Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday Sermon: Lives Lived and Boxes Filled

Click the link to download the podcast.

Sometime in the early 1970’s the pop artist Andy Warhol moved from his studio at 33 Union Square West to a larger one at 860 Broadway.

As he looked at the acquired, comic, sentimental artifacts of culture that he had collected from both personal life and business affairs, he came up with a “crack pot filing system.”

Warhol from the time he was 11 had been fascinated with the 1939 time capsule buried at the New York World’s fair. This would be his idea; he would create time capsules.

So, he began to stuff time capsules with the artifacts of his life. Some required no more thought than emptying the entire contents of his desk drawer. Another devoted entirely to his mother contains articles of her clothing as well as correspondence. There is one which contains the contents collected on a Concorde flight in 1978. Still others contain taxi receipts, wig tape, invoices, a slice of Caroline Kennedy’s birthday cake, a 17th century German book on wrestling, a letter from Dennis Hopper, a valentine from the poet Allen Ginsberg, an invitation to the Vice-President’s house warming party, and an angry letter from his florist regarding an overdue account.

By the time he died in 1987 Andy Warhol had filled 612 boxes with the memories, art, artifacts and refuse of his life.[1]

How many boxes have you and I filled? What are in our boxes?

I imagine lives lived and boxes filled with joyful memories, happy times, blessed moments and hope for a future yet to be filed away.

Then I imagine there are lives lived and boxes filled with unexpressed pain, hidden suffering, wounds inflicted, wounds acquired, abuse of body and the bodies of others, and pointed words which can never return.

Sin and brokenness openly and secretly engaged are then hidden away. Late nights, trips, parties, pornography, alcohol, food, and over indulgence purchased with our lives on credit hoping the creditor never knocks on the door.

Boxes more subtly filled. Scarcity of food and resources globally stored by others on our behalf… boxes of wasted consumption. Boxes and bins filled with the refuse of a green planet now in decay.

Lives lived and boxes filled with vivid moving pictures and recorded sound of events played over and over again paralyzing our lives, relationships, and ministries.

Lives lived and boxes filled with a past we store away, peaking at in darkest hours then locking away again the world only seeing what we want to be seen.

Lives lived, boxes filled, -- stumbling blocks each – stumbling stones in our relationships and in our relationship with God … scattered throughout a life’s journey.

The joyous moments we discover will never be enough. The hope not quite what we thought it would be. The highest moments never quite high enough.

How many boxes? How many shelves of boxes? How many storage units of boxes?

Jesus’ journey into darkness carries with it a mass of boxes, each box, one by one, step by step is carried to Golgotha.

Jesus’ binding and arrest in the garden of Gethsemane binds our boxes of violence, betrayal, and darkest fears to the heart of Jesus.

Jesus’ trial before the high priest puts on trial our boxes filled with religious intolerance, religious abuse of power, religious abuse of authority, our tendencies towards conservative and liberal fundamentalisms, and our willingness to diminish faith into meaningless platitudes of inaction masquerading as concern for our common man.

The handing over to Pilate of Jesus opens for scrutiny our boxes of idolatry, scapegoating, our lack of honor, honesty, and onus. We see in Pilate’s courtyard our own willingness to allow others to sin on our behalf, abuse on our behalf, and falsely accuse and punish that our own consciences may be relieved of any wrongdoing and our feasts not spoiled by the true cost of our wealth.

The mocking of Jesus mocks our boxes filled with just enough faith to be respectable. Instead of the crown of our heart we give Jesus a thorny crown of false adoration. Instead of the throne of our souls we wrap Jesus in a purple robe to hide the wounds and lashings of an inactive faith that fails to make our relationships healthy and whole, the wounds of failed family and friendships, the scars of a faith that leaves people hungry and without shelter.

So painful is the work of Jesus, the picking up and opening of our boxes, one by one, humiliation by humiliation, pain by pain, sin by sin, scar by scar that when forced to look upon him we see all that we keep secret. And we do what we must in order to escape the truth -- we reject him.

When Jesus stands before the seat of judgment, upon the stone pavement, our boxes laid open around him, contents spilled and mingled, we are so ashamed that we must turn from him, we cannot bear our countenance, we cannot bear our humaneness bent down and taken upon him our God and our King.

So we say what we must…hoping to close our tiny boxes…hoping to hide again…we say: crucify him. Crucify him.

Lives lived and boxes locked away into the darkest recesses of our hearts cannot be hid before the suffering of Jesus. They are here and now brought out into the open and picked up and carried by Jesus to Golgotha.

It is so easy not to look now though. As he walks to the place of the skull it is so easy to turn away. Much better not to look at our lives carried up that hill. Perhaps the grey sky and the rain will hide what was once hidden. Maybe the mud will cover the remains of our life laid before him on the cobbled streets of Jesus’ walk to the cross. But they are not.

And so when we dare to look at his walking his caring we see that the weight of the cross is the weight of our lives and our boxes, our memories, art, artifacts and refuse. The weight is of those things done and those things left undone and those things done on our behalf.

Each step, then each nail, is a memory now of our pain, and sin, and brokenness.

For those who look now see something different than the death of a criminal. For those who look now see more than the death of a prophet or a wise man. For those who look now see more than just a man on a cross.

