Thursday, December 24, 2009
Gospel of Luke 2:1-20
December 24, 2009 At Christ Church Cathedral, Houston, Texas
Scripture from Luke 2:1-20: In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 1This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Prayer: Place on my lips the word of salvation, in my heart a love that welcomes all, and in the depths of my being, the light of faith and hope, which the darkness can never overcome. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It is a miracle you and I are here reading this blog.
According to biologists, and reported by the author Bill Bryson in his book A Short History of Nearly Everything, it is a miracle you and I are here at all. It is possible that if your two parents had not bonded just when they did, possibly at that very second, possibly to the nanosecond – you wouldn’t be here. And if their parents had not done so in the same timely manner you wouldn’t be here either. Likewise this is true for their parents, and their parents before them, and so on and so on.
These ancestral particularities add up. Trace your lineage to the time of Abraham Lincoln and you have 250 of these unique and time sensitive parings. Go back to the time of Shakespeare and you have no less than 16,384 ancestors exchanging genetic material in a way that would eventually and miraculously result in you.
At 20 generations each of you has 1 million, 48 thousand, and 576 unique parings. At 25 generations you and I have no fewer than 33 million 554 thousand 432 men and women upon whose “devoted couplings our existence depends.”
At 30 generations (remember these are moms and dads only) you are at 1 billion, 73 million, 741 thousand, and 824.
At 64 generations, roughly the time of Jesus, our eventual existence depends upon no less than 10 to the 18th or 1 quintillion. If you trace this back to the time of King David you can more than double the number of unique, timely, miraculous couplings that have taken place to make you and I – quite particularly – us.
Surely by now you have figured out that surely something has gone wrong with my math. As a graduate with a degree in Studio Arts, this would be a good guess. Remember though this is Bryson’s math, based upon biological research. And you would be partly correct if you were led to this decision by the realization that there haven’t even been that many people in existence on the earth. However, the biology and math are pretty accurate. What we see in this example is that, while unique and dependant upon precise time and exact exchanges of DNA – we are also all, quite literally – family.
And so it is tonight that we gather as family to celebrate what is a very unique birth, the birth of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, to Mary and Joseph.
In our Gospel Luke is eager to provide the story of that unique and particular birth, in an orderly account not shy of giving names, dates, and places of our Savior’s birth.
Jesus as our Messiah and Savior is born into a royal but all too impoverished family of the House of David -- to Mary and Joseph.
Arriving in Bethlehem, the site from which the Messiah is to be born, Mary gives birth to Jesus. We are told she gives birth in the middle of an outdoor or open air place where travelers gather and animals are fed.
At the end of his life, Jesus will be wrapped in linen, tonight he is swaddled in bands of cloth.
He will have no place to be laid to rest; tonight there is no room in the inn.
He will be laid in a tomb, tonight he is laid, the bread of life, in a manger where animals feed.
His parents are literally homeless, and for family are surrounded by shepherds – the first ones to hear God’s Good news. The lowliest laborers come to the poorest of places, to worship and impoverished king.
To those whom no good news is ever given, receive the very first tidings by God’s angel, accompanied no less by a legion of angels singing: Glory to God.
The shepherds received a prophecy telling them how, where, and in what state they will find their Savior, their Davidic King, their brother, their hope and their life.
So it is that they are the first in our human family, unique in and of themselves, to come and worship Jesus, telling Mary all that had happened and why they were there, which she had wondered about…
The shepherds as a response to the unique birth, the glad tidings, the comfort and fellowship of the Holy family leave glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen and had been told to them.
Children are always gifts to us, and Jesus Christ is a true, special, and unique gift to the human family, and to our spiritual family.
We, you and I. are like the shepherds in this story; perhaps not in the outdoor agricultural kind of way – but in the fact that we are hopeful members of Christ’s family. Uniquely us and particularly us, we are given the opportunity to make a worshipful response to Christ’s birth tonight, again for the first time, but we are also given the opportunity to leave this place glorifying and praising God.
We are given the opportunity to place the words of salvation on our lips for others to hear.
We are given the opportunity to feel in our hearts the love of Jesus Christ that welcomes all people.
We are given the opportunity to embrace a light that enlightens our souls with faith and hope – which darkness may not overcome.
So it is that we wish one another Merry Christmas tonight – out of hope, love, faith, and the promise of peace which comes from unity. Tonight no one is a stranger, all are brother, sister, mother, and father. Tonight we walk into the darkness together lighting the world with the light of a newborn child – Jesus Christ: Mary’s Son of God, the shepherd’s Savior, the angel’s Messiah, and our impoverished and humble King.
I wish you all a Merry Christmas. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Monday, December 21, 2009
Every Christmas season is a wondrous time. It is with wonder that we, as Christians, look back to see and remember a homeless family who searched for shelter, for a place to rest. We wonder of the prophets' visions of God with us, and the reality of his manger throne. We wonder at the meaning of a king whose power becomes evident in the powerless form of an infant swaddled in a manger. We wonder about the love and joy of a mother and father who looked at their child Jesus and beheld the creator of the cosmos--not unlike the wonder you and I might feel when we hold a baby and feel a sense of awe at the miracle of birth. We wonder at the love between God and his creation.
Christmas is a time to wonder about the light that rests in the hearts of every Christian making their journey along life's road. I wonder how the light of Christ, the coming of the Christ Child to a family so many years ago, changes and transforms how we are family, one to another, today. How do we offer that light to others? How might we live our lives so that when people meet us and know us and work with us... they see that light in our eyes and in our hearts? How does this light shine through actions we take to make the world a different and better place?
I have a feeling that my wondering will lead me to the sure and certain knowledge that being a Christian in this world is helping to find homes for the homeless, power for the powerless, food for the hungry, hope for the hopeless, and joy for the joyless.
So I pray, may our Christmas be wondrous. And may we in our wondering find the infant Christ, and may he give us the heart and voice of prophets, the awe and wisdom of a sage, the joy of Bethlehem shepherds, and the humility and love of the holy family so much so that our wondering changes the lives of those around us throughout the year.
