Saturday, December 30, 2006

This Is Christmas

31 December 2006
Christmas 1C
John 1:1-18

This is Christmas. This is Incarnation. No shepherds, no angels, no crèche. The stories we read this time of year attempt to explore Jesus’ origins. No two Gospels agree on this. In Mark Jesus just comes walking into the story fully grown up seeking to be baptized by John. In Matthew his origins are traced back to Abraham and Sarah, establishing his Jewish identity. In Luke his origins are traced back all the way to Adam, establishing a more universal identity – Jesus for Jews and Gentiles.

Then there is John. These eighteen verses push Jesus’ origins back even further than the first person. Note the opening words: “In the beginning….” The first to hear or read John’s Gospel have heard these words before. The entire Bible begins with these words, “In the beginning….” Jesus’ origins are cosmic – at the very root of the universe, all that is, seen and unseen.

John puts Jesus present before anything was made. Before God said the words, “Let there be….” God speaks and things come into being. Before God speaks, however there was the “word.” In Greek that is logos – word.

But for Jews and Gentiles alike in the first century, this word logos meant more than what we think when we say “word.” For at least six centuries before Christ came into the world, logos had currency among philosophers like the Stoics. Logos was what they called the principle of reason that ruled the universe. In Hebrew the word dabar carries a similar meaning – dabar describes God’s activity in the world. Logos could also describe the Hebrew idea of wisdom – hokma in Hebrew, sophia in Greek . According to the rabbis, wisdom was responsible for creation.

All in all, the power of the poetry of these opening verses of John’s Gospel resides in his choice of this one word, logos, for it has universal, multi-layered meanings hidden within itself. To identify Jesus, as eventually John does, as the logos is to say that God in Jesus comes to Jew and Gentile alike. Gentile, of course simply means anyone who is not Jewish.

So universal is this Word, this logos, that it is in everything that has been created. There is nothing “made that was made” that is not made through this Word. This is why we promise in our Baptism to “seek and serve Christ in all persons.” Christ as logos is in all persons. And in all things.

In the Word is life, and this life is light, and this light is a beacon of light that shines and cuts through all darkness – and darkness has not overcome this light. That is there is evil, not just in people but in all the created order. But this evil has not overcome or absorbed the light. So our redemption in and by the Word – the logos- is a vital part of a larger project – the redemption of the entire universe of God’s creation.

Yet, we who come from this Word, this logos, this sophia, this wisdom, do not readily recognize him. He comes to those of us who claim his name as our own – Christian- and yet we know him not. This continues to be a problem. Just look around us. Two Thousand Years of claiming his name as our own, and just how brilliantly does the world around us reflect this life giving light? In a world of ongoing brutalities – torture, killings, hangings, capital murder as retribution, bombings, not to mention hunger, loneliness, hatred, bigotry, poverty – can we really believe it pleases God to let a man hang from a rope? Do we truly believe we can bring about a greater good that reflects the life-light of God in the dark places in the world and in our own hearts through such ongoing brutalities? We are promised that all who do receive him, accept him, follow him, are given power to become “children of God.” We say we receive, accept and follow Jesus, the Word, but is this at all reflected in all that we do or say? Or, in all that is done or said on our behalf by others who claim to know, receive, accept and follow this Word?

It makes it all the more remarkable that this Word becomes flesh and blood and moves into the neighborhood. The text literally says he “tabernacled among us.” That is he pitched his tent, this Word, this logos, this divine wisdom, set up shop right in our midst despite our not knowing him. We are meant, of course, to recall that other time in our tradition’s past when God tabernacled among us in the tent of meeting in the wilderness – that place where “the glory of the Lord filled the tent.” Again we behold his glory!

For John, this is Christmas. No shepherds, no angels, no kings, no manger – but rather the Word of God comes and pitches his tent to sojourn with us, giving us another chance to know, accept and follow him. We behold his glory. He adopts us as his own.

A story is told about some Navy Seals sent to free a group of hostages in one of the dark corners of the world. As they storm into the hiding place, they find the hostages huddled on the floor in a corner of the room. The Seals tell them they are there to take them home, get up and follow us. No one moves. They are so damaged by the experience of their captivity that they do not believe these are really people sent to set them free. So one of these Seals does something: he takes off his helmet, puts down his gun, gets down on the floor, softens his face and huddles up next to the captives, putting his arms around a few of them. No guards would do this. He whispers, “We are like you. We are here to be with you and to rescue you. Let us take you home. Will you follow us?” One by one the prisoners get up and are eventually taken to safety on an aircraft carrier and brought home.

Lots of rhetoric and ink has been spilled to explain the miracle of the incarnation – how it is God becomes one of us to take us home – to redeem us as a step in redeeming a broken world and broken universe. God sees us captive to many things, unwilling to simply step away from those things that keep us in prison – often prisons of our own making. In Jesus, God takes off all his glory, gets down on the floor with us, huddles up with us – tabernacles among us, pitches his tent among us – and whispers, “It is OK – I am with you – I am one of you now – come with me, follow me, and I will take you home.”

John tells us that the essence of Christmas does not need a creche, does not need a pageant, does not need a tree, or greens, or red bows, or piles of gifts, or carols, or turkeys and roast beefs with all the trimmings. All Christmas needs is for us to know the Word, to accept the Word, to get up and follow the Word. There is no way, says John, that we can ever know all there is to know about God – but in Christ, the logos, the Word, we can see the light and the logos, and He will lead us home. This is Incarnation. This is Christmas. Amen.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Mary's Song For Today

24 December 2006
Advent 4C * Luke 1: 39-55

Mary’s Song For Today

One of the Gospel of Luke’s great gifts to humanity is the Magnificat, or The Song of Mary. It is poetry, and thereby it is an act of imaginative creativity. As such it is meant to move to the deepest places in our hearts and souls to inspire us – literally to breathe into us – the Miracle of the Incarnation – what the Council of Chalcedon in the year 451 describes as The Definition of the Union of the Divine and Human Natures in the Person of Christ.

From page 864 in our Book of Common Prayer it reads in part, “…as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer (Theotokos)…” Theotokos – God-bearer, this young woman who so dominates our liturgy this morning and our church at all times.

There she is in stained glass standing guard over one of the entrances to our little church. She is back in the corner, waiting patiently to hear our prayers, as she waited patiently for nine months to see God’s promise made true in flesh and blood. She is cast in bronze at the base of our Paschal Candle stand kneeling beside the manger. She appears in no fewer than four of our terra-cotta depictions of the Stations of the cross, none more poignant than the scene we know as Pieta, Theotokos the God-bearer holding the crucified body of her son just as she had held him as Baby Jesus some thirty years before.