For those who dare to look with Mary and Peter and the few gathered we see the death of all that we have believed keeps us from the love of God. We see the death of every event, every word, and every action taken that has kept us from our God’s embrace.

We see the death of our sin.
We see the death of our hypocrisy.
We see the death of our consumption and the death of our indulgence.

And here we see the commingling of Jesus’ suffering with our suffering.

Here at the cross, with Jesus’ body almost lifeless, the pain a pain we wish not to imagine, the last boxes of lives lived are opened. Here are broken open the boxes filled with our pain inflicted by others. Here are our boxes of suffering from illnesses our bodies cannot fight alone. Here are the boxes of physical and mental abuse perpetrated by others on our lives.

And, here are the boxes filled with the pain we carry in our hearts for the death of our loved ones. Boxes filled with photographs of those lost at war, those lost from disease, those lost in tragedy, those lost with lives before them, and those lost after long lives lived.

We see today, again, perhaps for the first time, the bearing of our sins, pain and our own suffering here in this place.

We see our lives laid bare before us and before Jesus and his cross.

We mourn and we weep for Jesus and we mourn and weep for ourselves.

We must let this Jesus go. We must let him go and carry our lives with him into death. We must let him die and the brokenness of this world and of our lives die with him. We must let him and all of our hidden lives be buried in the tomb. We must let him be buried beneath the earthworks of our sin.

That is all, there isn’t anymore today. We couldn’t bear to see anymore.

So we watch and we listen. We listen for our cue.

And, we hear Jesus say, “It is finished.”

And it is. It is finished.

[1] Box Pop, author unknown, The World of Interiors, December 2008, n 12, p 172.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Called by Grace

Click the Link to read the online discussion about ministry recently printed in the Texas Episcopalian.

I began to think that I might be called into the priesthood at a very early age. There are pictures of me dressed up in robes, from the dress-up bin, performing a burial for one of our family pets. Before me on a makeshift lectern is the Book of Common Prayer. I was 12.

People explore their ministries at different points along their journey. However, statistics show that most begin wondering about the work within the church at the same age. The reason why I became a priest is multidimensional but clear. God placed a call upon my heart to work for him and to work for his church. The church affirmed the calling; predominately through the men and women, laity and clergy in my life and later by the commission on ministry and bishop. Clergy serving as directors of summer camp sessions were essential along this journey. And, lastly I decided to follow and listen to Jesus.

The Rev. Laurens “Larry” Hall (Chair of the Commission on Ministry from 1984 to 1999)says you are a priest by the grace of God and you will be a priest by the grace of God. Father Hall is correct. We are called by grace and by grace we undertake our ministries. It is the church’s work to discern the order of the ministry and to help discern the manner in which it is undertaken over the years.

But there is a stumbling block within our system. The problem isn’t with the ordination process but rather with the confirmation process. Today when someone is serious about ministry we send them to a three year program of rigorous study at either a seminary or our Iona School for Ministry. In the first centuries of the Christian movement if you were serious about Jesus you went to a three year program of rigorous study and preparation. Deacons, priests, and bishops were the discerned outgrowth of ministry undertaken. These orders were created and people undertook them for the sake of the life of the community and direction of the mission of the church. One had to fulfill every other minor order in the church before ordination: doorkeeper, lector, exorcist and sub-deacon.

We need to do a better job at preparing people to follow Jesus. We must return to a preparation that allows everyone to find their place in the church. In my mind there are several essential ingredients to solid preparation for the adult journey of faith within the Episcopal tradition:
  • Biblical literacy – what is in the bible, its history, and key passages
  • Jesus literacy – our church’s basic understanding of his life and ministry
  • Church historical literacy -- with a focus on the first councils, creeds and reformation
  • Spiritual literacy -- an understanding of the many different forms of spiritual practice in our church
  • Liturgical literacy -- understanding of our prayer book and sacraments with particular attention to Baptism and Eucharist
  • Stewardship – basic stewardship principals
    including spiritual gifts discernment
  • Mission literacy – the evangelical work of the church to transform lives, and to share the good news of Christ in word and action.

Shaping and forming young adult and adult Christians is not just a matter of curriculum. It is the interweaving of people’s stories with the story of Jesus and our church that deepens our life of faith.

There are many ministries from evangelist to catechist, from altar guild to acolyte, from Christian formation team member to prayer minister. The work of the church is varied and God is sending us people to undertake our work. God provides for us every gift and every person needed to grow and build the kingdom of God. When we are focused on the Gospel, our numbers are added as well and we are able to do more and to reach out into the world more.

The danger is to believe that discernment and the varieties of ministry (more than can ever be described in church law) are limited for the privileged few. We must recapture a sense of abundance. The harvest is ripe, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers.

I believe God is also sending us and working on the hearts of those who are to be our future deacons, priests and bishops. Are we listening to them (no matter what age) and taking them seriously, partnering with them, helping them to become disciples, and ultimately raising them up for an ordered life?

This work of preparation of all the faithful and the specific work of preparation of the future clergy is formation that depends not upon the diocese or the clergy. It depends ultimately upon all the people of God.

Formation and the disciplined life of the Christian have to be intentional, life-long development. By God’s grace we take steps into this Christian life. We also must be intentional and deliberate not to squander that grace and instead use it to partner with those around us (young and old) to help them find their way along Christ’s journey into wholeness.


  • "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