freed, he doesn't use that freedom. Instead, he conforms, especially if by doing so, he can lead others to Christ. "I have become all things to all people" he says. That made me chuckle. In my time I was brought up with a different cliché: You can't please everybody. So which is it? But that's another tangent.

The celebrant concluded with this idea: that we have a job to do: to invite others into this freedom in Christ. To do that requires a sustained and conscious effort. We do have to work hard, not to be saved, but to save others. It's a commitment to a calling, much like the athlete has a commitment to his or her chosen sport.

I thought about Paul's idea of freedom, and his willingness to lay it down for the larger purpose. He certainly must have modeled himself on the very one he worshipped. For Jesus, though in the form of God, did not cling to equality with God, but humbled himself, taking the form of a servant, and was born in human likeness. His larger purpose was to reunite us (humankind) with God, the creator. Pretty amazing when you think about it.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

He's gone.

Mark 1:29-39
Our celebrant this morning was explaining why Mark is her favorite Gospel. "It's the most troubling Gospel," she said. Most scholars believe it is the earliest Gospel, that the other three base most of their stories on what Mark had to report. 

She said, "We've grown up with these stories, so we can explain them away. But in Mark, there is no explanation." She went on to say that today, the trendy way to view Mark's writings is from the context of empire... these are all empire stories that the people of that time already knew. Much as we associate politicians on the back of a train with Roosevelt and that earlier time when life was simpler and values were solid, the people in Mark's generation would have understood these stories by making the association between Jesus and Moses. Jesus comes up out of the water at his baptism... Moses was drawn from the water. Jesus journeys, incessantly. Moses journeyed (incessantly) with the children of Israel through the desert. 

In the brief part we read in today's Gospel, Jesus has just called a few followers and they have gone to the house of Peter and Andrew. But his call to his followers is not what it seems. These men had families, they weren't young bachelors with nothing better to do. Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law of a fever, not a lightweight illness in that time. Then... a host of neighbors with all their sick relatives descends, and he heals them too. What must they have thought? Hallelujah? He's come to make our lives better?

Then... he disappears in the middle of the night. They have to go searching for him, and when they finally find him, and want to bring him home, (to do it all over again tomorrow morning,) he says No. I'm leaving. That was when it probably sunk in... just what "Follow Me." was going to be about.

Our celebrant asked "What about those who were left behind?" She was thinking of the ones that Jesus had touched and had probably changed their lives forever. What would they do with this new concept of love and justice and possibility? Especially now that the source had packed up and left them to figure it out alone? But my thoughts went to the ones left behind that were too late for the healings. They didn't get the memo the night before, but they were probably standing in line early that next morning, outside the door to Peter's house. 

Where's the healer? When is he coming back? 
Oh, you missed him. 
He's gone on down the road to spread the good news to somebody else. 
Too bad. You missed him.

Sunday, February 01, 2009


Mark 1:21-28

Today's Gospel is the story of one of Jesus' first public teaching appearances in the synagogue. As our celebrant reminded us this morning, he encountered every teacher's worst nightmare: a loud mouth with an agenda who disrupts the proceedings. This particular loud mouth also spoke the truth "you Holy One of God". Everyone was watching. Now what?

Although he was new to public speaking engagements, Jesus had the presence of mind to take command of the situation. And... according to the Gospel, apparently everyone was impressed.

Our preacher brought her analogy to the present. She commented on Obama's first full week in office, and how, as with Jesus, everyone was watching his every move. And a few were already making trouble, causing disruption. Back then they named it an evil spirit.

What about today? Whatever it is, we just cannot be content with listening to people who speak with authority. We have to take potshots, have to disrupt. What's that about? It certainly makes the role of leadership that more taxing, and the ability to stay on message now becomes one of the marks of a good leader.

The question posed then was this: what is legitimate criticism as opposed to just harping to undermine the process? She asked us to look at our own lives and examine how we behave... both as leaders and when we are not leaders... to look at the temptation to criticize. Is it legitimate? Or do we just need to bring them down a peg? Are we jealous? Jealous that someone else is actually good at what they do? 

She spoke to the strife in the Anglican Communion... all the arguments over who could and could not be ordained and why, the interpretation of Scripture, the clinging to dogma. Much of the huge debate acting as distraction, disruption from the true mission of the church. 

What are we jealous of... and why?