Monday, December 24, 2007

'Tis A Gift To Receive

Christmas 2007

Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills

I Done It For Love

Imagine striking a match that night in the cave:

use the cracks in the floor to feel the cold.

Use crockery in order to feel the hunger.

And to feel the desert – but the desert is everywhere.

Imagine striking a match in that midnight cave,

the fire, the farm beasts in outline, the farm tools and stuff;

and imagine, as you towel your face in the towel’s folds,

the bundled up Infant. And Mary and Joseph.

Imagine the kings, the caravans’ stilted procession

as they make for the cave, or rather three beams closing in

and in on the star; the creaking of loads, the clink of a cowbell;

(but in the cerulean thickening over the Infant

no bell and no echo of bell: He hasn’t yet earned it.)

Imagine the Lord, for the first time, from darkness, and stranded

immensely in distance, recognizing Himself in the Son

of Man: homeless, going out to Himself in a homeless one.

1989 – Joseph Brodsky, translated by Seamus Heaney

As this poem by the Russian poet Joseph Brodsky reminds us, Christmas calls us to imagine: imagine what it may have been like in that stable or cave in the back streets of Bethlehem. Imagine what the caravan of the magi must have really been like traversing much of the ancient world. Imagine a God choosing to enter into the most mundane of settings in this world 2000 years ago – arriving homeless, naked, vulnerable, utterly dependent upon the creation and the creatures God’s own self had marked as his own so many thousands of millions of years before. Imagine that as Martin Luther reminds us, the wood of the crib is the hard wood of the cross. Imagine the darkness in that cave, and needing to strike a match to even see Mary and Joseph, and between them, the baby.

The mystery of the Incarnation – God choosing to become one of us, Emmanuel, God with us – is a mystery that calls upon the infinite depths of our imagination to reflect on the incredible Love that is God: A love so deep, so broad, so endless in God’s desire to be in communion with God’s own beloved people, you and me and all persons throughout the world and throughout all time.

The hymn we just sang (114), “’Twas in the moon of winter time…” is another kind of imagining ( It is the very first Christmas Carol written on the North American continent. It was written by a Saint, Father Jean de Brebeuf, a French Jesuit priest who lived among the Huron People in the early 1600’s. Brebeuf was both a missionary and linguist. He wrote the carol in the Huron language as a gift to the Huron people – wishing to make the story of the birth of Christ, the Incarnation of God, accessible for First Nation people, Fr. Brebeuf revisioned the song in such a way with cultural references to broken bark, rabbit skin and forest hunters, such that it still resonates with many First Nation people to this day. The Anglicized version we just sang, translated in 1926 by Jesse Edgar Middleton, continues to be a centerpiece of Christmas caroling among Canada’s leading aboriginal singers. Imagine what a gift Fr. Brebeuf gave to the now nearly extinct Huron tribe (extinguished by an Iroquois attack encouraged by the British who were after control of the French claimed territory) – Fr. Brebeuf gave them personal knowledge of God’s love for them in the Christ child in a telling of the story that would be very much be their own.

I recently ran across another story of another sort of Christmas gift.

“In 1980, the day before Christmas, Richard Ballinger’s mother in Anderson, South Carolina, was busy wrapping packages and asked her young son to shine her shoes. Soon, with the proud smile that only a seven-year-old can muster, he presented the shoes for inspection. His mother was so pleased, she gave him a quarter.

“On Christmas morning as she put on her shoes to go to church, she noticed a lump in one shoe. She took it off and found a quarter wrapped in paper. Written on the paper in a child’s scrawl were the words, “I done it for love.”

(Brennan Manning, Watch For The Light [Plough Publishing, Farmington, PA:2001] p. 202)

Imagine and remember for just a moment the very best Christmas gift you have ever received. Perhaps something you had wished for, but had never told a soul except Santa Claus in that letter you sent to the North Pole. And then it happened: there it was under the tree Christmas morning!

No doubt it was a morning of mixed emotions. First there is the stunned surprise. Is it really true? Is this wonderful gift mine? Then followed by a sort of embarrassment of not really knowing what to do next. And embarrassment because you know things are really tight, and have a fleeting suspicion of what the gift cost and that it really had not come from the North Pole.

But there was also a welling up of unutterable joy and gratitude – which appears to have lasted because here and now that Christmas morning is swirling up out of unconscious memory so many many years later.

Each of us can test that same experience tomorrow – surprise, embarrassment, joy and gratitude. The special gift you receive will be a surprise. You will gasp. You will draw in your breath. You will look with awe as you open the diamond just like the one in the DeBeers advertisement, the scarf carefully knitted by a six-year-old, a message of gratitude from someone who had found strength and spiritual help here at St. Peter’s and no longer lives here.

Then, is it embarrassment or a sense of humble unworthiness? Why me? How much effort and secrecy and skill went into that six-year-old’s green and red and orange knitted scarf? How many hours of research went into finding that out-of-print first edition of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Poetry? Why all this, for me?

But finally, joy and gratitude! It is as if those tight bands about the heart (which most of us know) are unloosed. There may even be a tear or two. I hope there will be at least a hug, of genuine, warming, bear-type quality. And a final deep sigh of utter completion. It will be the kind of fulfillment which allows for a new beginning, facing the afternoon of Christmas Day or even the twelve months ahead with newly invigorated spirit and life!

We too often emphasize Christmas as a season of giving. Too many Christmas cards underline those words of Jesus, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Words that come from the Book of Acts, not any of the four Gospels. And this is true – we must never forget.

Yet, more than anything at all, Christmas is also a time to receive a gift, a wonderful truth.

We will each of us receive some special gift tomorrow/today from someone who loves us. More wonderful even, we will each of us, singly and together, receive a gift from someone who loves us even more, from God.

In any of our lives there is a manger, now doubtless empty, cold, malodorous, surrounded by beasts – the heartbreaks, tragedies and disappointments of our lives. But it is there that you will find the child, newborn, if you will look on him and be open to receive God’s gift.

It can come to you this Christmas, that gift, that birth within you of the Christ child, when you become aware of and touch, perhaps only fleetingly, the whole and complete person God intended you to be, that God intends you to be. It can happen when you are alone, or it can happen when you are in company. It can happen right here, at this present Bethlehem, at this Holy Table, when and where you receive tangible evidence, bread and wine, God’s Body and God’s Blood, God’s own life given to you and for you.

As in receiving any real gift, your response will be astonishment, humility, and a deep restorative joy. To which we can only say, Gracias, Gratia, Thank you, Eucharistia, Grace!

If you find yourself asking God, “Why me? Why us? Why for all the world” know that the answer will be and has always been, “I done it for love.”

Be open tonight/today to receive that gift, open-handed, with an open heart unbound, offering nothing but your need, your empty manger. Centuries of experience assure you that God’s gift is being offered: God’s Son, born within you.

Arise like the shepherds and go out into the world with astonishment, humility and joy! Respond in whatever language you may know – Thank you, Gratia, Eucharistia! Your Gratitude will show forth as a light for all the world to see, God is love – God’s Son is Love incarnate.

Merry Christmas! God bless us every one!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Man Who Was A Lamp

16 December 2007 – Advent 3A : James 5:7-10 – Matthew 11:2-11

The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills

Stir Up Sunday

“Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us.”

This is our prayer every Third Sunday of Advent. It sounds hopeful, even a bit defiant. We desire a God, our God, to come into this world of darkness, disappointment and seemingly unending woes to shake things up and shape things up. To take a world that appears to be upside down and turn it back right-side up – that is, the way God intends it to be from the day God said, “Let there be….”