The Rt. Rev. C. Andrew Doyle
IX Bishop of Texas
Friday, December 18, 2009
If you are interested in following the notes on the scripture through the Christmas Holidays go to http://www.texasbishop.blogspot.com/
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This week is the fourth Sunday in Advent and you can connect with the Textweek resources here: http://www.textweek.com/mtlk/lk1b.htm. The passage can be found electronically at Oremus here: http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Luke+1:39-56&vnum=yes&version=nrsv
Thoughts on Scripture
In this, the fourth Sunday of Advent, our Gospel lesson (Luke 1:39-56) offers us the story of Mary's visit to Elizabeth and Zechariah's home. We cannot read this lesson without reflecting on the passage before--wherein Gabriel visited and announced the coming of the "Son of God"--and that this child is to be born in the lineage of the great Hebrew King, David. We learned that this new royal son is to bring into creation a new reign, an eternal reign of God.
Our doubts rise at the miraculous news, just as Mary's must have, wondering and pondering the meaning of this message. The angel puts her heart and mind at rest, reminding her that this is the God of the Hebrews who had done miraculous things, things that cannot be believed, things that are told from parent to child. This is the God who sent Abraham wandering. This is the God who gave Sarah a child in her old age. This is the God who brought Joseph into Egypt and protected him there. This is the God who frees them from slavery and provides for them in the desert. This is the God who returned his people to their land and built up a great city and temple, Jerusalem. This is the God of both the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel. This is the God who loves his people. He is inaugurating a new heavenly reign in which all the world will be invited to participate and to dwell within.
You may have doubts but our ancestral faith story tells us that nothing is impossible with this God. We might remember these words from Genesis 18:14: “Is anything too wonderful for the LORD? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son."
Chris Haslam writes: For redemption through God’s might in the Old Testament, see Exodus 6:6 (delivery from slavery in Egypt); Deuteronomy 4:34 (“by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by terrifying displays of power, as the LORD your God did for you in Egypt”); Jeremiah 27:5 (“It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth”); Isaiah 40:10; 51:9. (find more comments like this one from Haslam at: http://montreal.anglican.org/comments/archive/cadv4l.shtml)
For Luke, the author of these passages, Gabriel's news is the inauguration of the final stage in salvation history. So then, we see these very first words of Luke's Gospel--his good news to his readers--is that their salvation is deeply rooted in the story of their ancient faith ancestors.
This is true for us just as it was for the first readers of the Gospel of Luke. Do we in this moment begin to meet and know Jesus again for the first time, renewing in this, the fourth Sunday of Advent, our relationship with Jesus -- bringing our final act of preparation for Christ's birth on Christmas to a close and opening for us a way to enter into God's eternal reign?
If this happened to me, I would rush to my closest relative's side -- and that is what Mary does -- bringing us to the Gospel for the fourth Sunday in Advent. When she arrives and tells Elizabeth, the child in her womb leaps. This reminds us of the ancient story of the leaping children in Rebecca's womb, brothers Esau and Jacob. Perhaps this is even a foretelling of their relationship and the shifting of power from prophet to savior?
Elizabeth's response is faithful as she wonders how she might be so blessed as to receive the visitation of Mary. And Mary is portrayed as a model believer, having faith and hope in God's promises to her. This is the meaning of "blessed" in Luke's Gospel, that she is portrayed as a faithful follower of God. Sometimes we believe the word blessed in the scriptures refers to God's blessings, here and throughout Luke, blessed refers to the idea that the person who receives the blessing is a good steward, faithful follower and believer. It is in their actions, not God's, that show forth and invite the acclamation from those who witness their faith that they are blessed.
I wonder what it would be like to go through the rest of the days between now and Christmas and, where we witness faithful people following Jesus and helping and aiding the less fortunate, doing kind work on behalf of others, working to heal those who are infirmed … what if we mentally and prayerfully marked them as blessed people in our lives? What if we actually verbalized, as does Elizabeth in our Gospel, their giftedness and told them they were blessed?
It is in this moment that Mary offers the words of the Magnificat. I imagine Mary reflecting on the story of her people and the immense sense of collision with her life this news from Gabriel, the leaping of the child in Elizabeth's womb, and the words Elizabeth offer. I cannot describe the potential of this moment. But Mary does describe it and speaks out proclaiming God's greatness and her willingness to serve the Lord and be obedient in all things. She will be a steward and disciple because of all that God has provided for her. In remembering her people's story she proclaims and glorifies God because God is compassionate. Mary knows and calls out that this God keeps his promises and is faithful to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses, and all the patriarchs and matriarchs.
Mary is rehearsing Hannah's prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. We see that the past work of God is begun anew in the conception of Jesus. Mighty work is done from the lowliest of people. God is continuing salvation history and fulfilling his promises made to Abraham. But the message of Jesus is a reconstituted reign and a diversified Israel where by all those who have called their father Abraham (remember John the Baptist's words from last week) are joined by all those whose baptism with the Holy Spirit by Jesus may now find their home in Jerusalem. This is not simply an ethnic heritage, but one open to the adoption of God's children not in the fold of Abraham's family.
As we meditate upon the meaning of the words of Luke's Gospel it would be too easy to see this as a past event. Yet this is our story. It is certainly my story. From my parents and faith family I inherit the story of Jesus and the ever widening circles of his reign and his grace-filled embrace. Like Elizabeth I have the opportunity to bear witness to visions of blessed people who faithfully follow Jesus and aid those who are without, in accordance with John the Baptist's proclamation.
I also have the opportunity to thank God in this the fourth Sunday of Advent for my inheritance and the gift given to me in Jesus. Still more opportunity lies before me though, recognizing that my heart leaps at the news of my relationship with the about-to-be-born Jesus. But I also have work to do. So may my words and your words be as Mary's … “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Friday, December 11, 2009
7John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” 10And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”
15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
To connect to text week's resources for all the readings follow this link: http://www.textweek.com/yearc/adventc3.htm; to look at resources for the Gospel reading follow this link: http://www.textweek.com/mtlk/lk3b.htm
The passage can be found here at Oremus: http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Luke+3:7-18&vnum=yes&version=nrsv
We continue this week the story of John the Baptist's proclamation of baptism. We remember the uniqueness of this baptism as a metanoia or turning that is essential bedrock within the catholic tradition of our church. While there were many prophets in that time and scholars recognize that baptism was not unusual, we see in the Gospel a self differentiation for the follower of Jesus in the lukan community that sees baptism as a primary way a Christian marks their choice to follow Jesus. We can easily imagine in this unique combination of accepting an ordered life in the manner of Jesus and the water of baptism as a cleansing ritual the growth of our understanding that sins are forgiven and life is forever changed in baptism.