And of course in Advent, here she is among the animals in the Lenox Creche, while the entire church is adorned in Blue – the color of hope, the color of distance, the color of the sky to which he ascends, the color of the sea in whose sacred surf we are baptized into his life, death and resurrection, the color of Mary, his mother – Mary, Theotokos – Mary, the God-bearer.

There is so much that is odd and yet wonderful about this story. Mary set out – or was she sent – to visit a distant relative, Elizabeth. Elizabeth, who like Sarah before her, finds herself suddenly with child at an age thought to be impossible. Zechariah, Liz’s husband and priest of the Temple, has been temporarily struck mute – that is he is unable to comment on the extreme social and religious difficulties presented by this Mary, a young girl who is unmarried and yet with child. Who in a less sensitive time would be called an unwed mother with an illegitimate child.

Perhaps Mary heads for the hills to avoid all the talk on the street, the disapproving glances and possible punishment back home. But Liz is six month’s pregnant and Mary leaves before the child known as John the Baptizer is born. Odd that she does not stay to help with and after the birth. Odd that she returns home just as she would begin “to show” as we say. When she returns is just when people on the street will begin to draw their own conclusions. How surprising that she stays so long and leaves so soon. How courageous to go home when she does. This is not a woman who submits, but rather a woman who is strong in the Lord – the God of her people who delivers on his promises.

After all she is named after Miriam, the sister of Moses, a prophet in her own time, a liberating leader in her own right, and primary celebrant of the Exodus, leading the women in the wilderness to dance and sing and play on their tambourines the Glory of the Lord whose mercy and loving kindness is beyond our knowing . Not only is Mary a God-bearer, but she bears the history, promises and hope of her people throughout the ages in her very name.

Put Elizabeth’s song alongside Mary’s song and we have before us two very strong women, both well rooted in their people’s history, rooted in hopes that have kept their families alive for millennia, and both well prepared to give birth and training to babies who will grow up to be leaders – leaders not just for Israel, but for all the world.

These two women bear the hope that God will turn the world right-side-up again. In their bodies they carry babies whom they will raise to carry out that task. Perhaps Mary goes home when she does because she and Elizabeth have created a foundation on which Mary can stand in the face of the very real dangers and misunderstandings that shall form the basis of the rest of her life – and that of her son, Jesus.

Mary’s song proclaims what God has done for Mary, what God does in history, that God’s mercy endures throughout history, what God does to establish justice, and a final declaration of God’s mercy as witnessed as far back as Abraham and “his descendants forever." As we heard last Sunday from John, Mary declares that through her God is acting decisively with mercy for the vast majority of the world’s population, but which is decidedly bad news for the proud, the powerful and the rich who are to be scattered, torn down and “sent away empty.” Mary’s song is a prophetic warning. One might even say it is revolutionary.

Two women, two strong and faithful women, join together with God to turn the world right-side-up again. Two women who remind us of the centrality of women in God’s story and our history – women with names like Sarah, Miriam, Rebekah, Rachel, Leah, Deborah, Hannah, Ruth, Jezebel, Huldah, Esther, Mary of Magdala, Martha and the assortment of Mary’s to name just a few. Under the present circumstances in our church it is crucial to remember that at key moments in our tradition’s history, the historians of our faith have placed crucial verdicts on the lips of an authorized woman. Mary continues this tradition, just as The Most Reverend Katherine Jefferts Schori holds a similar place in our tradition.

I would simply conclude with the observation that when Archbishop Cranmer put together the first Book of Common Prayer, it was by his design that we should pray the Song of Mary at least once a day in our evening prayers. Each revision of the prayer book has retained this intent. Mary, Mary’s song, and all that it represents of the reconciling desire of all God’s mercy and work, is to be for us a kind of mantra. I believe the intent behind our daily praying of the Magnificat is to make us all Theotokos – God-bearers – in a world that increasingly appears to be looking for a miracle.

Another one of God’s strong women, Maggie Ross, a hermit and modern day saint, has put it this way: “The Wrath of God is his relentless compassion, pursuing us even when we are at our worst. Lord, give us mercy to bear your mercy.”

Like the prophets and those who fear God in every generation, like Mary and Elizabeth, we have been chosen by God to be baptized into the Body of Christ. Like Mary, we too are called to be Theotokos – God-bearer. We are to bear and bare her child to the world. It is not our choice, but God’s will that we do this. Armed with just these words Mary faced a dangerous and unforgiving world. We can too. Amen.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

I Wonder

17 December 2006
Advent 3C * Luke 3:7-18
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills

I Wonder

Advent and Christmas are times of wonder. And so I find myself wondering.

I wonder what we know about Luke’s first audience – who it was first heard and read this gospel – where they found themselves – what their circumstances were – and how that would help us to understand the strange, even alien, world and language of John the Baptizer?

I wonder what we would think if we were to remember that when this gospel was written, Jerusalem and the Temple had been destroyed by the Roman Empire in the year 70ce? An empire still referred to by Jesus’ Jewish community as “The Rule of Arrogance.” The Rule of Arrogance – has a familiar ring to it. Jesus’ people, God’s people Israel, believed God had made the world good and plentiful and abundant, and that it was the Rule of Arrogance that had turned the world upside down and made it a world of greed and hoarding and scarcity. They yearned and prayed for God to turn things right-side-up again.

People like John called people to repentance as a means to counter the Rule of Arrogance – as a kind of alternative lifestyle over and against the Rule of Arrogance. Those like John who advocated such acts of defiance against the empire were routinely rounded up and crucified we are told. Yet, how could a people not react in some sort of protest against the very empire that had destroyed the very center of the universe? In fact, the people of Jesus’ community had mounted an armed revolt or rebellion which had resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple when Rome crushed the revolt.

I wonder if we can understand that the Temple was believed to be the still, center point of all creation? That the Holy of Holies, the quiet, dark, still place behind the veil of the Temple was where God, blessed be his name, touched the earth with a finger and held it still? That the world outside could rage and roar with chaos, but Jews knew that the Temple was the safest and most Jewish place in all of creation? That here is where God’s promises to turn the world right-side-up again did dwell in safety? That by later legend it was the place where God had sent an angel to grab Abraham’s hand to stop him from killing his son Isaac?

I once was in one of the ancient cities of the Decapolis – the ten Gentile cities in Israel – and saw the remains of a Dionysian Temple that had been destroyed by an earthquake. This cultic home of a powerful God with its once towering marble columns looked like so many matchsticks scattered on the ground. I tried to imagine the impact on the ancient psyche to see it instantly reduced to ruins.

The people listening to Luke had seen Jerusalem burned to the ground. They could smell the smoke and destruction. They had seen the flames. They had seen the rubble of the center of creation – the place believed to keep Jews safe throughout centuries of external turmoil.

