Friday, December 3, 2010

Advent 2 - December 4, 2010

John the Baptist reminds me of the old story about the puppy who's chasing a car. When the puppy finally catches up to the car and sinks his teeth into the bumper he suddenly realizes that he has no idea what to do with it! John is passionately chasing and foretelling the coming of the Messiah. He is about to realize the presence of our Lord and his life like everyone else will be forever changed. It's not Christmas yet but it is time for us begin chasing the Messiah. Advent provides us with a time to begin clearing out the clutter in our lives in order to create a place the messiah our Lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Proper 28 - November 14, 2010

I've been blogging with titles like Proper 22 or Proper 24 for several months now and it just occurred to me that many of you may not have any idea what that means or what it corresponds to! Forgive me for my oversight and for not properly explaining those titles! Simply stated those are the lectionary selections from Holy scripture prescribed for the coming Sunday. Henceforth in order to be user friendly and inviting I will simply title my post according to the coming Sunday. There, I feel better already!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Proper 20

God or Wealth? That seems to be the question we're being asked. When I was a kid I hated this lesson. It used to really tick me off that Jesus seems to be saying pick one and only one, God or wealth. Why can't we have both? If we have wealth why can't it be okay to do some good things with that wealth?

I suspect the real issue here is who are you going to worship, God or wealth? Back in the old days, when we used to actually go inside banks, I noticed stained glass in the windows at my bank. I also looked around and noticed high cathedral style ceilings. The bank building looked like a church and contained many of the same trappings you might find in a church. This bank looked like a modern place of worship. I believe Jesus is trying to say worship God not money and wealth.

That's the problem for many particularly in our world where we can have anything we want with one quick mouse click. Many worship their possessions and wealth rather than our Lord. It is so easy to place priority on obtaining things and protecting wealth rather than focus on a relationship with God. It is easy because our world bombards us with "things and stuff." We all want to the latest and the greatest things and the coolest stuff. We work hard for the money we have and want to spend it "our way."

Jesus is telling us that a relationship with God is worth more than all the wealth in the world. He is actually saying pick one, wealth or me. But, it is not so much a referrendum against wealth as much as a highlight of the importance of a life with God. When we place a life in relationship with God as our priority we are being led by the Kingdom and being taught to choose that relationship above and beyond all else.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Proper 19 - Pentecost 16

This is a rambling and thinkin' out loud kinda blog. In all my years I don't think I have ever approached this text from Luke, the parable of the lost sheep, from the perspective of the lost sheep. My tendency is to always view it as someone looking in on the scene or from the perspective of our benevolent Lord never giving up on us. Think for a minute about the Lost Sheep. How must they have felt or better yet think of a time you were physically lost ... it's scary!

Emotions run wild when your lost. At first you might be embarrassed about getting turned around or missing a turnoff. Then that embarrassment turns into some concern about hurriedly getting yourself out of the situation. You know the quick, quick look around see what looks familiar thing. Then fear begins to creep in ... "oh no, what if I end up in the wrong place. What if ..." The fear can turn to panic when you realize that no one knows to look for you. No one knows where you are nor has any reason to come looking in the place where you might be lost. That's the greatest fear that no one will come looking and that you only have yourself to rely upon.

When you know someone is gonna come looking you can get proactive. You can build a shelter or sit in a coffee shop or wait near a landmark because someone is coming. There is peace in know that someone is looking for you.

Never thought about this parable that way. Simply stated Jesus is always looking for us. We don't need to panic because he is always looking for us. When our daily grind seems like to much or when we feel lost and estranged from the conditions of life he is always looking and seeking to move us to a place of familiarity, comfort and peace.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Proper 18

This story/anecdote is kinda corny. I've used it in sermons and talks many times. I actually first saw it in a church bulletin probably 20 years ago. The story goes like this,
A man was walking on the beach saw that it was littered with thousands of starfish. A little boy was picking up the starfish one by one and throwing them into the ocean. He asked the boy, "What are you doing?" The boy replied, "I'm throwing starfish back into the water. If I leave them here they'll dry up and die." The man said, "But look how many starfish there are. What you're doing can't possibly make a difference." As the boy picked up another starfish and threw it into the ocean he said, "Well, it makes a difference to this one!"