John the Baptizer is not offering us an opportunity to adopt his way of life where home is the desert, clothes are skins, foods are grasshoppers and wild honey, there are no alcoholic beverages and prayer and fasting mark the hours of the day. John is offering us in his proclamation and act of baptism an opportunity to turn away from our previous life to a life lived in the power of the Holy Spirit.
It is very possible that some of these words, which make up the synoptic tradition, are deeply rooted in the earliest Christian documents of sayings and traditions. Sometimes these documents are called Q.
We know in the Gospel of Luke that the Pharisees and high priests will reject John's baptisms (7.30 and 20.5). Nevertheless, crowds of people looking for a savior come out to the Jordan to hear the message and receive the baptism, to take a sacramental journey into the wild places and wash as a pilgrimage towards ever new and transformed life.
They are met there by the wild John the Baptist calling them vipers! Jesus also will call those who live questionable lives with alternative and destructive intentions vipers (23.33). The people who come to John are recognized by him as people who are in need of change. They are in fact creatures of the desert place and the washing may prepare them for the coming kingdom, and deliverance from the wildness of this world into the grace of the coming reign of Christ.
We might well remember Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians 1:10 where Paul says, "you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming”.
In verse 8 we see the word “repentance," metanoia. The word in Greek literally means returning, or coming back to the way of life charted by the covenant between God and Israel. See also Exodus 19:3-6 (where God commands Moses to tell the Israelites “if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation”); 24:3-8; Jeremiah 31:31-34 (“The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. ... I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts ... they shall all know me ... I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more”).
John the baptizer is demanding right living based on a sincere search for God’s will (Matthew 7:15-20; Galatians 5:22-23) and suited to the promise of repentance. We see this ancient covenant connection and the life of our faith ancestors throughout Luke's Gospel and Jesus teaching as we are reminded of “Abraham our ancestor”. See also Luke: 1:54-55, 72-73; 3:34; 13:16, 28-29; 19:9; 20:37; Acts 3:13, 25; 7:17, 32; 13:26; 26:6; 28:20; John 8:33, 39; Romans 2:28, 29. We are then named a desert people who have found our life and our faith in the bosom of God and deep within the well of his heart. For those who choose to live a life oriented on the Christ and his reign we see the promise and potential of a life lived not in scarcity but the bounty of grace which promised manna from heaven, that the lilies be clothed, that the poor would have good things and the hungry fed.
Verses 10 - 14 are unique to Luke's Gospel. Here we see the Gospel's proclamation that right living has to do with sharing what we are given, and that it is characterized by a special concern, sensitivity and action on behalf of the poor. Jesus in Luke's Gospel will speak clearly about stewardship of possessions and so central was this to Jesus' teachings that we see it mirrored throughout the Acts, see Acts 2:44-45 and 4:32-35.
We get a sense of the rich and the poor being unified in this proclamation of change and baptism, and in their ministry one to another. We cannot read verse 12ff without remembering here we are to hear of the story in Luke's Gospel of Zacchaeus the tax collector who gives half of his possessions to the poor.
So powerful was John's message and such a figure of hope and transformation was he that others believed he was the messiah. So it is the last verses of this passage that we see him continue to refocus our attention, beginning in verse 15, on the coming of Christ who ultimately will provide the Holy Spirit to the baptism of water. How often do we move into positions of power or authority or ministry and the glory which rightly belongs to Christ comes to us? In this advent season we are challenged to remember the humility of the Christ family as described in the Gospels and be challenged to do as John the baptizer does and point forward to the Christ who is truly working in us and our life together greater things than we can ask for or imagine.
As I think about these verses and the opportunity to preach this weekend, I am wondering how the season of Advent can serve to reorient our lives to our baptismal promises? How can our time, in the midst of preparations for Christmas celebrations, help us to see that we are to change, take a step back into the life of Christ? That we are called and challenged to live a particular life of continuous returning to the desert and waters of baptism for refreshment in a life's long journey. When we come to this place of Advent, we are to realize our place within the faith family of Abraham and seek not only to be reconciled with our Jesus but also to be reconciled with the right living which is to give to the poor, and to aid those who go without.
I recently read this Christmas rant: http://expatminister.org/2009/12/04/something-i-have-to-get-off-my-chest/. What was particularly stunning were these figures. Americans will spend some $450 billion to celebrate Christmas. In comparison, it would only take $10 billion to ensure clean water for every human being in the world, and $13 billion to keep folks from going hungry. Certainly these are numbers to make one pause in the face of Zaccheaus who gives away half of what he possesses to the poor. What if we lived out the change and right living John the Baptist offers us not only at Christmas but throughout the year?
Thursday, December 10, 2009
The Diocese of Los Angeles and the Rev. Canon Mary D. Glasspool, elected on December 5, must now follow a consent process. The implications of this vote are far reaching and it remains to be seen if more than half of TEC’s 109 diocesan standing committees and more than half of the diocesan bishops will approve her election. It may take up to four months for the consent process to unfold.
The Windsor Report, written following the election and consecration of the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, NH in 2003, requested a moratorium on the consecration of gay bishops and in 2006, The Episcopal Church agreed to refrain from electing additional actively gay bishops. This summer, the Church’s General Convention acknowledged there is great diversity of opinion within the Church on the issue of sexuality, marriage and ordination.