Surely this is what is on John the Baptist’s mind. Surely he has been waiting for the “the one to come,” the messiah, God’s anointed. And just as surely if Jesus were God’s anointed, the incredibly evil and traitorous Herod would be overcome, the shackles would come off, the prison doors flung open, and John would be vindicated. So he sends his disciples to find out, “Are you the One?”

We may as well face it, for those of a true and honest faith, it is a question we ask everyday. Now capable of receiving reports from every inch of this earth, our fragile, island home, instantaneously by digitized zeroes and ones in High Definition 24/7, one cannot help but wonder, from time to time, is Jesus the one?

Recall, only last Sunday John was predicting the “wrath to come,” and instead Jesus shows up and says to one and all, righteous and sinner alike, “Let’s eat!”

John expected an axe laid to the tree, and instead comes a gardener hoeing the ground around it.

John dreams of a man with a winnowing fork separating the wheat from the chaff and burning the chaff in unquenchable fire, and along comes a singing seed scatterer.

Truly when John spoke of there being one among us whom we do not know, he spoke from experience. We would do well to remember this, and to remember John’s questioning heart, for we stand with him day and night, looking out from behind whatever bars or shackles hold us back from embracing all that Jesus invites us to be, to live, the work he begins and calls us to continue.

John lived in the desert, waiting. Though his demeanor, dress and actions do not convey a man of patience, he does have something to teach us about waiting – like the farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and late rains.

In the emptiness of John’s desert we find our selves waiting,

“like a bowl that waits for wine,

like a flute that waits for breath,

like a sentinel that waits for the dawn,

You are a highway ready for traffic,

and here comes One

who seems also to be waiting,

waiting for the construction to be complete.

The more is arriving,

and there is only one question,

‘Are you the One Who Is To Come?’

Jesus answered,

‘Go and tell John

what you see and hear.’

So they did.” - John Shea, The Man Who Was A Lamp (Starlight[Crossroads, NY:1992])

What do we see and hear? An anointed man of God restoring lepers to a life of community; giving those who are blind new vision, new hope; those who could not hear suddenly hear the voice of God that says, “You are my beloved;” the poor hear of good news, of old promises coming to pass.

We come here week after week so that we might “open our eyes to see God’s hand at work in the world about us!” This is hard work. To first open our eyes, eyes which reflexively avert themselves from the news of the world. And then to look for the good news amongst the bad, the flowers amongst the weeds.

John was expecting the fall of Rome. Jesus says, “There are more important things to which we must attend ourselves first. Kicking out the Romans is the least of what we are about!

The last enemy to be defeated, says Paul in the First Letter to the Corinthians, is death. Jesus says that’s just next on the list. Do not be offended, he says, by how I choose to go about my Father’s business. All shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well.

When John heard what his disciples had seen and heard, we can imagine he was not offended or disappointed, but rather fulfilled. He was the cleanser of eyes, but not the sight that fills them. He was the opener of ears, but not the word that thrills them. A prophet, says Jesus, but more. John is a friend of the Bridegroom – the man who was a lamp, the man who shows us the way to find Jesus. He brings us, at our own pace, to the entrance of the cave.

We must be patient, for the coming of the Lord is near. “Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors!” Open our doors, let him in, know the joy of John. Become a friend of the Bridegroom, and more. In knowing Him we shall know ourselves – Beloved of God, sisters and brothers in Christ, the Body of Christ in this world and the next! Amen.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

First, Second and Third Advents

9 December 2007 * Advent 2A – Isaiah 11:1-10/Matthew 3:1-12

The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

Watch It, Seek It, Become It

Advent is a season that gets lost somewhere between Halloween and Christmas. Advent, of course, means “coming.” What is coming is variously understood, as well as what our posture is meant to be in the mean time. Although “waiting” is often associated with Advent, something slightly more active like “watching” might better capture the spirit of things. So what might we be watching for?

It is often said there are two Advents: Waiting and Watching for the Coming of Christ in the Manger; and Watching and Waiting for Christ to Come Again to Judge the peoples of the Earth. Since this “Second Coming” makes us uneasy for obvious reasons (who wants to be judged?), Advent tends to collapse into The First Coming in the Manger. Cuddly babies are more to our liking than a Judge who is sorting us out into groups of sheep and goats. Baaaaaaaaaa!

The keen observer has noticed that the Green hangings on the altar and the vestments have given away to Advent Blue – the customary seasonal color in the Sarum Rite. And for those of us here at Saint Peter’s, we have on the altar perhaps the most mysterious of all altar frontals I have ever seen – a several hundred years-old embroidery of Jesus hanging on a palm tree. This may seem more apt for a time like Holy Week what with a cruciform Jesus and palms and all. We might, however, consider two observations about the incarnation of God in baby Jesus.

The Koran depicts the birth of Jesus as taking place beneath a palm tree. There are several variations on this story, but my favorite is that the wind (the Holy Spirit?) blows through the fronds of the palm tree, and baby Jesus falls into the lap of the Virgin Mary who happens (by arrangement of the same Holy Spirit) to be sitting under that very tree. This makes our frontal a potential bridge between Christians and our sisters and brothers who are Muslim.

The second observation was made by an old priest in a rural church far far away, many many years ago. He began preaching in such a soft voice that Christmas Eve that people in the pews had to lean forward to hear what he was saying. The quieter they got, the more clearly they could hear him saying, “The wood of the crib is the wood of the cross, the wood of the crib is the wood of the cross.” That is, Christmas and Good Friday really mean to celebrate the same truths about the incarnation.

Take your pick. For reflecting on the impossible truth of what Christmas is all about, it is hard to get any better starting place than looking at our Jesus in the palm trees for the next few weeks.

As to the Second Coming, alas, all too much is said on TV, in books, on websites all claiming to know just when and how it will all come down. Whole series of books and movies have been made. All, I am sure to our Lord’s own personal amusement. Since it was he who said, “Of that time and that hour only the Father knows, not me.” It might help to think of it all this way. Whether it is the First Coming or the Second, Advent proclaims a God who does not stay distant from creation, or impassive in the face of creation’s need for redemption, prosperity and peace. God answers the cries of his people, says Mary Hinkle Shore (Ass. Prof. of NT at Luther Seminary, St. Paul) and God will, in Christ, come to lead them home! Judgment means that the notion that might makes right will be replaced by love makes all things right. Only those who subscribe to the first notion have anything to fear in the Second Coming.

But at last, we might do well to consider what Professor Shore proposes as a Third Advent, or Third Coming – the daily coming of Christ into our individual and communal lives with a vision for how we might live in such a way that our lives bear witness to the hope we have for the future and to the justice God will establish for all peoples!

Having experienced this Third Advent, I would like to share with you an example so you too might keep an eye out for the daily coming of Christ into our lives. I was in Syracuse at a Stewardship Conference. I was in a room of about 100 people. In the front was a table of about six deaf persons, with an interpreter signing what was being said and sung. It was beautiful to watch the interpreter doing her best to communicate with her hands what the rest of us were saying and hearing. As we sang hymn 711, Seek Ye First The Kingdom of God, all six of the persons at that table were signing the song. It was extraordinarily beautiful and powerful. Soon I put down my guitar and joined them on the “Alleluias” while my partner Wiley Beveridge kept playing the piano.