See what I mean ... you've heard it before. The boy understands that he can't help every starfish on the beach but he also understands that he can make a difference to at least one. I believe God is using Luke's gospel to tell us to be sure that we know what we are capable of doing. He's saying something that we sometimes tell our children, "don't bite off more than you can chew."

After the preceding explanation you're probably saying, why does the the scripture have to be so disturbing and upsetting? I agree. None among us wants to hear that Jesus is calling us to hate our family members. I don't want to hear that and you don't want to hear that. Families and homes are supposed to be a place where we are nurtured, fed and loved ... not hated. Robert Frost once said, "home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."

It seems to me that God is calling us to carefully understand that complexities of our commitments to him. In Luke's gospel Jesus is saying, my ways might put you at odds with the ways of the world ... they might even put you at odds with your family! In the 1st century world Jesus was preaching to an audience that had gotten very comfortable with a socially accepted religious tradition. He is telling his listeners this is a new way of doing things. Know that your family and friends may no understand "my way" but stay the course and don't give up. Further, he counsels to understand that "you can't save everybody but your commitment can lead some not all to me."

Jesus is asking us to commit to him as he committed to us. The cross is representative of his extreme and awesome commitment. His resurrection is a commitment to walk us through all the highs and lows of our life and to be with us every step of the way.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Proper 17 - Pentecost 14

This one is all about Katrina. I know I'm a little more sensitive about the 5th anniversary of the most devastating storm in our country's history than many people. More sensitive because of my connection to the Coast and my move from the Coast a mere 8 weeks prior to Katrina making landfall on August 29, 2005. I loved living there and those years provide some really precious memories. It is where Kyle and I began our priesthoods. Both of my children were born on the Coast, Katie in Mobile, AL and Betsy in Slidell, LA. Central Mississippi is my home and I love it, but the Coast was my home and in many ways still feels like home.

The Coast has always been a real "earthy" place complete with all sorts and conditions of characters. Everywhere you turn there's somebody with a story. Maybe it's some old koot in Bay Saint Louis who went to school and played football with Doc Blanchard years and years ago. Maybe it's somebody who spent their whole life there and remembers vividly when gambling wasn't legal, (wink, wink) but"everybody knew where to go for a card game and to play the machines." It wasn't uncommon to run into a former Rex (New Orleans, Mardi Gras heavywieght) or the Queen of Commus' grandparents. There's something about the water and the way of life that makes people get there and never want to leave. I knew it was time for me to leave and that God wanted me to make the move but seeing the area devastated by Katrina was heartbreaking. In addition it was so painful to see the people I lived with and cared for lose so much and see their lives changed so dramatically. One picture burns in my mind of some dear friend who I would describe as refined and always well groomed. I saw them just days after the storm in downtown Bay Saint Louis. The refined well-kept appearances were replaced by a disheveled, unkempt look. Their appearance just accentuated and profiled the devastation that affected the area.

In the face of that devastation I witnessed some very unique attempts by everyone involved to care for each other. I watched neighbors who didn't know each other and who sat on different sides of the "socio-economic aisle" work together and take care of each other. At least in the beginning they shared everything. People opened their homes to others whether they knew them or not. If someone had 12 gallons of water they gave 6 to their neighbor. After the National Guard arrived they shared MRE's and even talked openly about which ones they like best! I ran into a former parishioner (age 81) and asked him how he was getting along, he replied that the "boys next door are taking good care of me I am so lucky" The boys next door where a gay couple that prior to this time he didn't approve of.

Katrina brought out the worst in some people. But it also brought out the best in others opening their minds and hearts along the way. I believe that Jesus is bidding us to open our minds and hearts. He is asking us to not wait for catastrophe when we reach and look outside of our normal comfort zone. He is asking us to do all those things now not because it will earn us a spot on the citizens council or because it will earn us points or a place in heaven but because people need him and he operates through us.

When people work together and open their hearts the Holy Spirit operates in some amazing ways. I read a book called "Under Surge, Under Seige" by Ellis Anderson. It's an outstanding story about Katrina and Bay Saint Louis. In it the author talks about how a family from up the street and around the corner found their way to her house by holding on to a boat in order to keep from drowning. The amazing thing about that boat was that it was chained to trailer in the families front yard. It had been chained to that trailer since the womans son and granddaughter were killed in car accident 10 year earlier. The old woman is convinced that her boy and God made sure that boat came unchained and floated towards his Momma.