The Diocese of Texas is a diverse diocese and opinions among our clergy and our laity vary on the issue of sexuality. We have many gay and lesbian members across the diocese and week after week they join with the rest of our Church as faithful communicants to worship and work on behalf of Jesus Christ. We acknowledge the blessing of diverse opinions on scripture and sexuality, while as a whole the Diocese of Texas has continued and continues to offer a clear response to the wider Communion through a traditional teaching on marriage and ordination.
Even so, the Diocese of Texas has always supported both the Windsor Report and the Covenant Process which seeks to realize a Communion where everyone across the globe has a voice in the common life of the Church. We cannot isolate ourselves by listening only to the voices of any one province, or even the voices of any one diocese within our province. In the Diocese of Texas we are interested in our relationships locally and abroad, believing we are stronger when we listen to and partner with diverse cultures around the world.
As bishop of the Diocese of Texas I will continue to honor the request of my brother and sister bishops across our province and the Communion, and the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and will not consent to the Rev. Glasspool’s election.
While I will not vote to consent to this election, I am unified with others throughout the Anglican Communion around the issues of safeguarding human rights everywhere. We reject the pending Ugandan legislation that would introduce the death penalty for people who violate portions of that country's anti-homosexuality laws. I believe that “efforts to criminalize homosexual behavior are incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (General Convention 2006, Resolution D005). This has been the position of Anglican bodies, including several Lambeth Conferences. The Primates’ Meeting noted that, as Anglicans, “we assure homosexual people that they are children of God, loved and valued by him, and deserving of the best we can give of pastoral care and friendship” (Primates’ Communiqué, Dromantine, 2005). Recently, our Presiding Bishop has spoken out and our Archbishop has been meeting intensively with the leaders of Uganda to ensure the dignity of every human being is honored as a creature of God.
Friday, December 4, 2009
The opening words of our Gospel for Sunday give us on the one hand the authority of this world (vs 1: "Fifteenth year of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius") and on the other hand a new authority (vs 2: "the word of God came"). This new authority is one inaugurated in very real time and is measured by grace and not power. It is a time of renewed salvation history deeply linked to the past and intimately connected with readers, and our own, present.
Who cannot relate to the feeling of "wilderness." While we might know of John's possible connection to Qumran and other wilderness communities it is not this that connects us but rather the feeling of being followers of Jesus in a strange land with competing stories about the nature and values of culture. We relate to the ancient Hebrews in Israel, we relate to the occupied Israelites of Jesus' own time. We relate because we too struggle with a captivity which is hallmarked by consumerism and debt and recession; not to mention the stress and strains of family and relationships. The world is a wild place and we find our home in it as foreigners in a strange land, longing for the Kingdom of God present, and not yet fully realized. We long in that wilderness to hear the voice crying out.
We as Christians understand John the Baptist as the agent to fulfill the ancient prophesies: Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1; 4:5 (“Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes”).
Baptism we are shown in Luke's Gospel is at once seen as the ancient and present way of deliverance and entrance into the kingdom of grace with a prophet king named Jesus. To the Jews of the time and to Luke's reader John is proclaiming and acting out a preparation for the coming of Jesus. It s a proclamation being made to the whole world a proclamation we know as the Gospel.
I will be thinking this week of how the time and the season of Advent offer us a time to connect with the real world wilderness of the people in and outside of our congregations. How do we as people already baptized, already living within a kingdom without walls, take a Gospel of grace into the world around us, proclaiming Jesus and proclaiming the opportunity of hope and joy and transformation that awaits those who choose to follow him and work under his Lordship? What are the real world differences we as Christians can make?
Last night a friend reminded me of Jackson Browne's song Rebel Jesus. Find it on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxDwy8JkFFI&feature=fvw That has me thinking of the challenge we face. It has me thinking of how the mission field can really challenge us to be better at our work as a church.
As Mary pondered these things, the season of Advent is a season of pondering. So, I am pondering and hope you will join me in that corporate work of prayer, discernment, preparation, and pondering.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
"By celebrating through the structure of the Church we actually are given the forms we need to become whole and we are given the formulas to make whole every human experience…Advent begins the Church year. And the first mystery we are asked to engage in is waiting. The Church cycle flows into the natural rhythm of the season and we enter the dormant, waiting time of winter. Nature seems asleep. The season is dark, and all that is becoming is hidden from our sight. The ancient combination of natural phenomenon with religious symbolism is still operational in our feast of Christmas. Nature and mystery join and invite us to recognize our hopeful longing for the return of the sun and the birth of the word made flesh."
Gerturd Mueller Nelson from To Dance With God
Advent is about a deep waiting on the mystery of the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
When I was little my grandmother, "Honey," told me stories about growing up. Today I tell those stories to my children. One of the stories she told me was about how her parents made her wait for Christmas. Her family's tradition was to go to services on Christmas eve, then get her to sleep, decorate, so that she awoke on Christmas day to a transformed home. As a little boy I could not imagine the excruciating pain of waiting for Christmas. My parents did not put up the tree until after the last Sunday in Advent. And I remember the long wait to see the greening of the church. We lit Advent candles in my home and we said special advent prayers together at dinner.
There are many pressures on us that cause us to secularize our lives. Empty nesters no longer have children of fight over blowing out the candles and soon the advent season is missed all together. Widows and widowers in patterns of regularity feel awkward about saying prayers or lighting an advent wreath alone. Schedules for families with children in sports and activities, complicated by homework, and subtly worn away by the fact that Christmas decorations were up before Halloween mix together to create a sense that we must hurry to Christmas, no stopping or waiting allowed. To be sure the world naturally pulls at us, and pulls us away from traditions.
Yet how much comfort might a quiet house discover in the warmth of candles lit between two people? What light and joy can be brought to prayers offered before a meal alone, with the opportunity to discover in the quiet waiting that God is present? If after school busy-ness gave way to a meal with children taking turn reading and praying and lighting candles, what better way to center a family who is seeking centering in God?
I encourage you to join me and my family this Advent in a holy and deep waiting. Let us each night do what Episcopalians and Anglicans all over the world are doing, waiting, pondering, wondering. Gather with family, with friends, alone, or with strangers in ways that offer the discovery and embrace of our Lord's mysterious birth.