Then it happened. One by one everyone in the room began to sign the “Alleluias” along with the people in the front of the room. Our collective signing became a sign of the kingdom breaking in right then and there. We had left our world and entered into their world. Of course, they were in front and facing forward and could not see that. The interpreter motioned for them to turn around and look. The looks on their faces, smiles, tears, looks of being accepted, seeing a roomful of people enter their world for just a few minutes, said it all. The look on their faces was the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven in Christ. We all saw it. We all felt it. We will never forget it.

Isaiah offers a vision of what the kingdom will look like – predators and prey all sitting down together, a weaned child near the den of the asp. John the Baptist announces the Kingdom is at hand. It is here every day if we just look at it. It is here in our midst for those who are watching and joining in with those who are announcing it. We are not called to Wait for the kingdom, we are sent to Seek it. Seek ye, first, the Kingdom of God….Allelu, Alleluia! As we take the time to enter into the world of “others,” those who live lives completely differently from ours, the closer the kingdom will look.

This Advent Seek and Watch. It might mean reflecting on the mysterious truths of the incarnation and nature of God as depicted on our Advent frontal with Jesus in the Palm Trees. It might mean watching for signs of the kingdom here and now. It may be as simple as singing and signing Alleluia. For as John says, the kingdom of heaven has come near – it is at hand, here and now. Watch it, seek it, become it. Amen.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Mature Fruit With Patience

18 November 2007 * Malachi 4: 1-2a/Luke 21:5-19

The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

Hear the Word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth mature fruit with patience. Luke 8:15

Imagine a visitor standing for the first time in our National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. The story of creation carved in stone over the entrance, stone blocks piled one on top of another seemingly up to the sky, lovely smaller chapels down below the main sanctuary, even an authentic piece of the moon set in stained glass. It is an experience of absolute awe and wonder - the fruit of decades of labor and design, the result of financial contributions from Episcopalians and all sorts of people of God across the country and around the world! It stands in the midst of our nation’s capital, in a district of foreign embassies, literally within the corridors of national and international power.

Not at all unlike the Temple in Jerusalem which sat at the center of both Israel and The Roman Empire. Like the Temple in Jerusalem, our National Cathedral means to be a still point, the still point in the universe, the guarantee of safety for God’s people in a world that is chaotic, confused and increasingly dangerous. So imagine our visitor is herself visited by Jesus at the transept of the Cathedral, who tells her the day is coming when not one stone on will be left upon another. The difference is that when Luke conveys this word of the Lord to the emerging first century church, the Temple had already been leveled.

The secular and modern analog for us, of course, would be the World Trade Towers. To understand the impact of what Jesus is saying, we would have to somehow imagine a catastrophe that was of an even greater magnitude and conveyed even greater psychic damage than that of 9/11.

A “headline” that appeared as I was working online the other day told of yet another cult that is preparing itself for the nearing end of the world. Reading our lesson from Malachi and the Gospel, it is easy to see how people might draw such conclusions. Yet, to do so is to mistake what Jesus is really saying.

Malachi says, “the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evil doers will be stubble; the day comes that shall burn them up.” Whether it is in world politics, national politics, church politics or parish politics, there appears to be no shortage of arrogant and evil actors. Similarly, there appears to be no shortage of wars and insurrections, earthquakes, famines and plagues.

“Teacher, when will the end come,” the disciples ask on our behalf. Yet, again, in Luke’s world of the church, it is already come: the Temple was already in ruins, and emerging Christians and Jews were being rounded up and persecuted by Rome everyday.

It is important for us to pay careful attention to Jesus at this crucial moment in first century time as well as our own time. For what he counsels, what he commands really, is not to be bothered by timetables and what might happen. Focus yourselves on what you are doing now.

That is, the message of Jesus is all about what to be doing in the meantime, the in between time if you will. And the heart of his message is “endurance” or what is elsewhere in Luke (8:15) translated as “patience.” It is important for us to note that Luke uses this word only twice, at the beginning of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, and at the end.

At the beginning he commands us to “bring forth mature fruit with patience,” and at the end of his journey he commands us to endure, be patient, in the midst of the chaos and turmoil and fear that seems to surround us on all sides. And nearly every episode along the way offers descriptions of what it means to be mature, patient and fruitful: the Sermon on the Plain, the command for mercy in the Good Samaritan, words about being children of light, the call to perseverance in prayer, the call to repentance and newness of life like Zacchaeus, that challenge that Lazarus presents to the rich man and his brothers.

All year we have been listening to just these stories, stories of hard work, patience, demanding work; of living in the world with God’s kingdom both around the corner and in our midst. It is here, in this world, in these times, we are called to be fruitful – now, not some future “day of the Lord”. Our witness is the fruit and the words we are given to testify to the source of our life together – Jesus our Lord, Jesus our King, Jesus our Savior – the second “person” of the Blessed and Holy Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Note the words of caution: Do not be misled, do not follow false prophets, do not panic, do not prepare your defense beforehand. For those who observe these cautions, not a hair on your head will be lost, and by standing firm you will win yourselves life – eternal life lived with and in God.

The other night at Vestry someone asked, “What is the core mission of the church?” For Luke it is to hold before us those behaviors that we might call “mature fruit.” This means resisting temptations to enter into divisive and inappropriate conversations, sometimes called gossip. This means being alert for signs of the presence and coming of the kingdom. This means being alert for opportunities to testify that the same Jesus who is Lord of life has commanded his disciples to “give food to the other servants at the right time. Blessed is that servant whom his Lord, when he comes, will find him doing just that” (Lk12: 42-43).

This sounds an awful lot about Feeding, Healing and Reaching Out with Christ – which are Christ’s own chosen ways of restoring all people to unity with God and each other – all people, not some people, not a lot of people, but all people. The church pursues this mission as it prays, worships, proclaims the Gospel in all that we do and say, while promoting justice, peace, and love (BCP 855).

The late Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, sums up the core mission of the church in these words, "The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members."

What Jesus says in times like these is to be mature, be fruitful, be patient, while, according to the gifts given to you, you carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world (BCP 855). By this you shall gain your life and your soul. Not a hair of your head shall perish. You are the light of the world. I am with you always, to the end of the age.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Father Eternal

11 November 2007 – Proper 27C – Luke 20:27-38

The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

Father Eternal

Today is the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – that day when the Holy Spirit blew in on the disciples making them a new people.

It is also Veterans Day. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year 1918 an armistice – the cessation of fighting in World War One, The War to End All Wars – officially went into effect. The flowers on the altar mean to honor all war veterans in the United States along with John W. King, Jr, Sallie Roberts’ father.

At 11am this morning, an honor guard of all US Military Services will execute “Present Arms” at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, the Presidential Wreath is placed on the tomb, and Taps is played. Officially made a day of observance in 1926 as Armistice Day, as one war has succeeded another, it was renamed Veterans day in 1954.

Today our service begins and ends with hymns, poems really, written around the time of World War One, expressing the hopefulness of a world that truly believed it would be the War to end All Wars.

Turn Back, O man, forswear thy foolish ways was written in 1916 by Clifford Bax at the request of Gustav Holst who wanted a new set of words to go with the tune, Old 124th. Holst had lost both his sons in the slaughter of the battlefields of Ypres and the Somme.

In the midst of The Great War, Bax helps those who sing this hymn to imagine a world one day when the “Earth might be fair, and all her people one: for not till that hour shall God’s whole will be done.” The combined hope of Bax and Holst, one must imagine, is that repeated singing of these words might bring us all to that day when all people shall be at peace. Bax died in 1962, after a Second World War, Korean war and in the midst of the Viet Nam War - no doubt unhappy that his hymn must still be sung in the future tense

Similarly, Laurence Housman, younger brother of the poet A.E. Housman, penned Father Eternal in 1919, after The War to end All War, and turned the copyright over to the fledgling League of Nations Union – a precursor of the present day United Nations.