Now here is John talking about “fire.” Fire is a powerful metaphor, a violent metaphor. There is no fire that is not dangerous. But against the background of the year 70ce, words about fire become something they had never been before. They now become associated with the Rule of Arrogance itself. I wonder how John’s words sounded to those who had fled the terror that was Jerusalem destroyed?

And yet, they come to John. As the city empties out into the surrounding region, the people go to John. They are like snakes coming out from hiding, says John. Well, who would not be hiding from the carnage of the Rule of Arrogance? So rather than a charge of vitriol, John’s snake metaphor captures the cautious public gathering of Jews after the carnage, after the danger has passed. There is no city in which to gather, only wilderness and ruin.

So now the plaintive cry of the people coming out to John in the wilderness – the wilderness where their ancestors had been forged from a rag-tag bunch of runaway slaves into a people, God’s own beloved people – begins to make sense: “What should we do?”

What should we do? In difficult, dangerous and chaotic times this is always the question, “What should we do?” What can we do to prepare for God to keep the old promises, for God to turn the world right-side-up?

Amidst all the fire-laden, snake-bitten rhetoric, John’s direct and simple answers are almost overlooked: people ought to share food and clothing; people ought not to defraud one another; people ought not collaborate with the Rule of Arrogance (tax collectors and soldiers); do not use your power to injure. How simple, how powerful.

When asked if he was sent by God to keep the old promises and turn the world right-side-up, John says, “No – another is coming – winnowing fork in his hand…” This is good news - so good that Herod correctly hears it as bad news for the Rule of Arrogance. He puts John in Jail, for when God keeps the old promises and turns the world right-side-up, it will not be comfortable for the people in power. Herod is correct.

Advent and Christmas are times of wonder. And so I find myself wondering.

I wonder if we truly understand this Gospel at all? The people listening to John hear this all as “good news.” I can’t help but wonder if we will too?


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Snow Falls

The snow falls
As if it knows where it is landing,
As if it has direction, purpose,
As if it has been sent

Then blows the wind
Redirecting each flake
Re-routing each crystal
So that suddenly
Without prior notice
Each lands
Just there
And nowhere else

So it is he says
With spirit
For you
For me
For us

And yet
We feel so sure
So certain
So determined

We continue to kid ourselves
Into thinking
That we know
Where we are going

Come Holy Ghost
Our souls inspire
Make us as the snow

8 march 2005

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Apoclyptic Hope

19 November 2006 – Proper 28B
Daniel 12: 1-3 – Mark 13: 1-8 (9-32)
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek – Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills
Christian Apocalyptic Hope
The texts before us are among the most difficult to interpret and the most easily mishandled. Called “apocalyptic,” from the Greek apocalypsis meaning “uncovering,” these texts make the claim that God has revealed to the writer the secrets to the end of the world in the form of a message to the people.

This message is two or three fold (depending on the text): 1) the world is currently a scary place hurtling itself toward a catastrophic end, 2) a hope in God to foster the conviction that God will act decisively to change things utterly and forever for the better, and 3) that it may be possible to read the signs of the coming of this climactic moment.

Points one and two are helpful. It is point three that gets us in trouble every time. By “us” I would mean the church and society. Relatively recently in church history the musings and theological claims of William Miller (1782-1849) in America, and John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) in England are the source of nearly all that passes for Apocalyptic thought today.

The Left Behind series of books and movies are only the most recent texts built on the schemes of these two men which claim to define when and how the end of the world is going to take place. Sadly, the schemes of Miller and Darby and the popular literary musings of Left Behind seem to overlook the primary purpose of apocalyptic literature in Jewish and Christian life: that would be number two, to foster hope in people who find themselves in difficult and scary times.
What ought to concern faithful Christians is the manipulation of these texts of hope into instruments of fear. It is a kind of overblown theology of Santa Claus: you better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why, Santa Claus is coming to town. For Left Behind and its ilk just substitute “Jesus” for Santa Claus and you get the point: unless you are very very good, or very very sorry for not being very very good, you better watch out – you are getting padiddle and worse! Such “theology” is foreign to Jesus, and frankly insulting to Saint Nicholas, the man behind the myth.

It is hard to see much grace, forgiveness and love in such a theological rendering of the gospel. This is not good news.

Apocalyptic texts like Daniel, the thirteenth chapter of Mark and the Revelation of Saint John the Divine write against an already existing climate of fear – the kind of fear that empires, regimes, governments, kings and politicians trade in to establish their own right to power. The script goes: the world is scary, trust me to protect you from the scary world – oh, and by the way give me most of your money, and give up most of your rights so I can keep the bogie man in check.

We have been so conditioned by “politics as usual,” wars and rumors of wars, natural disasters and man made disasters, that we are willing to overlook what the texts really are trying to say and accept the doggerel crackpot theories of the fear mongering modern day Millerites and Darbyites in whatever disguise they come in. Note, they most often adopt the tactics of the very people the apocalyptic texts are warning us to ignore.

That’s right, ignore. We have been so conditioned to accept the popularized Left Behind sorts of interpretations that we cannot hear
what Jesus is really saying in the thirteenth chapter of Mark: “Beware…do not be alarmed…do not worry…be alert….keep awake!”

Not to mention that when asked, a little further on, to tell the disciples just when God’s intervention will take place, Jesus replies, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Makes you wonder just what Bible modern day apocalypticists are reading. Not even Jesus knows, but they do?

What Jesus in Mark is saying is something like, “Remain faithful, hold on to your hope that the falseness of this world is ultimately bounded by a more profound truth that shall prevail; God is not content with the sorrows of this world and works for every person, group and circumstance to manifest as much as possible of God’s unconditional love. So remain hopeful and faithful in social chaos and continue to engage in mission!”

I found a modern day analogue in one of the essays submitted for the “This, I Believe” project on National Public Radio. This essay is by one Josh Rittenberg, a sixteen year-old young man from New York, NY. (

Tomorrow will be a Better DayI'm sixteen. Last night, I overheard my parents talking about my future. My dad was upset - not about how tough it is to get into a good college, or a great grad school, or the usual stuff that he and Mom and, I guess, a lot of parents worry about. Rather, he was upset about the world his generation is turning over to mine; a world he fears that has a dark and difficult future, if it has a future at all. He had a long list of concerns that sounded like this:''There will be a pandemic that kills millions, a devastating energy crisis, a horrible worldwide depression, and a nuclear explosion set off in anger.''
As I lay on the living room couch, eavesdropping on their conversation, I found myself looking at a picture of my grandfather in his Citadel uniform. The Citadel is a military college and he was a member of the class of 42- the war class. Next to his picture were pictures of my great grandparents, Ellis Island immigrants. I thought about some of the truly awful things they had seen in their lifetimes: a flu pandemic that killed millions; a horrific depression; inhuman segregation; two world wars, the killing fields, Stalin's Gulag, Mao's famine - and a nuclear bomb dropped in anger. But, they saw other things too; better things: the discovery of penicillin; the end of two world wars; the overcoming of the great depression; the creation of the United Nations; the polio vaccine; a man on the moon; a nuclear test ban treaty; the passage of the civil rights laws; even the dawn of the computer age.I believe my generation will see better things too. I believe we will live in a time that will find its own Einsteins, Flemings, Salks, Sangers, Mandelas, Roosevelts, Trumans, Eisenhowers , Kennedys and Kings. I believe we will live in a time when HIV/AIDS is cured and cancer is defeated, when the United Nations becomes more effective, when Arabs and Israelis find peace, when the desperately struggling nation-states of Africa will emerge from the dark ages, when another planet is colonized and power from hydrogen will fuel our automobiles, and, most importantly, when unimaginably good and great things occur, things as inconceivable to me today as a moon shot was to my grandfather when he was sixteen or the internet to my father when he was sixteen. Ever since I was a little kid, whenever I've had a lousy day, my dad would put his arm around me, and promise me that ''tomorrow will be a better day.'' As I listened to him talking, so terribly, terribly worried about what the future holds for me and my generation, I wanted to go over, put my arm around him and tell him the same thing he always told me, ''Don't worry, Dad, tomorrow will be a better day.'' It will. This, I believe.

And this, I believe, is exactly what the Bible’s apocalyptic literature means to give us: hope that tomorrow will be a better day because God in Christ is with us. Amen.

Sunday, October 1, 2006

Salted With Fire

1 October 2006
Proper 21 B
Numbers 11: 4-6, 10-16, 24-29 * Mark 9:38-50
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Ellicott City, Maryland
Salted With Fire

What starts out with the disciples trying to score points with Jesus for stopping someone who is doing the work of the kingdom – healing and casting out demons – ends with Jesus telling us all to be salted with fire! In between there is all this talk of stumbling around and lopping off limbs, tearing out eyeballs and being thrown into “hell”: All in all a fun day with Jesus on the road to Jerusalem.

This is all a part of a longer section of Mark’s gospel concerned with discipleship – faithful discipleship. That is, What is expected of those of us who would call ourselves Christians? This really is a question about what it means to be human. We are to be spiced up, healed and purified by fire and salt. Oh yeah, and stop stumbling around.

Fire in the ancient world was used to purify things. Still is. Get rid of that deadly e. coli bacteria with fire, lots of fire. Just as we were all eating our spinach fresh and loving rare hamburgers, now we have to boil the spinach to death and go back to “well done” burgers.

Which bring us to salt. Salt was used to preserve foods, extend shelf-life if you will. It was also used to spice things up. And finally salt was used medicinally.

Altogether these sayings on fire and salt suggest several things. Healing within the community of Christ is necessary to be a disciple of Jesus - especially healing that is reconciliation rather than division and challenging one another’s credentials. (We might note the vast difference in meaning between Jesus’ “Whoever is not against us is for us,” vs. the more popular, “You are either with us or against us.”) Further, the salt that flavors us distinctively as Christ’s own people is meant to keep us from blending in with the surrounding culture. This distinctiveness implies eliminating – lopping off – those things that cause us to stumble (skandalon) – things that get in the way of being good and faithful disciples so that we can all do the work of the Gospel. The contribution of Christians to the health of the world depends on our own wholesomeness. The life of the world depends on us.

Another metaphor for all of this might be pruning. We need to prune away those things that block us from following Jesus and fulfilling our Baptismal Covenant so that we can grow in those ways that make us more human. The Christian life is a life of following and pruning – pruning and following. This pruning is not so much for our sake as for the sake of the Gospel.

Most of what needs to be pruned away is a modern world that teaches self-centeredness and self-reliance (independence) as the key to the fullness of life. Whereas Jesus calls us to be those people who dare to say that the secret of life – and death – is giving oneself away: reaching out to others, to the world and to God. It is a call to a radical dependence on God. God has gifted us with himself – the Word became flesh and dwelt among us – and if we wish to achieve fulfillment, we, too, must give ourselves away. Moral progress comes only as we learn to acknowledge life as a gift – not earned or achieved – but given.

To be wrapped up in ourselves, self-centered and autonomous, says Jesus, quite simply is hell. In the text the word is actually Gehenna – which is a place, not a medium for hair color or tattoos. Gehenna is a valley outside Jerusalem which to this very day is a burning, worm infested garbage dump. It also used to be the site for human sacrifices to the god Molech. There is always fire smoldering in this valley, and over time it became a geographical metaphor for what happens to those people who have little regard for others, the environment and the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus.

It is interesting to note, that Gehenna in the real world is a product of our own creation. People go to the edge of a cliff and toss all their personal refuse over the cliff. I don’t care to enumerate all the times I dump my personal stuff on others, on the earth and on God. This dumping is sin. Sin, says our Baptismal service, is those things that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God, including God’s creation.

Sin is related to temptation. Wow, so gas is cheaper now, so we can go back to pouring even more pollution into the earth’s atmosphere and pay less for the privilege! Hell, it turns out is of our own creation and is determined in the here and now. Hell is not some future destination. We manufacture hell every day for those who are hungry, those who have no health insurance, those who suffer from disease fostered by toxic pollution, the capability of nuclear arms to destroy this planet and so on.
And Hell is not a condition that affects just the individual; Hell exists collectively in human society as well. Hell is the drive toward self-reliance, self-autonomy, whether of individuals, communities, churches, governments, or nations. The Anglican priest and poet John Donne says it best some 360 years ago, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…”

So, the answer to the question, Why is Jesus talking about Hell and cutting off limbs and plucking out eyes? To impress upon us the importance that what we are doing right here and now matters. That all that we do and all that we say has eternal consequences. We can choose to create Hell, or become purified by fire and seasoned with the salt of Jesus. We can squabble over who is the greatest and who can or cannot heal and cast out demons, or we can welcome everyone who does the work of Christ who has already redeemed the whole world on the cross. We can be those people who hold on to all we have, or become those people who give ourselves away. We do this not for our sake but for the sake of the Gospel, for others and the world.

This would be why Tithing is one of the Four Holy Habits. Tithing moves us away from being self-centered and self-reliant. Tithing trains us, moves us to become those people who out of radical dependence on God give ourselves away, beginning with 10% of our financial resources. I was only half in jest when I suggested to my colleagues at Bible Study the other day that giving at 10% and beyond makes you a whole person, fully human; at 7% you lose a foot; at 5% you lose a foot and a hand; at 3% you lose a foot, hand and an eye; and at 2% and below you get the millstone around your neck and tossed into the sea. Reaching out and giving makes us human.

The most generous people I have known, those who are most human and most faithful in Christian discipleship, have been tithers. They offer true glimpses of heaven on earth. Their giving reaches out to others, to creation and to God making the world a little better for us all. They are people of fire and salt. “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
To be continued. Amen.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


17 September 2006
Proper 19-B
Mark 8: 27-38
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek
Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church, Ellicott City, Maryland


You have seen them everywhere: bracelets, key rings, and just about anything that can be marked with the logo, WWJD – What Would Jesus Do?

I must confess to being afraid to ever wear one of those bracelets. I am afraid because in most situations I do not feel qualified to answer that question. How could I ever presume to know what Jesus would think or do in today’s world? Jesus was always doing the most surprising things! He was arguably one of the most unpredictable persons in all of recorded history.

If the gospels are any indication, it appears that when he was pressed by others for advice on what to do he would a) ask them another question, b) tell a story or a parable, or c) say that only God knows, not me.

A couple of years ago, when the WWJD bracelet rage really started to catch on, someone came up with some alternative bracelets:

Like WWDD for football coaches: What would Ditka do?
For politicians on the campaign trail there’s HWCL: How would Clinton lie?
Or DYWFWT for McDonald’s employees: Do you want fries with that?
For elderly Christians there’s WDIPOTB: Why did I put on this bracelet?
And for today’s teens, simply W: “Whatever” or “Whatsup,” take your pick.

In today’s gospel Jesus makes his own suggestion for a bracelet slogan: WDYSTIA?

“Who do you say that I am?”

Again, if the New Testament is any indication, the people around Jesus had a surprising number of answers for that one: Son of God, Son of Man, King, Lord, Son of David, teacher, rabbi, king of the Jews, Son of the Living God, master, the gardener, and in today’s lesson and its parallels, one of the prophets, Elijah, John the Baptist, and Jeremiah. He was also called a blasphemer, a glutton, a drunkard, and an imposter.

It is important to recognize that Jesus invites us all to answer this question, Who do you say that I am, for ourselves. And equally important for us to consider is that the New Testament offers all of these answers and more, not limiting us to any single idea or label for Jesus.

This morning we hear Saint Peter’s answer: You are the Christ. To which Jesus responds by urging them to tell no one. Well, so much for that. Here we are and we call ourselves Christians! Mark has spilled the beans. The evangelists Mark, Luke and Matthew do not honor what Jesus asks the disciples to do:. Tell no one.

The next time we are tempted to say, “The Bible says,” or “Jesus says,” we might ponder our inability to honor one of the few direct requests he makes to all of us who are his disciples not to tell anyone he is the Christ.

Especially if we are not at all clear ourselves just what we mean by “Christ.” It is a Greek word meaning, “anointed” or “anointed one.” Which is a translation of a Hebrew word we know as messiah, which also means anointed one.

Now what is interesting, even in Hebrew Scriptures and Jewish tradition there is not a lot of agreement as to what this word signifies. Or, it is more accurate to say it is a word freighted with many meanings. Because it can refer to individuals like Aaron, the priest, who was anointed with oil and by God to be a priest in the Temple. Or, it can be used metaphorically to refer to someone like Cyrus of Persia who delivered the Jewish people from their captivity in Babylon, or even to the entire people of Israel as anointed by God to be a light to the nations.

In Luke’s gospel only, Jesus is shown to be reading from the 61st chapter of Isaiah, “God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,” that is the Jubilee year of Leviticus. He then announces that this scripture is fulfilled, suggesting to some that he is claiming to be anointed, messiah, christos.

And at the time of Jesus the idea, not from the Bible, of a Messiah coming to restore the kingdom was in the air. But there were many different interpretations of what that meant. He would be a warrior, a judge, a king, a prophet, etc. None of which included the idea of being executed by the Roman government.

So what does Peter mean by christos? What does Mark understand it to mean? What do we mean by calling Jesus the Christ?

There is a cute joke circulating on the internet: Jews do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah, Protestants do not recognize the Pope as the Father of the Church, and Baptists do not recognize one another in the liquor store.

Aside from deriving its laugh-line at the expense of Baptists and some perceived hypocrisy they might embody, the joke has another problem from the outset. It would lead us to believe that Jews reject the idea that Jesus was christos, anointed, messiah.

Decades of Jewish-Christian dialogue reveals that few Jews actually deny that Jesus could have been messiah. What they do not see is any evidence that he is. For in Jewish terms, the world would be a much better place if he were. There would be justice and peace for all people. The dignity of every human being would be respected. And Christians, at least, would seek Christ in all people and serve the Christ that we believe is already in all people, loving our neighbors as ourselves.

And what we see are Christians killing Christians in places like Ireland, or unable to share bread and wine together in church, or trying to force one interpretation of who Jesus is on each other and everyone we meet, and on it goes.

The evangelist Mark reports, “And he charged them to tell no one about him,” and yet we continue to prattle on with our own ideas of who he is, missing altogether what he goes on to say: take up your cross and follow me.

At the end of the day, Jews say “Messiah is coming,” and Christians say, “Jesus/Messiah is coming again.” And most Jewish people say that when Messiah comes, if it turns out to be Jesus they will have no problem with that. Surprise for sure, but no problem.

This causes one to wonder, however, if it is not Jesus, how will we respond?

Contemplating what that future point in history might look like inspired the great Jewish thinker and writer Martin Buber to say that if he is present when Messiah comes, and people are all asking if it is or is not Jesus, he would hope to have the courage to step forward and whisper in Messiah’s ear, “For the love of heaven, please do not answer.”

The witness of Christian scripture is that even if it is Jesus he would probably answer back with a new question, a story, or say, “Only God knows for sure.”

Six years ago a statement issued by over 170 Jewish rabbis and scholars titled Dabru Eme was made publict. Dabru Emet is a call to the American and worldwide Jewish communities to reexamine how they think about and relate to Christians.

Here is, in part, what Dabru Emet had to say:

At one point the document acknowledges that “The humanly irreconcilable difference between Jews and Christians will not be settled until God redeems the entire world as promised in Scripture. Christians know and serve God through Jesus Christ and the Christian tradition. Jews know and serve God through Torah and the Jewish tradition. That difference will not be settled by one community insisting that it has interpreted Scripture more accurately than the other; nor by exercising power over the other. Jews can respect Christians’ faithfulness to their revelation just as we expect Christians to respect our faithfulness to our our revelation. Neither Jew nor Christian should be pressed into affirming the teaching of the other community.”