For it is in our waiting, together, that we discover that Jesus is born for us. It is also in the waiting that we discover we are born for one another and as a gift for one another.
Read Advent Story: Laura Jean Hopes For Christmas here:
Lists of everything Advent:
Advent wreath making
Advent Calendar making
Online Advent Blogs - Promising
Advent And Christmas Wisdom From Henri J.m. Nouwen: Daily Scripture And Prayers Together With Nouwen's Own Words (Paperback)
Watch For The Light: Readings For Advent And Christmas (Paperback)
Friday, November 6, 2009
Janet Gilmore commented on your status: "my prayers are with the survivors, those that will pray with them, and those who have lost men and women who have served in the military and how this will resurrect old grief. may God's healing and abundant presence give moments of peace to bodies, minds and spirits."
Kendall Wallin commented on your status: "Prayers for all victims, family, friends, and surrounding communities. Was hoping to see any expression of compassion from official Episcopal Church FB page by now, though. Maybe, Bishop Andy, you could pass that on."
James Tengatenga commented on your status:
"Amen and amen to all the prayers and support for all at Ft Hood. I add my prayers to all of you who have to minister to them."
Martha Frances commented on your status:
"Been praying for them ever since I heard the first news report."
Ann Marie Holliday commented on your status:
"I am a former member of St. Christopher's and send my prayers to Father Paul and his congregation as well as the many friends I have in Killeen and at Ft. Hood. Please let them know we love them!"
Jerry Lyle commented on your status:
"With Veteran's Day coming shortly, this tragedy will have a new meaning."
Jane posted something on your Wall and wrote:
"To our friends at St. Christopher's - you can not imagine how many people are sending love and prayers your way. May you feel the spirit as you minister to those in need and work through this horrific experience. Jane Mumey (St. Francis, Houston)"
Nancy Denmark commented on your status:
"loving and praying them through it"
Good Shepherd commented on your status:
"We're sending our prayers and love from Good Shepherd, Friendswood."
Jeff posted something on your Wall and wrote:
"Rich & Paul - amazing that we were together at Clericus in Cop Cove, just a few miles away from Ft. Hood, while the tragedy was unfolding. Peace & prayers. Jeff"
Fr. Reid: Give rest, O Christ, to your servants with your saints,
where sorrow and pain are no more,
neither sighing, but life everlasting.
Tamara Clothier commented on your status:
Add to the prayers by adding a comment:
6:30 p.m. Parish Meeting, St. James’, Austin
3 11:30 a.m. Eucharist and Lunch with East & West Harris Convocation Priests
4 4:00 p.m. Open House and Dedication, Austin Diocesan Center
6 11:00 a.m. Trinity, the Woodlands, CF
8-9 Executive Board, Camp Allen
9 7:00 p.m. Holy Apostles, Katy, CF
11 6:00 p.m. Clergy Christmas Party, Houston
12 2:00 p.m. St. Martin’s, Houston, CF
13 8:30 a.m. Christ Church, Temple, CF
18 10:00 a.m. Church Corporation, Diocesan Center
6:00 p.m. Diocesan Staff Christmas Party, Houston
20 10:30 a.m. St. James, La Grange, CF
24 11:00 p.m. Christ Church Cathedral, Houston
26 10:30 a.m. Boxing Day Celebration for Lord of the Streets, Houston
Saturday, October 31, 2009
We are underway for year C! I have begun the construction of the new Hitchhiker's Guide To Luke site, with lots of information and links to help "read, mark, and inwardly digest" the Gospel of Luke. Click on the link to be redirected to the new site.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
We are blessed with some of the finest clergy in The Episcopal Church today and we hope this conference nourishes and refreshes them. Here are a few pictures from Tuesday.
Friday, October 16, 2009
It is with great sadness that I write to tell you that Debbie Hillick, who worked in the diocesan database services as a continuing education associate, died unexpectedly this morning just after arriving at work. Debbie worked with many people throughout the diocese while she maintained the more than 30,000 names on our Texas Episcopalian mailing list, helped those who needed to obtain lay licenses, coordinated background checks for laity and kept up with continuing education hours for our clergy. Debbie was a steady person in every storm and managed all her multiple duties with grace, kindness and dedication.
Debbie prayed before coming into the office every day. She enjoyed singing hymns to the Lord. She loved Jesus and she loved us. She was a light, and we love her. I was blessed to be invited to be with the family this morning at the hospital, to witness their love and friendship and care for each other and for Debbie. I believe they would each tell you that she inspired this love within the family. Debbie's death affects both Christ Church Cathedral and St. Mark's, Houston as her brother in law (John) and sister (Laura) work in these congregations.
I ask your prayers for Debbie and her family as well as the Diocesan Staff who all miss her already. She leaves behind two married sons, one daughter and two grandchildren. They are a great family. Debbie was a good and kind person. We give thanks to God for her life and her work in our community.
Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Debbie. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive her into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.
May her soul and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
All our mission work and our ministries are expressions of the life of prayer that we lead. The work that originates in prayer is work that makes Christ real in the world around us. Mission and service bring the community of the Trinity into the real world. The same God that propels Jesus Christ into the world in order to draw people to the Father, through prayer, sends and commissions us on the same errand. We are to bring people into a closer union with God. We do that work by responding to people who wish to learn how to pray with companionship that helps them find their way along the journey of conversion. We must teach others to pray.
Our prayer leads us to help people find and discover their own vocations. We use our work of prayer to do the work of discernment with others. We are guides along the way listening with people as they seek to discern their own unique calling into ministry. Our prayers for the poor, widowed, sick, homeless in Christ bridges the chasm between us and sends us out, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to work for healing and reconciliation, forgiveness and restoration.
Our prayers lead us to be the voices of those who have no voices. Our prayers bring the work of companionship with the oppressed and the deprived into a stark reality. And the Holy Spirit sends us out to be the very real human resources who offer dignity and love to those people who believe they are lost and without God's love. Furthermore, prayer will lead us to stand up and act on behalf of those who are abused.