Somewhat more chastened than Bax, Housman concludes with a penetrating question still seeking our answer: “How shall we love thee, Holy , Hidden Being/If we love not the world which Thou hast made?/O give us brother love for better seeing/Thy Word made flesh and in a manger laid: Thy kingdom come, O Lord, Thy will be done.”

Again, Housman and the young League of Nations no doubt hoped that after World War One the nations of the world would come to a change of heart, and mind, and soul. Like Bax and Holt, Housman would like music and poetry to draw us and all people into a new and more profound relationship with God and with one another. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind and all your soul; and Love your neighbor as yourself.

Poetry and Music are two forms of human expression that attempt to draw us into a deeper experience of and relationship with God – the God of the living Jesus calls us to place at the center of this life and the next.

How fortunately coincidental that the lectionary reading for today falls on Veterans Day. In it we find Jesus being challenged by the Sadducees, “those who say there is no resurrection.” It has been said that the Sadducees were Sad because they did not believe in the resurrection. If they had, they might have been called the Gladucees!

The Sadducees pose what seems to us a silly question, but at the time was meant to provide some glimmer of hope for the woman whose husbands kept dying leaving her childless. Children represented the continuation of the family name, and were the only form of Social Security for a widow in those days. Death posed a problem for those who were not Gladucees – those who did not believe in the resurrection.

Jesus, of course, observes that they are comparing apples and oranges. Death has no dominion in the next life, therefore no marriage or children are needed, since all live with God. This we know, says Jesus, because all the way back at the burning bush, God revealed God’s name to Moses: The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Since he is the God of the living, not the dead, to him all of them are alive. Now living with God they too are living forever and forever free.

This is the core of the Christian virtue of Hope – all who are in the Lord are alive in the Lord. The day when “Earth might be fair…and all her people one” is closer than we think. Eternal life as life lived with God is closer than we think. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus represent a God who is a determined lover who will not let the Beloved go. God is just that God with whom relationship is for ever. And if need be, we can add, “and ever.”

For now we are to keep singing. For it is in our singing that God is glorified. It is in glorifying God, letting God’s will be done, that those who have fought for peace on earth will be honored and remembered.

Father Eternal

Father eternal, Ruler of creation,
Spirit of life, which moved ere form was made;
Through the thick darkness covering every nation,
Light to man’s blindness, O be Thou our aid:
Thy kingdom come, O Lord, Thy will be done.

Races and peoples, lo! we stand divided,
And sharing not our griefs, no joy can share;
By wars and tumults love is mocked, derided,
His conquering cross no kingdom wills to bear:
Thy kingdom come, O Lord, Thy will be done.

Envious of heart, blind eyed, with tongues confounded,
Nation by nation still goes unforgiven;
In wrath and fear, by jealousies surrounded,
Building proud towers which shall not reach to heaven:
Thy kingdom come, O Lord, Thy will be done.

Lust of possession worketh desolations;
There is no meekness in the sons of earth;
Led by no star, the rulers of the nations
Still fail to bring us to the blissful birth:
Thy kingdom come, O Lord, Thy will be done.

How shall we love Thee, holy, hidden Being,
If we love not the world which Thou hast made?
O give us brother love for better seeing
Thy Word made flesh, and in a manger laid:
Thy kingdom come, O Lord, Thy will be done.

Laurence Housman, 1919

By Permission of the League of Nations Union

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Pray Always

21 October 2007 – Proper 24C * Luke 18:1-8

The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, MD

“Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”

It is easy to lose heart. There always seems to be so much going wrong all at once – in the world, in the nation, in the church, in our families and in our own lives. Threats seem to abound, danger seems afoot, and even when we try to get away, forget about things and go on vacation, there is the security search of our bags and our person to remind us that the world is a scary place. Even the earth, we are told, is in danger of getting dangerously warm, wreaking havoc for all God’s living creatures, most especially humans. Without having to invent new conflicts, one would think the facts of nuclear proliferation and global warming might be cause enough to lose heart!

It is even easier to forget about our need to pray always. I have always wondered just what Saint Paul was getting at when he instructs the church in Thessolonika to “pray without ceasing.”(1 Thess 5: 17) Do Paul and Jesus want us to detach from this world and the life we live, become hermit-monks, and do nothing but pray day and night? Or, as we explored earlier this summer, do we simply misunderstand what it means to pray?

For at one dimension, prayer is what we call our communication with God – in which case Jesus and Paul might be saying, “Keep the lines of communication open at all times and in all places and in every situation and circumstance in which you find yourselves.” Which gets at the heart of at least one misunderstanding about prayer - that it relies on our saying something, or at least thinking something. Keeping lines of communication open, truly open, means to be attentive and listening at all times – and in the case of prayer, that would mean listening for what new thing God in Christ might be saying to us when we least expect it.

When one combines this need to be always attentive and listening for God’s new Word with Jesus’ urging us not to lose heart, what appears to be at stake here is sustaining the virtue of Hope in a world that rarely provides evidence that such hope is justified. This is perhaps our primary task as a community of Christians – to sustain and offer hope to one another and to those, who like the poor widow in our parable, come to us seeking a more just world.

What Saint Benedict would call “the ears of our heart” ought to prick up at the mention of the word “widow.” For Widow in the Bible represents a class of people without resources, without power, and even with little access to the powerful, as the widow in our story soon finds out. She has no husband, and in those days that meant no inheritance, which meant she had little or nothing. Widows were dependent on the gleanings left in the fields after the harvest. And now, it seems, someone is taking further advantage of her.

The Judge is meant to be impartial – and judges in ancient Israel were charged to hear out
”the small and the great alike” (Deut 1:17). Yet, our judge, we are told, feels accountable to no one – neither God nor people. Here he is shirking his duty by refusing to hear the widow’s case. After all, she is in no position to bribe him to take her case. All she wants is what is just.

Her persistence in faith and pleading her case leads the judge to do the right thing for the wrong reason – he just wants to be done with her. After all, she is “bothering” him – which literally means to give someone a “black eye.” That is, he is losing face in the community the longer she hangs around. Indeed, he not only hears her case, but grants her what just what she seeks – justice.

This story has several important dimensions of meaning. On the surface is the promise of ultimate justice for those who persist in faith – that is, those who sustain a virtue of hope against all odds, and all evidence to the contrary. Faith is trust in God’s divine Justice.

There is also what has been called the discontinuity of faith – that is we can put our faith in persons like this judge, or we can put our faith in God. It is the discontinuity between unjust judges (kings, politicians, CEOs, just fill in the blank) and God that makes divine justice so much more trustworthy. Those who pray to a loving and just God should never give up – never lose heart. What we are meant to see is if this judge can be moved, how much more will a loving God of justice be moved by our persistent prayer?

Another dimension, of course, and central to the entire Gospel of Jesus Christ, is that of never giving up the cause of justice, no matter who has the power. Those who are expected to live on left-overs can have a better life. One of the ways the Bible envisions a more just society is for those who have to give of their first-fruits, not from the left-overs or after-market, after-taxes, profit. The tithe always comes from the first-fruits, and was seen as a way of providing more than the gleanings of the field for those who were without resources - our contributions to the work of God’s kingdom make all the difference.