God can make amazing things happen when we work together in the spirit of cooperation, peace and love. It's been 5 years since Katrina and it is far from the place I left 5 years and 2 months ago. Even though there's been another setback it is still rebuilding and being reborn. It's hard, slow and frustrating but it is happening. Christianity promises us new beginnings and hope that's comes with our baptism. We have to hold on to that hope and believe in that promise even in the face of catastrophe and chaos. When we find it hard to believe and difficult to understand we need to look to our brothers and sisters to prop us up and hold us. That is how Christianity works. It works when stop doing things for gain but instead for others.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Proper 16 - Pentecost 13

It's really easy to think that we have nothing to share or no special gifts to add to God's Kingdom. After all one might be scared to death of speaking in public therefore a ministry reading lessons or preaching the gospel seems out of the question. Likewise one may not have the gift or ability to read music and offer "a joyful noise" unto the Lord. And perhaps we don't have the gift or patience for administration therefore ruling out any way of offering to God our time and talent. There's some obvious ministries in the church and sometimes it hard to see where we might fit in or what we have to offer.

I like what God says to Jeremiah in response to "Ah, Lord God! Truly, I don't know how to speak, for I am only a boy." God hears what he has to say and basically says that's no excuse! The scripture actually says that God reaches out touches his mouth and says "There I have put my words in your mouth." That should give all of us pause because God doesn't let anybody wiggle off the hook. No excuses! Step up ... get it done.

That's right no excuses and really no days off either. In fact Jesus follows God's admonition by healing in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Again there is ministry to be done and God's healing love to be shared. Don't worry about the words or the calendar ... step up ... get it done. And Jesus does just that. In fact he gives healing and new life to a woman who's been crippled for 18 years. This healing makes the synagogue officials angry because he is "working" on the sabbath day. Jesus corrects this real fast by reminding everyone within earshot that we all work for other basic things so why should we take time off from doing God's work. In short someone is suffering step up ... get it done.

Two major things hit me with this, 1) we have no excuses. We all have something to share and offer to our Lord and his world and you don't believe that stick around God will touch you and show you. 2) We don't get time off from being Christian. We do it all day long and everyday. The point is that ministry and mission is practiced at all times not just for an hour on Sunday or when we feel like we have the time. We come to God's altar on Sunday mornings for refreshment and refueling. The cross leads us out of church to do God's work at all times.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Proper 15 - Season after Pentecost - RCL

This Isaiah passage is sometimes called the "Song of the Vineyard." It's not hard to see why given the description of a vineyard being carefully prepared and planted. Although like us "non-Felder Rushing" types it yielded a less than satisfactory crop. In fact the crop was overgrown by wild grapes. I take this to mean that weeds and uninvited growth took over the vineyard.

I hate it when weeds take over. It feels like all my hard work has been covered or consumed by some insidious force that I cannot control. It seems that the only solution or fix is more back breaking hard work ... in fact ... pulling all the weeds one by one. Or, using chemicals thereby adding something unnatural to the garden.

Of course, another option is starting over. That's right plowing it under and raking up everything else and starting over. This includes letting the pile of debris decompose and create fresh, fertile compost. This option allows for replanting the next year with all the rich soil heavy and thick with last years leaves, weeds and lessons. Probably the most important lesson to be learned is that vineyards and gardens need tending. Regular tending and attention.

I'm not saying that God wasn't tending to us (Israel) on a regular basis. I'm saying that humankind needed something more ... we needed a savior. A savior to teach us how to tend to the everyday needs of God's garden. Jesus calls us to step into the garden or vineyard and get to work. He calls all of us to little by little tend to the needs of his people. The really hard part is that he doesn't allow us any excuse like waiting for the right time. Or, waiting till you are totally ready. He want us to get to work now and to daily see to the needs and upkeep of his garden.

Why does the passage from Luke sound so dire and apocalyptic? Simple Jesus is reminding us that our spiritual life can't wait. He is reminding us that the end is always near and we must be ready.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Blah, blah, blog

Seems like a fine time for me to join the 21st century and to begin blogging on various issues and things going on in the life of our church. Look for this page to be some musings and ramblings related to the lectionary for the week.