If we are to follow Jesus we are to work at prayer. If we are to follow Jesus prayer will originate our work. In one we come to know our place within the community of God, by the other God's community roots itself on earth.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Jesus Christ is our great High Priest. Jesus Christ makes the great and eternal intercession for our lives and our world. Christ makes his prayer of intercession to the merciful Father "through the prayer of all the faithful who are baptized into his body. His voice does not appeal to God separately from theirs." Father Benson, the first brother in the Society of St. John the Evangelist wrote the following. "They are…so many mouths to Himself; and as they pray…His voice fills their utterance with the authority and claim belonging to Himself."
When we pray, God hears the voice of his Son in our prayers and accepts them as Christ's own. We reflect to God the beauty of his Son's sacrificial offering, we reflect the glorious resurrection that offers transformation. When we pray we bring those for whom we pray into the loving arms of the merciful Father. When Christians pray the merciful Father hears the beautiful words of Jesus Christ whispered into his heart. When those who are not Christians pray, God hears them too. God hears them and he hears Jesus whispering into his heart those words, those ancient words, those yearning words of Jesus, "How long have I wished to gather you in my arms, as a hen gathers her young."
It is God's Holy Spirit that invites us to join Christ in the "offering our love in intercessory prayer and action, to be used by God for healing and transformation." God delights in the work of prayer. God makes us partners in the restoration of the world. We are "fellow-workers" with Christ. It is through our intercession that we bring all things and all people to Christ.
The work of intercessory prayer is an ancient tradition for those who followed Christ. We may read in diaries, fragments, and ancient stories how important the work of prayer was for those first Christians. Perpetua prays for her fellow martyrs, her family, her persecutors. In praying Perpetua declares her Christian faith.
Perhaps since the very apostles prayed at the foot of the cross of Christ, Christians have been called to the edge of culture so as to be poised to hear, with ears open, the "deepest cries of humanity" (SSJE, Rule 24). Again, I quote Father Benson: "In praying for others we learn really and truly to love them. As we approach God on their behalf we carry the thought of them into the very being of eternal love and as we go to him who is eternal love, so we learn to love whatever we take with us there" (SSJE, Rule 25)
We discover in our intercessions a deep and abiding kinship. I pray for my family, my friends, my coworkers, my clergy, parishioners. People give me their names and their causes because they know I pray for them. I pray for them by name and I imagine their faces. I believe God is at work in these prayers, and that my voice is part of Christ's voice raising each person to God, my father, who is in heaven. As we live in the divine community, dwelling with Christ, we discover that God welcomes all our work, our struggles, our afflictions, and our daily lives to bless and uphold the world (SSJE, Rule 25).
Monday, October 12, 2009
Let us do some theology, some deep thinking now, regarding prayer. And, let us begin with a short reflection upon the nature of God and the mystery of prayer in community. God is united in an infinite exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is the very simplest way of understanding the divine union we call the Trinity. So prayer is not, in its very nature, simply a conversation with God. When we pray we participate in the divine life of love, the divine community.
As God's creatures we become entangled in the embrace of God. Through prayer we are lifted first into the community of God. And, it is in this embrace that the idea of praying or worshiping a foreign or "distant" God begins to disappear. We realize the grace of being created in such a manner as to participate in the divine union of God and it is from this realization of grace that we then truly offer our own adoration and thanksgiving.
We are able to give thanks and worship the Holy Spirit which moves over the waters of our soul and the warms our hearts with peace, grace, and love. We are able to give thanks and worship Christ who claims the world as his own, and rises so that we would be freed to hear and act out of God's acceptance rather than our own humanity. We are able to give thanks and worship the Father for we are able to see that it is God in whom we live, and move and have our very being (SSJE, Rule 21). The mystery of prayer is sacramental, and in its daily work we discover, again and again that we are members of the family of God, tied to both the community which at once is the Trinity and is also the community of the faithful.
Prayer and Life
I believe that God intends for us, through the Holy Spirit, to pray throughout our life. It is easy to find a place of prayer, a time for prayer, an organized, comfortable and perfectly reasonable way of accomplishing our prayer work. However, prayer is for life. It takes courage to bring prayer into our lives. It is a challenge to feel free to pray in the car, in our office, at our dinner table, with our children, with others, before a meeting, after a meeting, before Eucharist…however, the Holy Spirit which seeks to unify us to God also opens our hearts and eyes to discover God out in our world, at work in the world.
By praying throughout our life we discover that God is there, and we see how God "permeates our life." (SSJE, Rule 22). We are in some very real way, when we choose to follow Jesus, choosing not to simply learn how to pray, but we are choosing to learn to pray our lives. Karl Rahner, one of the major 20th century theologians and architect of the Second Vatican Council, wrote, "…I now see clearly that, if there is any path at all on which I can approach You, it must lead through the very middle of my ordinary daily life. If I should try to flee to You by any other way, I'd actually be leaving myself behind, and that, aside from being quite impossible, would accomplish nothing at all." (From Encounter With Silence, Scriptural Classics, 219)
Friday, October 9, 2009
We name him "Our Father," because we are to seek to have as intimate a relationship with God as Jesus did. We are to seek out this love.
Who art in heaven
We are to be reminded of our creaturely-ness and that our created nature is a gift from Heaven.
Hallowed be thy name
In response to the tremendous grace of God's community and to our sense of humility and our created nature, we are able to recognize the holiness of God. Jesus teaches us to proclaim that recognition.
Thy kingdom come
We are to ask for and seek God's kingdom. We are to be reminded in our prayer that, like the disciples own misguided desires to sit at the right and left hand of Jesus, this is not our kingdom. The reign of God is not what you and I have in mind. We pray for God to help us to see His Kingdom. God help us, we pray, to be a part of bringing His kingdom to reality.
Thy will be done
We are called by our dear God to bend our wills according to your living example in Jesus Christ. We are to constantly seek placing aside our own desires and take on the desires of God's reign. We are to join as partners of God in the restoration of creation, not in the way we imagine it to be, but in the way God imagines it.
On earth as it is in heaven
Throughout our lifetime, we pray to God to help us to make heaven a reality in this world.