Finally, the parable instructs us to know that Prayer is not the opposite of action – prayer is faith in action. The widow persists in living out her faith and her hope by actively confronting the judge over and over and over again. One can easily lose faith, lose hope, and lose heart in such situations. Those of us who confess faith in a God of Justice, Mercy and Love “must surely believe in the great discontinuity between God and us, what is and what will be,” writes David Jacobson. “For it is in our crying, our tears, and our prayers, that the ground of our hope is revealed. It is faith, the very gift that empowers us to keep on keepin’ on. Martin Luther King, Jr, put the view of such divinely wrought, faith-full, prayer-full action rather nicely: ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’” (Jacobson in New Proclamation:Year C – Easter through Christ the King [Fortress, Minneapolis:2006], p.237)

Our Prayers, our Actions, and our pledges commit us to be those people who sustain the virtues of Hope and Justice in a world that rarely provides evidence that such hope is justified. The Church, the Body of Christ, is called upon to be such a community of Prayer, Action, Hope and Justice for all people. The temptation is to live a life of cocky self-assurance like the judge. The call from Christ is to be as persistent as the widow in prayer and action to keep the needs for Hope and Justice alive in all that we do, all that we say, and all that we give for the spread of the kingdom of God. Amen.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

One In Ten

14 October 2007 * Proper 23C – Jeremiah29:1,4-7 - 2 Timothy 2:8-15 – Luke 17:11-19

The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, MD

One In Ten

This brief episode in Luke’s gospel is essential in several dimensions for understanding our calling to follow Christ. For our Catechism instructs us that our mission is to “restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” “All” of course is the operant word, and one much under debate in our society and church – just who is part of “all” and who is not? Of course, the answer would be that everyone is part of all.

This is not what greets Jesus, however, as he travels in the region between Galilee and Samaria – a kind of No Man’s Land in first century Israel – a new kind of wilderness or exile, an exile the likes of which Jeremiah addresses. For Jesus and his fellow religionists and country men and women, Israel itself is exiled in the Roman Empire.

Exile is a Biblical word for being without power, without resources, and without a home. So it is no great surprise that as he wanders between his home region and the region of Samaria – a hostile, foreign and unclean territory – that Jesus comes across ten Exiles, regrettably identified in our English translation as “lepers.” There were in fact no lepers in ancient Israel. It just did not exist. What they had was something like vitiligo, eczema, dandruff, psoriasis and the like.

For these imperfections in the skin, these people were declared “unclean” and were banned from the community – shunned, ostracized, not allowed to stay at home, cast into the outer darkness of the wilderness exile. In the words of Second Timothy they were “suffering hardship…chained,” constrained to live outside the community. But, as Second Timothy declares, “The word of God is not chained.”

Jesus is that Word. The exiles recognize this and cry out for Mercy. He tells them to go see the priests to be restored to the community – recertified, released from exile status, to be allowed to go home.

On their way to do as Jesus tells them to do, they are made clean – they are healed, which in the Bible means restored to the life of the community, released from exile status.

One turns back, falls on his face at Jesus’ feet and gives thanks. We can almost hear the sneering tone of the text which says, “And he was a Samaritan.” The text looks down on him. He is twice cursed: he is unclean AND a dreaded, hated, foreigner Samaritan. A resident alien if you will.

We are meant to be surprised, astonished and taken aback that a foreigner, a stranger, a despised “other,” would be the only one to stop and say Thank You.

“Only one in ten?” asks Jesus. One in ten – this is who and what we are called to be and do: one in ten. All of us are exiles of one kind or another – “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt,” says the Lord to the people in the wilderness. We are all strangers in a strange land, far away from home, seeking God’s mercy. We are all called upon, like this Samaritan, to give thanks, eucharistia, thanksgiving.

As we approach the table of God, the altar of God’s sacrifice once offered, the sacrifice of God’s only Son, Jesus, we are to make an offering of one in ten: one cent of every ten, ten cents of every dollar, one dollar of every ten, ten dollars of every hundred, a hundred dollars of every thousand, a thousand dollars of every ten thousand.

This is meant to be a token, this offering of ours – a token of our thanksgiving, and a pledged commitment to the life of the kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven,” here and now. This offering is a sign of our thanks for all God has to give, for all of God’s mercy, for all of God’s love for this sinful and broken world.

For God sent his Son, his beloved, to rescue us from exile, to make us clean, to heal us and bring us home – and home is where we come from. We come from Love, We return to Love, and Love is all around. All of life is a homecoming, a return from exile and a return to eternal life lived with God.

We have been rescued so that we can give thanks, praise God, make offerings and be one in ten.

One in Ten

One in Ten

How can I be One In Ten

Come to God with all my needs

I can live my life with God

Accepting all God has to give

I can live my life with God

Giving thanks right where we are

I can live my life with God

Shouting out my gratitude

I can live my life with God

Welcome strangers, let them in

I can live my life with God

Welcome those who eat with him

I can live my life with God

Offering God just one in ten

I can live my life with God

All God asks is one in ten

I can live my life with God

One in ten

One in ten

How can I be One In Ten

Of course, God really asks for more than ten percent. God wants one hundred percent of our time, talent and treasure for the spread of the kingdom of God here and now. It is in this kingdom that we are to make our home, for in the welfare of God’s kingdom we will find our welfare – and the welfare for the whole world – a world in which all people means all people, restored to unity with God and each other in Christ.


Saturday, October 6, 2007

How Much Is Enough?

7 October 2007 – Proper 22C – Habakkuk 1:1-4,2:1-4 – Luke 17:5-10

The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, St. Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, MD

How Much Is Enough?

This is a fundamental question for all of us: How much is enough? Especially at this time of year when the words like Stewardship, Pledge, Proportional Giving, and Tithe are in the air.

Luke has told us in no uncertain terms that Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem. On the way Jesus talks endlessly about the life of discipleship. He talks about hospitality, welcoming and helping strangers, seeking lost sheep and lost coins, visiting prisoners, prodigal sons, the rich man and Lazarus. Then he lays it on in chapter 17 just before our Gospel this morning by saying that if you cause anyone to sin, may you take a swim with the fishes with cement overshoes on! And you must rebuke those who sin, and forgive those who repent seven times a day!

Is it any wonder the disciples cry out, “Increase our faith!” They are being asked to assume major leadership positions in the community of Christ. And no one wants to end up in the proverbial swim with the fishes!

What is so wonderful about Jesus and his method of training us and developing our discipleship is exemplified in his response. For much of the gospel he has questioned the faith of the disciples. “You have such little faith,” he says often. “Where is your faith?” he asks on the stormy sea. So it is only natural that they cry out, “Give us more…give us more faith…increase it, please, so we can succeed at all of this.”

It is a cry with which we are familiar. Whenever the church is faced with challenges we say we need more: we need more resources, we need more planning, we need more people, we need more, more, more of everything before we can possibly do what Jesus calls us to do.

We all know just how the disciples are feeling. We put off leading a Bible Study until we know more about the Bible. Or, we put off increasing our pledge until we are making just a bit more money. Just tap into those feelings of needing more before listening to Jesus’ response.

Now hear what he says. Jesus says we do not need to increase our faith, we just need the tiniest bit of faith imaginable. A grain of mustard seed’s worth of faith can empower you to do great things. Which is to say, unless you have no faith, you already have enough. You have enough! What you have is sufficient. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” [Hebrews 11:1]

As our catechism says on page 855 in the Book of Common Prayer, we are to bear witness to Christ wherever we may be, and “according to the gifts given us, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world.” This is the definition of lay ministry in the church. For this we were baptized.

This acknowledges that we have all been given gifts and resources. As Saint Paul makes clear in his letter to the Corinthians, we do not all have the same gifts, but we all have gifts necessary to do the things Jesus does. And most astonishing of all, in the fourteenth chapter of John Jesus tells us, “…and greater things than these you will do.”

Can we even imagine this? We are promised by Jesus that with the gifts we have already been given we will do greater things than he does. What an incredible assertion. What a promise! This means God does not ask us to do anything more than that which God has equipped us to do. Of course, God also expects us to do no less.

No wonder the prophet Habakkuk is commanded to erect a Billboard large enough to be read as people go racing by declaring God’s promises to us. Write it large enough to be seen along the highway, he is told: You Have Enough! Use What You Have Been Given! You Will Do Greater Things Than I do! Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith!

We know this all to be true. After all, we began our worship praying, “Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve.” And we can all confess that we desire an awful lot. This is all meant to help us to see, however, that what is at stake here is not the power of faith, which is in fact unquantifiable, but the power of God!

In Luke, Jesus goes on to say, that at the end of the day, when you have used the gifts you already have been given you may still feel as if you have not done enough - that you do not have enough to give. You may still feel unworthy somehow. That it is only your duty to have done these things Jesus calls us to do.

This is only natural, because we are so filled with the Love of God, so filled with the Spirit of God, so perfectly created in God’s own generous and giving image that we always want to do more for God’s sake and for our neighbor’s sake.

How much is enough? We are to trust what we have – what we have been given. Trust what we have to give. It is more than enough. We can uproot trees. We can move mountains. The lame will walk, the blind will see. Loaves multiply so there’s enough to feed. As you sow, you shall receive. As you follow Christ, you will begin to lead. If only you have faith as small as a mustard seed. Our faith proclaims the power of God within us and all around us!

The kingdom of God is at hand. We can reach out and touch it, feel its nearness, and participate in its fullness. God’s will will be done on earth as it is in heaven, if only we have faith as small as a mustard seed.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Give An Accounting of Your Stewardship

23 September 2007 – Proper 20C: Amos 8:4-7, I Timothy 2:1-7, Luke 16:1-13

The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, MD

(With thanks and apologies to Richard W. Swanson, Provoking the Gospel of Luke [Pilgrim Press, Cleveland, 2006])

Hear This!

Rabbis and preachers often convey moral truths by way of subtle and clever stories. Which is exactly what Jesus has done – he tells a clever story. Unfortunately, natural instincts have led the church to misinterpret the story, looking for a character to emulate, and even worse, has changed the translation to make sense of the misunderstanding. Ooops!

One attempt to make sense of this story has been to suggest that the steward is not dishonest and not “stealing” from the rich man’s investments, but only deducting his commission. If that is the case, wouldn’t anyone who works on a commission basis want his job? If this is his commission, it is 50% in one case and 20% in the next! Only loan sharks and drug dealers work with such margins. It’s almost better to think he is simply dishonest.

Then there is the translation problem. The Greek text does not suggest “charges” being brought against the manager, but rather that he has been slandered – which suggests that the charges are false. And not that he “squandered” the rich man’s property, but rather he was “spreading it around” – what we would call “diversifying his portfolio.” Which sounds like good fiscal policy in today’s world of free-market capitalism.

So, on the basis of gossip and false charges the rich man fires the steward, suggesting that perhaps he doesn’t want to “spread his money around.” After all, the next thing you know people will be expecting him to invest in their venture projects, or even worse, ask him to donate to charities. This kind of thing needs be nipped in the bud, so he fires the steward.

This would explain the steward’s reaction, which is in fact to cheat the rich man. He has caught on to how the business game is played. If he can be cheated on the basis of gossip and innuendo, he can take revenge. This in turn might explain the rich man’s response, which is, in effect, “Congratulations, now you are learning how the game is played. You may have a future in this after all. Let me put you to work in a new company I am starting up – let’s call it “Enron.”

So we have a disloyal master, and a cheating, revengeful manager who thinks he can do well in the future by demonstrating he can cheat. Which is what the merchants in Amos are salivating to do – cheat. They wish to break the Sabbath laws and sell sell sell 24/7, put a heavy finger on the scales, shrink the size and weight of a pound of olives, so that they can fill their closets with the newest shoes – Crocs, Uggs, Jimmy Choo, Nina Ricci, Prada Sport Sneakers, Cole Haan, Brunomagli, and the like!

In a hilarious send up of Raymond Chandler mysteries and Episcopal liturgical customs, Mark Schweizer in his book, The Alto Wore Tweed (St. James Music Press, 2002) sums it all up in the libretto of an Epiphany Pageant featuring not the three Kings, but their wives, Leona, Imelda and Hilary:

I’m Imelda, jolly and quaint

Rather large, a face like a saint,

My shoes I can carry on one dromedary,

If I show real restraint. Ohhhhh

Star of wonder, star most fair,

I’m wandering without footwear.

It may seem callous, but at my palace

I have around three thousand pair!

Clearly we are not to emulate the merchants in Amos, nor the rich man or his manager in the Gospel. These people all represent the children of this age. These are the people who serve wealth/mammon, not God.

The key phrases in here would have to be, “You cannot serve God and mammon/wealth,” and, “Give me an accounting of your stewardship,” and of course, “Hear this…surely I will never forget any of their/your deeds.”

So what the scriptures before us mean to ask is, given that we all have resources that we manage, i.e. we are stewards of all that God has given to us, do we marshal these resources on behalf of God and those God loves, the poor and the needy? Or, do we all have closets full of shoes? Shoes, of course, is simply a metaphor, a space-holder for whatever else it is we find ourselves collecting or addicted to: clothes, cars, matchbox racers, fine wine, fine food, stamps, baseball cards, Thomas Kinkaid knick-knacks, guitars, coins, and everything else the Home Shopping Network and its minions offer as “true collectables.”

Be certain that there is no suggestion that money and resources are bad. Rather, the assertion is that there is a true need for money and resources in the Kingdom of God. Either you are on the bus or off of the bus, the Kingdom of God being the bus. Either we are serving God with all that we are and all that we have, or we are not.

And the only thing we need to know is true about the Gospel story (other than its description of the world of commerce looking pretty much the same before and after the birth of free-market capitalism) is that one day we will all hear a voice asking, “Give me an accounting of your stewardship.”

As William Burrill, retired Bishop of the Diocese of Rochester has long maintained, a quick glance at the register in our checkbooks, or now our online internet statements, will give a balanced and true picture of where our commitments lie – with God or with mammon. Or, as the late Bishop Bennett Sims once put it, “Of all the money I spent on myself, I would love to get most of it back. Of all the money I gave away, I don’t care to see it ever again.”

Is it any wonder that we are anxious about earthly things, as our collect asserts? Jesus, claims the Letter of Paul to Timothy, gave himself as a ransom for all that we might choose to become children of light, that we might choose to “lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity,” that we might choose to hold fast to those things that shall endure. In the weeks ahead we will be asked to make such choices – choices we face everyday. Jesus trusts those of us who know him to make such choices on behalf of his Father’s kingdom. There exists an entire world that hopes his faith in us is well founded. Amen.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

God's Choices, Our Choices, New Choices

9 September 2007 – Proper 18C * Jeremiah 18:1-11 – Luke 14: 25-33

The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, MD

God’s Choices, Our Choices, New Choices

Too often we feel as if we have no control over our future. There are numerous other forces at work beyond our control. Worse still, we find it all too convenient to blame someone or something else for how things are turning out. Common targets of such blame are parents, genes, society, diet, music, peers, the Church, multi-national corporations, congress, the White House, the judiciary, the media – the list can go on and on and on.

Against such a fatalistic world view, Jeremiah the prophet was given a metaphor by God in an attempt to establish a more responsible world-view. The people of Judah faced a crisis that would cost them their political independence and lead the people into a generation of slavery in Babylon.

Pottery, clay, was as common to manufacturing in Jeremiah’s time some six centuries before Christ as something like steel or plastic is for us today. Such things as bricks, lamps, toys, ovens, roof tiles, figurines, tableware, storage jars, cooking pots, even jewelry were all made of clay.

The Lord God of Israel says to Jeremiah, “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” This would be a familiar image.

This is an invitation for all of us to come, go, see and hear what the Lord has to say. And what we see is the Lord sitting at a potter’s wheel “throwing” a vessel of clay. It is spoiled, somehow not what the Lord has in mind, so the potter reworks the vessel until it seems “good to him.” God starts over – God begins again – God begins anew.

The initial lesson is perhaps obvious: God can choose to deal with us – individuals and nations – as God chooses. God has the freedom and the power to shape us and re-shape us. God can simply destroy us or start over with us as God pleases.

What is revolutionary in Jeremiah’s portrayal of this scene is the suggestion further on that the clay, the vessel, we, also makes choices: we can choose to be good or to be evil, we can choose to listen to God’s word or not. Clay cannot choose, but we, individuals and nations, as clay in God’s hands, can and do make choices every day – choices that either reflect God’s will or not. We can choose to repent and return to the Lord’s way, or not.

According to the choices we make –as individuals and as nations – God says, “I will change my mind about the good I had intended to do.” God as potter wants to do good for us, but when we stray from becoming a vessel that “looks good” to the potter, the potter can and has and will destroy one vessel to fashion a new one.

The choices we make matter. How we choose effects our future. We are responsible for what happens – we have a moral responsibility for creating the world in which we live.

Jesus makes a similar point to those who would be his disciples. All his talk about hating family, counting the costs and giving up all our possessions takes the importance of God’s choices and Our choices to a whole new place.

Jeremiah calls people to return to traditional moral norms and values – Jesus calls us to go beyond such traditional norms. What Jesus asserts is that living in accord with traditional moral choices is not enough to respond to God’s new movement in their lives. It will involve making choices that seem to make no sense at the time, but will lead the people to shape their future by making such radical new choices in the present.

Our calendar of Feasts and Fasts in the Book of Common Prayer celebrates the lives of individuals who have made such bold choices in an attempt to reshape the future of the church, the nation and the world.

Last Tuesday, we remembered one such individual: Bishop Paul Jones, born in 1880 in the rectory of St. Stephen’s Church, Wilkes-Barre, PA. In 1914 he was elected bishop of the Missionary District of Utah, at the outbreak of World War I.

Bishop Jones spoke openly of his opposition to the war, expressing his belief that “war is unchristian,” a position for which he was attacked in the headlines of the Utah press. As a result of his position, a Commission of the House of Bishops investigated Bishop Jones, and in a commission report concluded, “The underlying contention of the Bishop of Utah seems to be that war is unchristian. With this general statement the Commission cannot agree.” Leave it to the Church to come up with a committee that would make such a conclusion!

The report called for his resignation, and in the spring of 1918 Bishop Jones resigned as Bishop of Utah. For the next 23 years, however, until his death in 1941, he continued a ministry within the church and society dedicated to peace and conscience, speaking always with a conviction rooted in the Gospel.

“Where I serve the church is of small importance, so long as I can make my life count in the cause of Christ,” he said in his farewell to the Missionary District of Utah.

We all pray for a world without war, without violence, without the kinds of hatred and thirst for power that leads us into one conflict after another. God keeps sending us one voice after another with names like Gandhi, King, Berrigan, McCalister and Jones. We sing, “You are the potter, we are the clay, the work of your hands…." Forgetting, perhaps, that we have the choice to be molded by God's hands, or not. "Or not" leads to war, global warming, poverty, etc.

God’s choices, our choices, new choices – Jesus challenges us to shape our future by the choices we make in the present. Jeremiah and Jesus both offer a hopeful view of the future by saying the choices we make in the present will shape our future. It is up to no one else but us – one choice at a time – to join with God in creating the world God wants this to be.

“Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” May we come, go down and listen. Amen.

Please join me in singing:

Come, go down to the Potter’s House

And listen to my word

Come, go down to the Potter’s House

And listen to my word

Just like clay in the Potter’s hands

So you are in mine (repeats in each verse)

Come, go down to the Potter’s House

And listen to my word

Turn back from your evil ways

And all the things you do

Turn back from your evil ways

And all the things you do

Just like clay in the Potter’s hands

So you are in mine (repeats in each verse)

Turn back from your evil ways

And all the things you do

Before you go to wage a war

Measure all the costs

No matter where you serve the Church

You count in the cause of Christ

My word is love, my word is peace

How will you make it yours

The choice you make is the chance you take

To serve the Lord our God

Copyright Sounds Divine

Kirk A Kubicek

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Labor Sunday

Labor Sunday – September 2, 2007

Sirach 10: 12-18 * Luke 14:1,7-14

The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, St. Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

Labor Sunday

Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives: So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good; and , as we seek a proper return for our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out of work; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. (BCP 261)

Our first reading from Sirach warns, “The beginning of human pride is to forsake the Lord; the heart has withdrawn from its Maker … The Lord overthrows the thrones of rulers, and enthrones the lowly … plucks up the roots of the nations and plants the humble in their places … erases the memory of them from the earth … Pride was not created for human beings…”

And we find Jesus echoing these themes as he urges us to rethink just who we ought to be inviting to the dinner table, which is and always has been the Lord’s own table – he points his host in the direction of common people, workers and those in special need. That is why we say grace a mealtimes at home – to remember from whence our bounty comes, and that it is the Lord’s table not ours. That is why we join in the Great Thanksgiving as we lift up our offerings every time we approach the Altar of the Lord’s supper, Holy Communion – the Holy Eucharist. Just who do we invite to gather around this table?

In 1882, Tuesday, September the 5th, the Knights of Labor organized the original Labor Day celebration and parade in New York City. It was initiated to create a day off for the “working man and woman,” and to exhibit to the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” of the community. In 1884 came a second parade, followed by a general strike in 1886 which eventually won the eight-hour work day in the United States – an idea that would still look pretty good to most of us who work!

In 1887 President Grover Cleveland established the September date as the ongoing and official day for Americans to celebrate Labor Day. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor in1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday, dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.

Recognizing the centrality of labor in the life of the human community, The Book of Common Prayer, our primary worship book, calls us to pray for those who do work for the common good every day.

Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, the architect of the Book of Common Prayer had a vision for Anglican and what eventually became Episcopal daily life: it was to be grounded in regular daily prayers in the morning, at noon, in the evening and at bed-time. The prayers are not common so much in the sense that we say them together, but rather that we all be saying our prayers wherever we are, and praying for the same concerns. We may say them with others, or by our selves, but they will still be prayers we hold in common.

Every night before bed-time the prayer office of Compline is outlined in our Prayer Book. Compline may be said with others or by oneself. Near the end of the office, one has the choice of two prayers on page 134:

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for you love’s sake. Amen

or this

O God, your unfailing providence sustains the world we live in and the life we live: Watch over those, both night and day, who work while others sleep, and grant that we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other’s toil; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Our common life depends on each other’s toil. One must wonder just how the great political debates of our age might be reshaped were we to actually pray these prayers every night or every day? How might we look, for instance, at immigrant and migrant workers differently?

I find myself often reflecting on just how many individuals it takes to produce and deliver the loaf of bread I buy at the market – seed manufacturers, farmers, farm hands, mill workers, truckers, bakers, delivery people, store managers, buyers, shelf-stockers and the person at the check-out line. And I have probably left some out. It is all a part of God’s economy for our common good. Today we are called to reflect on the spiritual dimensions of labor.

To help us with this, here is a poem by Carl Sandberg, one of America’s most famous poets. Often his poems were populated by factory workers, washerwomen, hobos, crooked politicians, and people of the great Midwestern prairie.

I Am the People, the Mob

By Carl Sandberg

I am the people – the mob – the crowd – the mass.

Do you know that all the great work of the world is done

through me?

I am the workman, the inventor, the maker of the

world’s food and clothes.

I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons

come from me and the Lincolns. They die. And then

I send forth more Napoleons and Lincolns.

I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand for

much plowing. Terrible storms pass over me.

I forget. The best of me is sucked out and wasted.

I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and makes

me work and give up what I have. And I forget.

Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red

drops for history to remember. Then – I forget.

When I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the

People, use the lessons of yesterday and no longer

forget who robbed me last year, who played me for a

fool – then there will be no speaker in all the world

say the name: “The People,” with any fleck of a

sneer in his voice or any far-off smile of derision.

The mob – the crowd – the mass – will arrive then.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Meditative Prayer with Scripture Part 3

29 July 2007 * Proper 12C

Genesis18:20-32 * Luke 11:1-13

The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

The Word Is Very Near To You: Meditative Prayer with Scripture Part 3

Over the past two weeks we have moved from a notion of prayer as conversation with God to an understanding that God is a conversation – a conversation that is eternal and already ongoing between Abba/Father, Jesus/Son and the Wind/Breath/Spirit of God. And we have discovered that Meditative Prayer with God begins with our attentiveness to God’s word, receiving it in love, and responding to it, letting God set the agenda. And we learned that in fact our attentiveness may be all the response that is needed!

We also learned that Meditative Prayer with scripture is both a welcoming of God, Father, Son and Spirit, into the household of our heart as our guest, while at the same time allowing God to become our host, inviting us, calling us, wooing us to share in the very intimacy of conversation, dance and song going on between the three persons of the Christian Trinity.

How wonderful is it that we draw these current reflections on prayer to a close with the teaching of what we call The Lord’s Prayer, and the example of Abraham.

“Jesus was praying in a certain place…” Jesus needs a place to pray, and so do we. We need to find a place as free of other distractions as possible. In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus directs us to find a room and to shut the door. Which is not to say that we cannot pray anytime and anyplace, but for meditative prayer with scripture, a quiet place will aid us in giving God our undivided attention. Find a certain place to pray.

This seems to be a luxury in our time and place, and we will find many excuses to say it is impossible to find a certain place to pray. This may reflect an unconscious resistance to finding intimacy with God. It may reflect a cultural suspicion or discomfort with solitude and quiet. It may reflect our shyness at letting others know our need for a place specifically for prayer. And it may reflect our fear of being unable to settle down once we find a certain place to pray. We wonder where to sit, how to sit, how to orient our bodies and ourselves to facilitate our attention to the conversation that is God.

Similarly, we wonder when we can possibly find the time to spend half-an-hour being attentive to the conversation that is God. As Martha thought last week, there are so many other important things we need to be doing, attending to the needs of others and ourselves. Yet, as Jesus suggests, when we allow Him into the household of our hearts, and let him feed us, nurture us, care for us and tend to us, we become far better equipped to extend hospitality, especially His hospitality, to others. We become more fully our selves so we have more to offer.

We need at least a half hour to attend to God’s Word to even begin to sense that God’s word is, indeed, very near to us. Once we sense the nearness of God’s Word, we need time for it to touch us, to formulate our response, and then time to transition back to “business as usual.” With any luck, however, after spending time in a certain place with God and God’s Word, there will no longer be “business as usual,” but instead a life that is continually and eternally transformed and made new!

The disciples want to know “how to pray.” John the Baptizer had taught his disciples how to pray, we want to know too. Jesus may have his own reasons up to now for not teaching the “how” of prayer - perhaps because he wants us to experience the presence of God’s Word without concern for technique and form. Remember, Jesus wants us to share the very same intimacy with Abba-Father that he already shares. Technique and form might only get in the way of such intimacy – might hold us back from just jumping into the eternal dance that is already in full swing between Abba/Father, Jesus/Son and Holy Spirit.

But if you must have “some thing” for which to pray, pray for kingdom living – Hallow God’s name, pray for God’s Kingdom, pray for bread which is given daily, forgive and be forgiven, resist temptations to sin. Note how simple Luke’s version of this all too familiar prayer really is. We have gussied it up for public worship, but at its core it is stripped down and to the point.

In meditative prayer with scripture we might find our selves reflecting on just what it means to allow our selves to be dependent on bread which is given daily. How might our lives be shaped by such dependence? Or, just how does one “hallow” God’s name? How might every thing we say and everything we do reflect the hallowedness we desire to give to God’s name?

Giving our attention to Genesis 18, what do we learn about responding to God’s Word? Do we sense that it is OK to challenge God? Do we sense that like Abraham we might have a say in what God does or does not do? Do we sense that God allows us to disagree with God? Do we sense that an important role for us is to advocate for the needs of others – others who might not have a standing before God, or don’t even know our God the way we come to know God through meditative prayer with scripture?

Martin Smith suggests that the shape of such prayer might look like this: Select a specific story or passage before your prayer time. Find a certain place. Set a certain time. Find ways to settle down. Ask God to touch you through this scripture. Read the scripture several times (perhaps even while walking). Notice which words or phrases you trip over, or jump out at you. Stay with those words. Place the Bible aside and let your imagination go. Bring the scene to life. Become a participant. How are you feeling? Let the drama unfold. Don’t control the story. Don’t be thinking of applications to your life. Be attentive to the words and actions of the story and your feelings. Let yourself respond. Tell God/Jesus/Spirit how you have been touched! What are you thankful for? What do you need? How is God inviting you, wooing you, caring for you, tending to you? Sometimes it is best to just soak it all in, savor it, and let your attentiveness be your response. Come to a simple conclusion, perhaps with the Lord’s prayer or some other familiar or easy prayer. Or, forget about these guidelines altogether and just be with the Word that is very near to you. Martin Smith, The Word is Very Near to You (Cowley, Cambridge: 1989) p. 105-107

Jesus concludes today by saying to us, “…how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” This is an invitation to prayer, to communion and intimacy with Abba/Father God. As George Herbert so eloquently puts it in his poem, “Prayer 1,” it is an invitation to:

Prayer the Church's banquet, Angel's age,

God's breath in man returning to his birth,

The Soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,

The Christian plummet sounding heav'n and earth;

Engine against th'Almighty, sinner's tower,

Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,

The six-days world transposing in an hour,

A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;

Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,

Exalted Manna, gladness of the best,

Heaven in ordinary, man well dressed,

The milky way, the bird of Paradise,

Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul's blood,

The land of spices; something understood.

The Word is very near to you. Attend to it with your heart and mind and soul, and it will be the Father’s good will to give you the Holy Spirit. Amen.