Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Tuesday Temptations

The Gospel reading for Sunday, Feb. 4 is Luke 5:1-11 catching people, being caught by God....

There is a story about one of the early Church theologians named Origen. Origen lived in the third century during a time when Christians were being persecuted and martyred by the Romans. Origen's father was arrested and killed. In outrage, Origen, only 17 years old, wanted to follow his father into martyrdom. His mother protested but he insisted. So the mother did what she had to do, she hid all of his clothes, leaving him stark naked. Origen argued and argued with his mother, but she would not give his clothes back. But neither would Origen go outside and face his martyrdom naked. (which surely his nakedness would have gotten him arrested and martyred faster). So, Origen lived and grew up to be a profound thinker and writer of the early Church.

In our Gospel for Sunday Jesus encourages Peter to drop his net into the deep water and when Peter does his net is filled to overflowing. This Gospel story suggests that when we follow God in Jesus we will be led into those deep dark places of our selves, our souls, where we are vulnerable and without the clothing of our defenses. From this place of darkness and vulnerability God leads us into the light, into the fullness of life. When we allow ourselves to be open to God we find ourselves caught by a God who loves us just as we are, and then in loving us, causes us to be transformed - because we are called to love others as we are loved, our state of being caught by God catches others in the darkness of their lives and brings them to the light.

What temptations keep you from being caught? What temptations keep you from venturing out naked or keep you on the surface of life unwilling to enter the darkness wherein God will find you? In our modern world the typical temptation is being busy - too busy to find some quiet time for God. Too busy to pray or enter into a church community and form relationships. Too busy to give up Sunday morning for faith. Busyness allows us to live with the illusion that our lives have meaning and are transformational, but it may be that we are just busy, like wheels spinning in snow...

think about it...

why do you do what you do?

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sunday Sermon: Epipahny 4C -Sideline Fan or Team Player?

The headlines on Monday said Windy v’s Indy! The Bears are going to the Super Bowl, and they’re playing the Indianapolis Colts.

Tony Dungy is the head coach of the Colts, and Lovie Smith is the head coach of the Bears, and as it turns out these two have a long history together in the NFL.

Eleven years ago Tony Dungy was the head coach in Tampa Bay and he gave Lovie Smith his first coaching job as the Buccaneers linebacker coach. They worked together for over 4 years. Now, on Feb. fourth these two men are and their respective teams are headed for the Super Bowl.

All around this part of the Midwest, is Super Bowl fever – on the news, in the papers, even making national news, and in our every day conversations, young and old, men and women, alike.

Winning sports teams have an infectious impact on the community that supports them. And after years of supporting losing teams it is invigorating for Chicagoans to have two winning teams in two years – first the White Sox in the World Series, and now the Bears at the Super Bowl.

Most all of us get excited and most of us will participate in some kind of Super Bowl festivity, even if we just watch the game at home with friends or family.

It’s interesting to me, this phenomenon of sports and how it impacts us so deeply. It’s like somehow we feel better about ourselves and our community because we live in an area with a winning team.

Of course when they lose we say something like, well you know, isn’t that typical, they need to strengthen their defensive or their offensive players…when they lose it’s all about them. But when they win, its all about us!

This same human phenomenon is at play in our reading today from the Gospel. The people in Nazareth are so excited that Jesus is there. They’ve heard all about the wonderful things he’s done – and in response they are like,

“Well, yeah, of course, he’s Joseph’s son…”

You know!, Joseph, our good neighbor. Joseph the carpenter….

and because Jesus has done all these wonderful things, and because he’s from the home town, and because he is now famous for his miracles, the town is so excited!

Jesus makes them all special just by being from there and coming back. They want him to stay and do all kinds of wonderful things for them and in their presence so they can feel even better about themselves.

But for this Jesus calls them to task. He reminds them that work he does is about much more than making them feel better about themselves…

”Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb,

‘Doctor, cure yourself!’

and you will say,

‘Do here also in your hometown the thing that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”

Jesus goes on to tell his home town friends and family that his ministry, and theirs,
is about something more: Jesus reminds them that they were not chosen by God to create a closed society where they could feel good about themselves. They were chosen by God to bring the Good News of God, the benefits of faith, to all people. And here’s the clincher, they are supposed to focus their energy on other people, not themselves.

He uses examples from their tradition to remind them of this: Elijah and Elisha:

“there were many widows in Israel and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of the widows except one who lived elsewhere….and there were many lepers in Israel at the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except one who lived elsewhere…

The people in Jesus’ town need this same kind of shift in thinking…it’s not about them, it’s about others – the call of God to Jesus, to the Nazareans, and to us, is a call to look beyond ourselves and love others.

Hearing this, the people, of course, are enraged.

They would rather feel good about themselves, just by being associated with Jesus – They don’t want to have to do anything. They want him to do the work and for them to feel good about it.

Ok, so the football players do all the work and win the games and we rejoice as if we have been right beside them all along. Yet on some level, either by watching at home, or attending the games live, or buying their merchandise, we have actually participated in their winning, through our support. So this is not an exact analogy to our Gospel.

But the basic idea remains: we humans love to be affiliated with the rich and the famous and the successful, because when we are we somehow feel better about ourselves as well.

Jesus takes this one step further by reminding the people that they are not suppose to form an exclusive club that lets some in and keeps some out. They are suppose to be a people who know God’s love and then actively share it with others making the circle ever wider, ever more open.
Because when Jesus brings up the widow from Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian, he is speaking about people far removed from the Israelites, people who have in fact persecuted them.

It was like telling them that God cares as much for the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and the suicide bombers, as God cares for us.

That’s how Jesus’ words were heard.

It’s no wonder they drove him out of town.

None of us wants to hear, really, that God loves our enemies like God loves us.

But Jesus’ words remind his townsfolk, and remind us, that God does not get our boundaries of who is in and who is out.

The problem is not that we are loved any less. The problem: is people we fear, despise, or just plain dislike, are loved by God. God just keeps on loving human beings and we are invited to join in the love.

Our scripture, especially much of the Gospels, like the parable of the good Samaritan, the woman at the well, the story of Nicodemus, and including our Gospel reading this morning, remind us of the truth of this.

And this is equally true for our churches today as we struggle over who is in and who is out. It’s true for us as a parish community as we ponder what it is we are being called to do and be.

On the one hand I think it is really simple: get up off the sofa, stop being a sideline fan of Jesus, and share the love you have of God with all of God’s people.

I know, this is hard to do. We don’t like to talk about our faith. It’s awkward and we don’t know how.

I don’t think we’re called to pull out megaphones and shout from the sidelines like a referee, determining what’s fair and what’s not…but we’re not supposed to keep silent either.

Jeremiah gives us a good sense of what this is like. In response to God’s call to him, Jeremiah, the young child, backs away from God. He says,“I can’t do what you ask, I am only a child.”

This reading, by the way, is used at many ordination services acknowledging that the about to be ordained person is somewhat terrified of what lays ahead. And some would say, for good reason, because the ordained are always out there front and center, like a coach hoping the team players can make it to the Super Bowl.

In our reading from Jeremiah, God responds: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you…you shall go to all whom I send you and you shall speak whatever I command you.Do not be afraid…for I have put my words in your mouth.”

Truly comforting words.

As we move from the safety of our sofas to the world beyond, God not only calls us but will give us the words to say. God calls and God provides. But God also expects that we will venture forth, not just as people cheering on the sidelines, but as people leading the way – bringing God’s message of hope and love to a world of lost and lonely people looking for a winning team.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Wednesday Writings

Today we celebrate the feast day of Florence Li Tim Oi, the first woman ordained priest in the Anglican Communion. She was born in the early 1900's in China and became a deacon on the church in 1947. Soon afterward, with the onset of WWWII, there were no male priests to lead her church, so her Bishop ordained her a priest and gave her the responsibility of the church.

When the war was over there was much controversy about her ordination, but the Bishop continued to use her in an ordained capacity until the communists took over China and closed the churches. During this time Florence was forced to work on farms and do hard labor. She was finally allowed to retire from hard labor in the 1970's. Soon afterward she traveled to Canada to visit family. There she was licensed to practice as a priest and she served the church until her death in 1992.

An amazing story of a woman ordained long before our "out of order" ordinations in the 1970's. An incredible woman and her forward thinking bishop who responded to the needs of the community by following the call of the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Tuesday Temptations

What tempts you these days?

Chocolate Mocha Latte?
Food, more than you need?
Laziness, avoiding the cold and exercise?

Sometimes the things that tempt us are a hint at what we ought to do for ourselves- perhaps slowing down, being less busy.

Often though the things that tempt us are a diversion from what makes us feel unhappy or unfulfilled. Our temptations fill a void in us with food, or drink. Or we make our lives busy-busy because the busier we are the more important we feel. The more we do the more we justify our lives. The more we do the more we think our lives have meaning. But this may not be the case.

We can fill our lives with all sorts of things and still be dissatisfied, discontent.

Jung says that we all are born with an innate desire for God. This desire for God is like a hole in our beings. When we are not attune to God we experience this hole as an emptiness, a void, which we try to fill with things. We try to fill it with food, drink, or purchases. But nothing works, really, because the hole seeks something else, God. When we connect ourselves to God and develop a faith life and a community of faith, then the void lessens, the emptiness decreases. Over time we feel more content. Our temptations lessen, our focus increases, our lives are richer.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Knit Together

When you crack open a hard boiled egg you find inside, between the shell and the white of the egg, a thick lining material. This lining is connective tissue. Our human bodies also have connective tissue. This connective tissue runs like a sweater through our bodies, between the skin and muscles, through the muscles to organs and bones. The connective tissue helps hold in place our abdominal organs. And, just as it sounds, the connective tissue runs in and through our entire body, providing the means for inter-connectedness.

A body worker, like a massage therapist, works with the connective tissue whenever she or he gives a massage. Body workers recognize that a tightness in one part of the body may be related to a condition in another part of the body, called referred pain.

Our bodies are profoundly connected, muscle, bone, organ, skin, through the connective tissue. Often, when we experience some kind of pain or discomfort, we may self diagnose the symptom and treat it without really wondering how this symptom might be a part of some deeper or more wide spread problem.

Take for instance a headache. We get a headache and in response most of us will take ibuprofen or acetaminophen. This usually makes the head ache go away and we feel better. How many of us ponder why we got the headache in the first place? What is the underlying cause? Maybe its stress, something in our lives is causing us to be stressed out and the subsequent symptom we feel in our bodies is a headache.

Or maybe its hormones, some of us experience a cycle of headaches connected to our hormonal system. Or maybe we have allergies and the headache is a symptom of our environment. But how many of us accurately assess the cause and treat it rather than the symptom? If we only treat the symptom we miss the opportunity to take care of the problem at its source. We miss the opportunity to respond to the stress in our lives in a more effective way by either reducing the stress or reducing our experience of that stress. Maybe, in response we will slow our lives down, do less, get massages, meditate. Or maybe we will exercise to reduce the impact of stress on our bodies. Regardless, when we look at the cause rather than just treating a symptom, we are able to respond more effectively.

The same is true for our communities. At St. Hilary’s we can assume that the source of our discomfort is lack of money and not enough people here. But I think the real source of our discomfort is some thing else, and these other two are only symptoms of the real problem. I have my suspicions. But what I want at this time is for all of you, by attending the vestry meetings reviewing the surveys, by reading Christianity for the Rest of Us, by forming a common language, and by having conversations with one another, I want you all to make some educated guesses as to what is at the heart of our discomfort.

In the process I encourage you all to do four things:

1. Keep a sense of humor, the ability to laugh at ourselves and at our situation can enable us to see the situation with greater clarity.

2. Avoid the tendency to be complacent, be willing to get involved.

3. Avoid the tendency to be complicit, speak up –

your perspective may just be what we need to hear.

And lastly, be invested in treating the cause and not just the symptom.

Ok, so humor, here is a joke to get us started:

The Pope dies and, naturally, goes to heaven where he's met by a reception committee of angels. After a whirlwind tour, The Pope is told that he can enjoy any of the myriad recreations available. He decides that he wants to read all of the ancient original text of the Holy Scriptures, so he spends the next eon or so learning the languages. After becoming a linguistic master, he sits down in the library and begins to pour over every version of the Bible, working back from the most recent "Easy Reading" to the original handwritten script. The angel librarian hears a loud scream, and goes running toward its source only to find the Pope huddled in a chair, shaking and crying.
The R! They left out the R!"

"What do you mean?" the angel librarian asks. After collecting his wits, the Pope sobs again,
"The word is not CELIBATE, but CELEBRATE!"

With a sense of humor we remember that things are seldom as they seem. It’s good to remember that we can misunderstand and misinterpret… And it’s good to laugh at ourselves and the ways we stifle the energy of the Holy Spirit.

2. Avoid being complacent: come to the meetings, participate in the conversations, read the book, be invested in this discerning process. You may just find it energizing and interesting.

3. Avoid being complicit: as humans we sometimes choose to just be quiet, not to make waves, to not invest ourselves in an outcome, and essentially not to care. I ask you to care, to care deeply, and to get involved in our future and the way we hope to make a difference in the world.

4. be invested in the process and in the outcome in a way that anticipates some life transforming outcome.

God is alive in this world and in our lives, and embodiment is the primary way we understand this. God came to us in the incarnation, in the person of Christ. This assures us that God is invested in the process and the outcome, and so should we.
As a people, as individuals and as a community, we come to know the fullness of who we are through our living, through our bodies. As Christians we are the body of Christ, the living presence of God in the world. As humans we are all interconnected, one to another. When one part of our body hurts, we all hurt.

When people around the world are suffering from poverty, disease, and other injustices, we all suffer. Like a snag in a sweater which pulls threads in other areas, when part of our humanity suffers, we all experience it. This may seem odd. We may not be aware of how we are suffering, But the Spirit, which lives and breathes in and through us, carries that suffering. It fills our lives, those of us who are not the victims of poverty and disease, those of us who live with relative wealth and security, the spirit carries to us this communal suffering.

Perhaps we experience it as a general sense of dissatisfaction with our lives. Perhaps it is what makes us restless. Perhaps it is what drives us to find something to do to make our lives feel meaningful. Like working on some pain in our bodies, the real source of that discomfort may not be the obvious place, it often comes from a complex combination of imbalances.

Remember that we at this church are deeply connected to a phenomenon of human suffering in the world today – our symptoms manifest something deeper. As a global human community we have not acquired a holistic sense of connectedness, even though it exists, we live unaware of it. As we work to know ourselves better let’s focus on that which connects to us the larger human condition, to that place where the Spirit leads us, a place of wholeness and well-being. When we find the source that is causing all the other symptoms we can work to relieve the imbalance and restore order. The means to heal this imbalance, our own brokenness, comes when we focus on the woundedness of the world.