Give us this day our daily bread
We acknowledge before God that we are consumers. We need and desire and want many things. We ask for help to remember that all we need is our daily bread. Through the sacrifice of our wants, God help us to provide daily bread for those who go without today.
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us
We ask God to forgive us. We ask that God forgive us as we forgive others. We ask for help to realize the grace and love that God gave to us in His Son Jesus Christ our Lord who was obedient to God even to death on the cross for our sake so that we might see and welcome His mercy and forgiveness. We ask for moments of clarity to understand His call to us to give that same sacrificial forgiveness to all those who we feel have wronged us. To help us to see our own fault in those relationships that are broken. To help us to be a healing force for those friendships and situations that seems so very hopeless. To help us to be the sacrament of God's grace and forgiveness to others. This is what Jesus meant when he invited us to sacrificially offer our own desires at the foot of the cross. Take up your cross and follow me, he teaches. Forgive others as your merciful Father forgives you.
Lead us not into temptation
We acknowledge how tempted we are to go the easy way. How tempted we are to believe God's desires are our desires. We are so tempted to believe that we know the mind of God. We are like Adam and Eve who ate from the tree of knowledge and replaced God with their own thoughts of reality. So we pray to understand the wisdom of God in Christ Jesus to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and not our own earthly and political desires that promise comfort, security, and hope in worldly things.
And deliver us from evil
Deliver us from evil, we pray, for we know there is a darkness in the world around us. There is a darkness that feeds our inner desire to be God ourselves. There is a darkness that promises to support everything we do and justify our actions at the expense of others' dignity. There is a darkness that tells us we possess God's Truth and no one else does. We ask for deliverance from the evil which inhabits this darkness, the darkness of our hearts, and the darkness of our lives that we might follow God's way by the light of His Son.
For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
And finally, we acknowledge that we can only do this with God. We are powerless, and only God can restore us, and we turn our lives over to you. Let this day be the work of our prayer to You, devoted to God's reign and kingdom. In our daily work resulting from this prayer, we trust to rest upon His power of deliverance, opening our hearts to see God's glory and beauty in the world, and with the assurance that our days will be numbered as sons and daughters of Abraham.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
He instructs those who follow him to pray privately (Matt 6). He instructs his followers to pray in desert places (Luke 5.16). We are not to pray out in the open for fear of being like those who lord and show off their prayer in front of others.
Perhaps one of the greatest human sins is the sin of pride. And we like to take pride in our prayers, especially those spoken aloud. This is the beauty of the Book of Common Prayer which keeps our egos out of the work of prayer by praying ancient and holy prayers. It is the beauty of solitude and prayer through meditation, which humbles us before the throne and community of God. We are to seek out deserted places and private places in which we are to have intimate prayer with God.
In these intimate moments we are, as Jesus prescribes in the Gospel of Matthew, to pray out of our faith for what we need of God (Matt 21.22). In Luke's Gospel, Jesus connects fasting and prayer (Luke l5.33). I believe Jesus told us to fast and pray in order to help us understand his sacred solidarity with the poor and our overdependence upon the things of this world. He goes away to pray himself. He goes to the mountain and prays (Matt 19.13). He prays in the garden before he is arrested. And, he invites his followers to pray with him (Matt 26.36). He prayed in his anguish (Lk 22.44). We also know that Jesus prayed the psalms.
Over all, what we see is that Jesus prayed and instructed us to pray for what was needed. He thought it best to pray privately as if in conversation with our Father. If we looked at each of these passages in context we would find that they are connected with action.
Jesus teaches the need of persistent prayer, the widow and unjust judge just before the healing of children in Luke 18. After Jesus teaches prayer for those who abuse you, he heals the beloved slave of the Centurion (Luke 7). Throughout the Gospel of Mark we see repeatedly prayer followed by healings and teachings. Jesus also seems to instruct his disciples that prayer was a daily need for those who followed him, a type of daily spiritual food. Moreover, Jesus seems to understand the importance of prayer in one's life, especially in times of trial or trouble.
Perhaps these themes and passages are not new to you, but they somewhat shape and form my beginning place in this conversation. These are the pieces that got me going and thinking, drawing myself deeper into a conversation with God about Prayer, the work that is prayer, and the work that originates in prayer. Jesus modeled a life of prayer and offers it to us as part of our Christian journey and vocation. Indeed we reflect and acknowledge its centrality in our own commitment to God when we say, "I will with God's help continue in the Apostle's prayers" (BCP 304).
Coming up next: A Daily Prayer Shaping Our Daily Work
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Consuming the World
American Pop Culture
Some of our cultural core values according to George Barna in his book Boiling Point are:
convenience, options for expression, time maximization, belonging, comfort, experiences, happiness, independence, flexibility, authenticity, education options, entertainment, diversity, customization, participation, gender equality, technology, instant gratification, meaning, skepticism, image, control, relevance, impact/influence, personal empowerment, relationships, self-image, simplicity, compassion, teamwork, integrity, youth care, family cohesion, humor tolerance, volunteerism, reciprocity, generosity, networking, spiritual depth, risk taking, change, wealth, physical health, and achievement.
"The Klipske personal office unit, the Hovertrekke home exer-bike. Or the Johannshamnh sofa with the Strinne green stripe pattern...Even the Rislampa wire lamps of environmentally-friendly unbleached paper. I would flip through catalogs and wonder 'what kind of dining set defines me as a person?' I had it all. Even the glass dishes with tiny bubbles and imperfections, proof they were crafted by the honest, simple, hard working people of...wherever. We used to read pornography. Now it was the Horchow Collection.Video clip: Who do you say that I am?
Saturday, October 3, 2009
Dan Kimball, author and pastor at Vintage Faith church in Santa Cruz, California, wrote:
Jesus is everywhere. I recently walked into a gas station to pay for some gas and saw some Jesus bobble-heads for sale on a shelf. I was kind of surprised to see Jesus in the gas station, but there he was, three or four of him standing in a row. As I waited to pay for the fifteen gallons I had pumped into my rusty 1966 Ford Mustang, the Jesus bobble-heads silently stared at me, all politely smiling and nodding in unison.