Sounds a lot like Paul in his letter to the church in Galatia: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” Gal 3:28-29

The document concludes with what we can do together: “Jews and Christians must work together for justice and peace. Jews and Christians, each in their own way, recognize the unredeemed state of the world as reflected in the persistence of persecution, poverty, and human degradation and misery. Although justice and peace are finally God’s, our joint efforts, together with those of other faith communities, will help bring the kingdom of God for which we hope and long. Separately and together, we must work to bring justice and peace to our world.”

In the end, the only thing we know that everyone can agree on about Jesus is that he worked alongside anyone who would join him to bring justice and peace to the world. He rarely, if ever, asked them to believe anything, least of all about him. He wrote no creeds or confessional statements. Instead, he always calls us to follow him.

We promise in our Baptism that we will be those people who strive for justice and peace for all people, not some people, not a lot of people, but all people, and respect the dignity of every, not some, not a few, not the ones like us, but every human being.

WDYSTIA? Who do you say that I am? Jesus wants to have that conversation with each of us, and is not overly insistent that we all have the same answer.

His only concern is that whoever we say Jesus is can be seen by the degree to which we do pick up our crosses and follow him. Where he goes and the people he chooses to spend time with are not the people we always find ourselves drawn to be with on a day to day basis: tax collectors, sinners, the lame, the sick, prostitutes and so on. That is the real challenge in our Baptismal promise to follow him.

What Jesus did in any given situation was always surprising and unpredictable. Which is why I cannot presume to know what he would do today or tomorrow, and cannot bring myself to adopt the kind of hubris it would take for me to wear a WWJD bracelet.

I could, however, wear one that says WDYSTIA, “who do you say that I am”, so that I might continue to have the conversation with him as I strive to follow him in his mission to bring Jubilee, justice and peace, to all people while respecting the dignity of every human being.


Sunday, September 10, 2006

My Heart is filled with Love

10 September 2006
Proper 18 B RCL
Proverbs22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 * James 2:1-17
Mark 7:24-37
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek – St. Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, MD
“Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy…”

Men of anger, men of warMy heart is filled with loveTell me what you are fighting forMy heart is filled with loveThis death I see won't make me numbMy heart is filled with loveEvery boy a mother's sonMy heart is filled with love----Raise your voices, spread the news...Buddhist, Christian, Moslem, Jew...They all teach the golden rule...Do unto others as you'd have them do...-----I will not fear these foreign tongues...There is a place for everyone...I cannot make my will their own...But fear can turn a heart to stone...----I do not know my neighbor's name...I love that stranger just the same...Hope is rising from this place...Divine wisdom, amazing grace...---Men of anger, men of war...Tell me what you are fighting forMy heart is filled with love
My heart is filled with love
My heart is filled with love
©2003 by Joyce Andersen/JoyScream Music
Written the night of March 19, 2003

I have listened to this song every day since I first heard it. To trust in the Lord “with all our hearts” Jesus insists is to fill our hearts with love so that there is room for nothing but love.

And as all three of our lessons make clear, the only evidence that our hearts are filled with love can be seen in how we treat one another – especially those who are utterly different from our selves. The way of Love in the Bible has little to do with how we feel about others and everything to do with how we treat them.

For instance, I was in the gym the other morning. I was on a piece of equipment facing about twenty or so folks who were on various forms of aerobic equipment: ellipticals, treadmills and the like. A potential new member walked between us. He was obviously a biker – everything from the head scarf to his boots screamed “Harley Davidson.” I watched as twenty some heads turned in unison and stared with concerned looks on their faces. I wondered just how welcome he felt with all those pairs of skeptical and even fearful eyes following his every step.

Love has to do with how we treat others – all others. Jesus learns this lesson, it would seem, the hard way. I suspect that is true for us all.

A woman comes to Jesus with one single-minded request – to heal her daughter, to deliver her daughter from whatever demons possess her. It does not take much reflection to determine the fact that we still find ourselves surrounded and possessed by demons of all makes, models and descriptions: greed, fear, hatred, war, estrangement from others, loneliness, despair, addictions of all kinds…the list is almost endless.

This woman has no name because in the end she is each one of us. She is from across the tracks. Her people have been long despised by Jesus’ people. She addresses him, however, as Lord and asks for her daughter’s healing. We are told he tries to ignore her. He is silent.

I don’t know about you, but when Jesus answers me not a word I slip into any number of temptations: self-pity, to quietly slip away, to get angry. And when I hear the disciples imploring Jesus to send me away the temptation to get the heck out of dodge increases. My heart races. I get cold sweats in the palms of my hands.

Which is why I love this unnamed woman. She does not flinch. She kneels and cries out again, “Help my daughter!” She is asking nothing for herself. She wants him to do something for her daughter and nothing else. Her heart is undivided. Her heart is filled with love.

Then in what is perhaps an attempt to drive her away once and for all Jesus declares that “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” That is, this bread of mine and all this healing power I marshal on God’s behalf is for my fellow countrymen, not for foreign dogs like you. Make no mistake about it, he calls her a dog. Even Jesus is not immune to cultural bigotry.

Then it happens. The earth is moved. History is advanced one step forward. Without hesitation she replies, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

She does not ask for a meal. She does not ask for a piece of bread. She is willing to settle for crumbs. It’s as if she is saying, “I am not asking for a full fledged, highly publicized big and flashy event here. Just a crumb. Just a look of compassion. Just a word of Love will be enough.”

With that Jesus is moved. He lets her in. He sets long established traditions, feelings, prejudices and hatred aside. When faced by so much love and so much need in such an undivided heart full of love, he immediately announces her daughter is healed, her need is fulfilled because of her great love and her undivided heart – which the story calls “faith.” Faith appears to be our willingness to accept only crumbs. To learn that crumbs are enough. Hope comes from this place.

Jesus saw something he could not see before – this woman embraced her poverty and her outcast nature. She lived out of a poverty of spirit. She was her best self – her whole self. Because this woman embraced her littleness she was willing to accept only crumbs knowing that crumbs would be enough. Her story has been told now for nearly two thousand years. Jesus was nourished by her faith and learned to extend his and his Father’s love beyond the accepted boundaries of the imaginable.

Her story can be your story. Her story can be our story. We can fill our hearts with love and the earth will move. Demons will depart one by one. Jesus will recognize our hope, our love, and our faith. Jesus will be nourished by your love, your hope and your faith. He will say, “I can do nothing but respond to your great need. Be it done for you as you desire.”

To learn what we ought to desire, read and re-read Proverbs, James and Mark chapter 7. Or, sing this song over and over until all our hearts are filled with love. We may get only the crumbs, but the crumbs off Jesus’ table will more than satisfy our deepest hunger and deepest desires. Hope rises from this place – this is divine wisdom amazing grace!
“Men of anger, men of war, my heart is filled with love…..”

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Through Thick and Through Thin

13 August 2006
Proper 14B RCL
2 Samuel 18:5-9,15, 31-33 - John 6:35, 41-51

Through Thick and Through Thin
We draw near to the end of the David saga. Since the confrontation with Nathan things have not gone well in the house of David – the house, we remind ourselves that was built by the Lord, the God of the Exodus. And all I can think of is the old expression, “through thick and through thin” – a phrase that aptly derives from Edmund Spenser’s The Fairie Queene : “Lo, where a grim forester did rush/Breathing out beastly lust her to defile/His tired horse he fiercely forth did push/Through thicke and thin, both ouer banke and bush/In hope her to attaine by hooke or crooke…” As we shall see, the narration of the text concludes that the Lord our God is with David through thick and through thin.

In the period of time glossed by our lectionary, we miss the sordid tales of David’s adult children playing out their ambitious and violent struggles against one another. Amnon, the heir to David’s throne callously raped his beautiful half-sister Tamar. Absalom, Amnon’s half-brother and full brother to Tamar sets up the revenge murder of Amnon. Absalom flees to the south for several years and returns to lead a revolt against his father seeking to seize the throne.

Nathan’s prophecy has come full circle – there could be no greater trouble from within the house of David than the father being forced to fight his son. David must use his power and brilliance against his own son. As the battle ensues, David pleas for special, gentle treatment of the young man Absalom.

In a scene calling to mind the great battle scene in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings we are told that the forests, the trees themselves, devour more of Absalom’s army than the sword. The Ents win! Indeed, it is a tree that snares Absalom, where he is left hanging, we are told, “between heaven and earth.”

We might be excused a moment of sympathy for Absalom, for in any given moment on any given day, each of us is prone to feeling as if we are hanging, dangling between heaven and earth. Never quite aspiring to the calling to become a people of God, and yet by virtue of stories like this one and the Good News of Jesus Christ, we are no longer fully citizens of any earthly kingdom either. We are in a sense all of us Absaloms snared by God’s created order, fleeing our calling on our various mules, fooling ourselves into believing we can escape the mighty hand of God working God’s purpose out as the waters cover the sea.

So we are those people who know well the pathos of David as he receives the news of Absalom’s death. “Oh my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” David’s heart is broken. David’s is a universal cry of desperation, a cry even now heard throughout the battlefields of Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan; a cry heard in the homes and home towns of those men and women of our armed forces who return to us draped in flags of red, white and blue – a cry heard in homes and home towns throughout Lebanon, Israel, Iraq and Afghanistan. Hearts are breaking all over the world, including ours.

There is, however, an oddness to the texts in First and Second Samuel – a strange insistence that through thick and through thin the Lord is with David. All the way back in 1st Samuel 18:2 the text reads, “for the Lord was with him.” This David saga as told for us insists that God is with David, even in this moment of ultimate triumph and ultimate despair – that to save the monarchy he must lose a son.

The membrane between triumph and tragedy here is very thin. Suggesting that at times such thinness is necessary for us to become aware of the presence of the Lord through thick and through thin. This, after all, is the ultimate data presented in the Good News of Jesus – Emmanuel, “God with us.”

We would do well to note that the texts as narrated do not offer a heavy-handed, pathological morality here – it is not David’s dalliance with Bathsheba and betrayal of Uriah that results in his tragic loss of Absalom. Such moral absolutism forever stands in the way of healing. The text means for us to accept the conclusion that God was with David, not with Saul or Absalom.

Just as we might conclude that God was with Martin Luther King, Jr, not with Bull Connor and the special interests he sought to represent and protect. Much like David, we are learning that King was not at all perfect in every detail of his life. Like all of us he too dangled between heaven and earth. But God was with him nonetheless.

In a somewhat different way we conclude that the Lord God is with Jesus and not with Pilate, Herod, Caesar and the interests they represent. Jesus, who oddly like Absalom, hangs from a tree for several hours one Friday afternoon between heaven and earth, as the Lord God who is with him no doubt is, like David, reduced to a sobbing, almost inarticulate cry, “Oh my son, Jesus, my son, my son, Jesus…”

Through thick and through thin, God’s providence is near for those who are able to make the imaginative interpretive recognition of that presence. This presence comes out of no action or choice we might make – an assertion of the Biblical texts that flies in the face of all Western ideology, by which I mean the dominant values of the Enlightenment which include commitments to autonomy, individualism and self-sufficiency. Such commitments come to be expressed in terms of positivism and in an economics of greed and affluence – commitments deep within the fabric of our common life and touch us all, liberal and conservative alike.

The true scandal for Post-Enlightenment moderns such as ourselves, is the twice repeated assertion of Jesus that it is the Lord God of Israel who draws us to himself – that we must trust God to open our hearts, eyes and ears to create and sustain our faith. Perhaps we who want to believe life is largely about human choice and freedom, and that faith is just another sort of self-help therapy, find ourselves more aligned with the crowd which is saying, “Who does he think he is anyway?”

Yet, the Lord who was with David and is with Jesus is someone we know and recognize. We have traced his presence from Exodus to Calvary and the empty tomb. As we listen to the account of his character again, the God of the great stories comes to be present in “my story” and may become the glue for the parts of that story. It is the Lord God who calls us out of our dangling between heaven and earth to truly allow ourselves to come home to his kingdom.

What agitates the crowd before Jesus – and challenges our own safe assumptions about life “as it is” – is simply a promise that God has come near so as to give us the gift of life – eternal life – life lived with God in Christ – through thick and through thin. An awareness of this truth can make all the difference in the world, and heal the aches that break our hearts. Amen.

Sunday, August 6, 2006

Feast of the Transfiguration

6 August 2009
Feast of the Transfiguration
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a – Luke 9:28-36
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek


I wish I did not have to preach this sermon. But as Jeremiah says, it is like a fire shut up in my bones. Webster’s Dictionary tells us transfiguration means:
n. 1.Radical transformation of figure or appearance: metamorphosis. 2. The sudden emanation of radiance from Jesus’ person that occurred on the mountain.

August 6 – The Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ – The Anniversary of our United States dropping an Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima. Both events, curiously, revolve around images of blinding white light, clouds, and feelings of dread and fear - two events evoking radical transformation.

From our perspective, looking back 61 years it is possible for us to recognize the various ways in which such radical transformation took place in Japan: an entire modern city was reduced to dust and ash in the blink of an eye; people who populated that city were instantly incinerated, or dramatically and radically changed in appearance; the spirit of the human community was radically transformed; the nature of modern warfare was restructured; whole generations of people lived under a new specter of fear, fear of a mushroom shaped cloud.

On the positive side, a devastating World War was brought to an end; out of a deep human desire for world peace the United Nations was born; many people abandoned a view of security based in military might for a view of security based in peaceful co-existence; and the Right Reverend Bennett Sims, recently deceased Bishop of Atlanta and former rector of Church of the Redeemer, Baltimore, developed a theology of Servanthood. This theology might be summed up by saying that our future depends on how we take care of the Earth and how we take care of one another – all others.

You see, Bishop Sims visited Nagasaki eleven weeks after our military instantly incinerated 39,000 civilian non-combatants, a death toll that eventually reached 64,000 in Nagasaki alone, 250,000 altogether in both cities - what we sometimes refer to as “collateral damage.” We might compare this quarter of a million civilian non-combatant deaths with the only two civilian casualties wrought from the carnage at Gettysburg. After viewing the nuclear wasteland, Bishop Sims was returning to his naval destroyer by way of coal-fired steam train across Japan. A young man of fifteen was the conductor, cheerfully roaming the aisle, punching tickets in his badly worn and patched conductors jacket and cap. He sat down opposite Bennett and in sign language asked for a cigarette. Bennett offered up one of his Old Golds. Then the lad gestured for a light. Writes Sims,

“The act of lighting another’s cigarette, with wind blowing through the open windows of a moving train, brings people’s faces very close. His eyes and mine met only scant inches apart. Unbidden in that moment tears welled up, for both of us. Until a few minutes before we were total strangers. Until a few weeks before, we were sworn enemies, separated by war, propaganda, language differences, and distant geography. But in one swift removal of all barriers, two human beings drew close in a meeting of souls. On August 14th of that fateful year the war ended.
Better still, on October 25th peace came to two of us.” Servanthood (Cowley Publications, Cambridge, MA:1997), p.170.

From this experience, Bennett Sims drew several conclusions that would shape his life and ministry until his death two weeks ago: 1) humanity is created to be a community of kinship in peace, 2) the best things in life come by surprise, 3) the planet will support the human enterprise only as the human enterprise supports the planet, and 4) new life arises from the death of the old. “The human odyssey cannot continue without a quantum advance in consciousness that will build new structures of care for the earth and for one another across all boundaries.” Ibid, p.168

Bishop Sims’ life was a life of prophetic ministry, grounded in such Biblical characters as Elijah, Isaiah, John the Baptist, and of course in our scripture today, Nathan. Nathan confronting David with the tragic truth of his transgression with Bathsheba, and writing the order taking her husband Uriah to his death on the field of battle, gives us a glimpse of the very origins of the crucial idea of separation of church and state. God’s independent prophet, heeded by the monarch of temporal power and authority, sets a pattern for the delicate balance between earthly and heavenly powers that has challenged and bedeviled nations for all of the 3,000 years that have passed since Nathan says, “You are the man!”

David has attempted to cover-up his sinful behavior with a military diversion and solution. It has been suggested that Israel’s demand for a monarchy came in part to provide leadership for national security against a Philistine threat. It has been further suggested that this was really a cover for those who had monopolized wealth and who wanted a strong central government in order to protect and legitimate their considerable economic and political advantage and privilege, so that the Philistine threat was really offered as an external cover story to pursue this internal consolidation of power. Even a casual reading of history reveals that this is not the last time the “Philistine threat” has been used to warrant internal political manipulation. Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament (Fortress, Philadelphia:1997) p.601.

How that may or may not relate to current events at home and abroad is for others to decide. It is interesting for us to note, however, that God feels it is necessary to provide checks and balances on the monarchy/temporal authority through the person of Nathan and others like Nathan who are called upon to reveal and speak Truth to Power in every generation. We might also note how Nathan cleverly appeals to David’s best qualities leading David to convict himself. And we might finally note that David accepts public responsibility for the wrong he has done, so utterly unlike any single similar situation in recent U.S. and World history.

One might strain to identify who the Nathans are in any given generation, but we can rely upon the truth and promise of such narratives that God does provide us with one Nathan after another. It is our job to hear them, listen to them and act accordingly. Their voices may come from the church, the synagogue or the mosque. Their voices may be found on opinion and editorial pages. Their voices may be on the front page quoting “unnamed sources”: how else would we ever know of what goes on in places like Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Haditha and elsewhere. And since most of the Biblical prophets wrote in Hebrew poetry, modern day Nathans often come in the form of poets and song writers like these:

That big ol' building was the textile millIt fed our kids and it paid our billsBut they turned us out and they closed the doorsWe can't make it here anymore
Some have maxed out all their credit cardsSome are working two jobs and living in carsMinimum wage won't pay for a roof, won't pay for a drinkIf you gotta have proof just try it yourself Mr. CEOSee how far 5.15 an hour will goTake a part time job at one of your storesBet you can't make it here anymore…Music and lyrics © 2004 by James McMurtry
Men of anger, men of war
My heart is filled with love
Tell me what you are fighting for
My heart is filled with love
The death I see won’t make me numb
My heart is filled with love
Every boy a mother’s son
My heart is filled with love
Raise your voices, spread the news…
Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Jew…
They all teach the golden rule…
Do unto others as you’d have them do….(Joyce Anderson, Joyscream Music ASCAP)

God knows that without Nathans in every generation we would be blind to the machinations of the David’s in this world. Yet, it is safe to assume that in that moment of realization as David utters the words, “I have sinned against the Lord,” that he too is radically transformed or transfigured, and thereby utterly different from most of his successors. His life from that moment is changed and influenced by such transfiguration. Just as Bennett Sims and the young Japanese man on the train were transformed and transfigured in the blink of an eye. Just as Peter, James and John were transfigured before Jesus on the mountain top, their lives changed forever.

On the Feast of our Lord’s Transfiguration I believe we are meant to stop everything we are doing and reflect on such questions as: What will it take to transfigure our church? Our nation? The World? Do we as a people have the courage to utter the words, “I am the man,”? “We are the nation,”? Where do the cycles of violence end? In what can National Security truly be based? Are we open to listening to the Nathans speaking Truth to Power?

On another mountain top, on another day, Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God.” Bennett Sims concludes that the Transfiguration of Christ and the World is based in a kind of servanthood in which “great power functions as an exchange of power, never as coercion by superior forces. The universe is built this way. As the revealer of the Power that blew the cosmos into being and keeps it evolving, Jesus never coerces. Instead, it is his concise insistence by word and deed that greatness lies in giving – that superiority is embodied in serving. Persuasion is the posture of God.” Ibid, p. 173

The history of the past few generations on Earth has given us ample images of Transfiguration, both tragic and good. Jesus stands up on the mountain issuing the invitation to be transfigured for the good of the world into his servant people – to care for our planet and one another across all boundaries. To recall the last verse of one still sadly relevant song, “When will we ever learn, when will we ever learn….” (Pete Seeger, Joe Hickerson – Fall River Music, Inc.) Amen.