Not too long afterward, I visited a major clothing chain store. Near the entry was a display for the Jesus Action Figure. Probably a dozen or more Jesuses hung in nice plastic packaging that declared, “With pose-able arms and gliding action!” While I stood there looking at them, a woman in her early twenties grabbed one from the rack. She enthusiastically said to her companion, “I love these!” and off she ran to the cash register with Jesus under her arm.”
I love Jesus and I love all things Jesus. But it really is amazing how many people love Jesus but don’t love the church. If we are going to reclaim the art of discipleship we are going to have to reclaim it in the midst of our world and our culture in America. We are going to have to reclaim discipleship from a dying Protestant Christianity as it exists today. We are going to have to reclaim discipleship from the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church. We are going to have reclaim discipleship even though there are theological and practical stumbling blocks.
I am a missionary and I want to work within a missionary church alive within a growing missionary field, in relationship with disciples who wish to follow the way of Jesus. I believe that Christianity, particularly Anglicanism through the lens of the Episcopal Church, has something fundamentally unique to offer those who are seeking to follow Jesus. I believe and am committed to an Episcopal Church and an Episcopal Diocese in Texas that is actively making the world a better place tomorrow than it is today. I believe that our church and our people, you and I, are called to be partners with Jesus Christ restoring the world around us.
I have invited several friends to visit with us about their views and their experience and so we will hear stories from the mission front about God, Jesus, Christians and communities. We will look to the past through the lens of our Gospel (Mark, Luke, and John specifically). And, we will think about methods and models for our future. Tonight I want us to begin to reclaim the art of discipleship, by: understanding the world and culture in which we are living; understanding the challenge organized religion faces in this culture; and, understanding the stumbling blocks that lie before us as Episcopalians. Many of us here have been having these conversations about emerging topics of interest. We have been listening and engaging in a conversation of “generous orthodoxy,” “off road disciplines” and the “renewing of our heart.” But it is time to bring it home to the Episcopal Church.
(intro to “The Art and Method of Discipleship,”The Blandy Lectures, SSW, 2009)
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
And finally, in that quietness came clarity. There came a clarity that I did not have at that time or that I had experienced before. There was beauty. There was love. There was purpose. My theology and spirituality became formed through the action of prayer. An understanding of my work, my vocational work began to form. Out of this moment of prayer came the sense of purpose for me and the whole church. Out of this moment of prayer came the inklings of my life that could be lived out in the assurances of God's grace and love.
Through that prayer work, a number of truth statements became truly a part of my own belief system in a deeper, clearer, more personal way than I had ever known possible.
- I understood God's love for me through Jesus Christ, and that there was nothing in heaven or under heaven, of powers or authorities that would or could separate me from God's love.
- There was no challenge too great that could not be seen through to its end because of God's love.
- There was no pain too deep that could not be healed by the grace of God's love.
- There was nothing that could keep God's hope from raising my head and eyes to see the path of Jesus Christ's kingdom before me. All I had to do was take that step back onto the path, back onto the way that lay before me.
It was then, as I rose and walked to the door of the sanctuary, turned out the lights, and walked out into the night that I took my first steps again. Every step would be bathed and supported and buoyed by the prayer of a humbled, grateful, and delivered heart.
The Rev. Dr. Leonel L. Mitchell wrote a commentary on the Book of Common Prayer with an intriguing title: Praying Shapes Believing. I believe that praying does shape believing. Out of this certainty that I have about prayer and belief arise two other thoughts and they are: Prayer is work, and work originates from prayer. These are the themes that I want to play with, hold up, turn in our hearts and minds, and to which I wish to give some intentional thought in the next posts.
Coming up: A Survey of Scriptural Posts tagged #Prayer and #Jesus
Monday, September 28, 2009
(continued from previous post "When Work of Ministry Just Isn't Working"
Some of you may know, I began "working the program" of Al-anon about twenty years ago. I started this work as a result of finding my life and ministry in a pretty bad place. On a regular basis, I read my One Day At A Time, went to meetings, got a sponsor (God blessed me with a good one!) and started working the Twelve Steps.
Step One: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
I breezed through this step. That was easy enough and true and apparent. I got it, and I got it immediately. I thought, "This program is pretty good. I can do this."
Step Two: Came to believe that a Power greater than our-selves could restore us to sanity.
This was a little harder. I could get that God was greater than me, but I wasn't thinking clearly at all; I had been trying the same thing over and over again expecting different results, and I wasn't so sure I couldn't take care of things based on my own power of reasoning. I worked at it until I came to realize the crux of my dilemma: either I really, truly believed that God had the power to do this for me or I didn't. I decided God had the power to restore me. After all, isn't that the meaning of redemption? It took me several hard weeks of work to fully accept this truth.
Step Three: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Now here was an embarrassing problem. I'm an ordained priest! I could do theology, talk theology, preach the Gospel, read Holy Scripture, lead the Eucharist, and do all manner of priestly things. But I wasn't sure I was ready to turn my "will and my life over to the care of God." Especially, I wasn't sure I wanted to submit to the God that I understood at this particular time of my life.
And so here it came: the dark night of the soul. Here was that moment when a man decides what he is made of. Here is the moment when he decides what he really believes. As any good procrastinator will tell you, you can stretch some things out pretty far. My avoidance of this step, led to my whining about the step, which led to my deepest sorrow over seeking God who seemed to have abandoned me. My sponsor listened to me. My sponsor talked with me. My sponsor allowed me to really work this step, to wrestle with it and didn't try to fix it for me.
One night after a particularly difficult meeting followed by one-on-one time with my sponsor, I went home, sat on the red couch and poured out my trouble to my wife, JoAnne. JoAnne said, "You need to get out of this house and its distractions. You need to leave the comfort of this couch and go up to the church. You need to pray and sit with God until you get this soul work done." So I said, "Ok." I couldn't really argue, and it was a good idea. I went to the Church. I entered this holy space and I prayed. I prayed on my knees. I prayed sitting down. I cried. I talked to God. I yelled. I was quiet. I was quiet, some more.
Coming Up: After the Darkness ...
- "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
- "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
- "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
- "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
- "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
- "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
- "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
- "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball