Friday, February 23, 2007

Benediction Meditation for Lent

Just a few days ago on Ash Wednesday we heard from the prophet Joel. The prophet saw the people facing a day of thick darkness. Things were just awful: warfare, famine, hunger, frustration, danger, political intrigue, a lack of leadership. The world, says the prophet, is a scary place. Things appeared to be hopeless.

Hopelessness is no less a stranger today than it was back in Joel’s day. Days of darkness and gloom frequently dominate local, national and international news, and can intrude into our personal lives when we least expect it. Whether it is in our personal lives, the life of the church or the life of our nation, a sense of the near impossibility of helping ourselves often can lead to a kind of paralysis, or at the very least feelings of deep self-doubt.

The ashes of Ash Wednesday, however, are meant to remind us that we come from God, we will return to God, and that God is all around. Most notably, the prophet Joel asks the question, “Who knows?”

Who knows if God will not turn and repent, enter the sanctuary and leave a blessing behind him, a cereal offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God? Who knows?

Imagine, God leaving the offering for God’s self so that God will be moved to save us from our sins, our gloom and the impinging darkness that seems to surround us on all sides.

There it is. Appearing as if from nowhere and nothing, encased in glass and gold, a cereal offering – a disc of wheat and water, a bit of bread, nothing less than the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ – stands before us as a reminder that what the prophet imagined has truly come to pass.

Like manna in the wilderness, with this cereal offering, once offered, self-offered, God seeks to sustain us with bread that will satisfy our deepest hunger. It is like when Moses told the people to fill a jar with manna so that when they were feeling hopeless, feeling as if the darkness would never draw back, they were to look at the jar and know that God is in the manna – God is in the bread – God is where we are if we place ourselves before God and open our selves to his grace and his mercy.

We call our manna in this jar our Host. It is the paradox of faith that in this sanctuary God in Christ is both our guest and our Host. As Host he invites us to allow God to feed us with bread that truly will satisfy all of our hunger.

As the poet and priest George Herbert gave voice to this moment:

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lacked anything

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.

- Love III – George Herbert

So we come to sit and eat. Gazing on our Host we are to take in the full flavor and taste of Amazing Grace. As we sit and pray with our Host, we see the radiant holiness of his presence in our sanctuary. His radiant name is enough to drive back a little bit of our darkness and draw us a little closer to the light. His light shines continually to drive away all darkness, and to set our hearts on fire – on fire with the radiance of his Holy Name.

May Christ, the Morning Star who knows no setting, find this fire ever burning – he who gives his light to all creation and every creature under heaven, he who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Amazing Grace

18 February 2007 *Last Epiphany C
Luke 9:28-43a * The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, St. Peter’s at Ellicott Mills

Amazing Grace

It has been an interesting week outside of the snowbelt and the parochial irritations of what passes for the American manifestation of the Anglican tradition. A story came across my email transom about an evangelistic effort underway among some of our Australian sisters and brothers in the Anglican Communion.

Some parishes in Australia have hung banners outside that feature the words, “Jesus Loves Osama – Matthew 5:44 ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’” I probably do not need to tell you that the reactions are strong, varied, and causing quite a stir.

Some have suggested that perhaps this is theologically true, but something more nuanced might be better, such as, “Jesus loves us all, no matter who we are or what we may have done.” For the logic of the signs, of course, is that the name “Osama” is merely an extreme stand-in, or place-keeper if you will, for any of us.

As Melbourne’s Archbishop, Dr. Philip Freir puts it, “Jesus does not love acts of terrorism, acts of violence, sexual abuse, stealing, lying, greed or any other selfish acts.” That is, the daily, ubiquitous sins of society matter just as much in the eyes of God as the sins of Osama.

Evidently, however, we do not care much for such nuanced introspection and self-reflection. You may have read by now that today is Amazing Grace Sunday in the United States (see . This is a worldwide effort to remember that it is the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade in England.

Two men had an influential hand in this effort, both of them Anglicans – John Newton, the former slave trader, later priest, who penned Amazing Grace, and William Wilberforce, a member of the House of Commons who persisted for more than 20 years introducing legislation beginning in 1807, until finally the Slave Trade was ended in 1833 in the United Kingdom.

Newton had mentored Wilberforce. While caught in a storm with a shipload of slaves bound for the New World, Newton fell on his knees and prayed. He sensed that God hears our prayers, even those of the worst of men – or as he would later write, “who saved a wretch like me.” Newton went from slave trader to abolitionist because he had felt the glory and grace of God touch his life.

His hymn has been sung on both sides of the American Civil War, by the Cherokees at the end of their Trail of Tears, in the Civil Rights struggles, by Dr. King on the National Mall, when Nelson Mandala was freed from prison in South Africa, when the Berlin Wall came down, on 9/11 across the nation, and recently when the New Orleans Saints football team first returned to play in the refurbished Superdome. Newton’s words have the power to uplift the hearts and heads of the broken, and soften the hearts of the hard hearted.

Today, all across this hallowed land of ours, people and choirs inside and outside of churches are singing Amazing Grace to recall the work of people like Newton, Wilberforce and abolitionists in our nation, but also to call attention to the fact that world-wide, including in the United States, it is estimated that 27 million people are still sold into slavery – many of them women and children. That is more than all the slaves world-wide at the height of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. There is plenty of work yet to do to make the world slave-free.

And yet we read that there are Christians today who will sing an altered version of Newton’s hymn, replacing the words, “that saved a wretch like me,” with the more palatable, “that saved and set me free.” Just like some who refuse to say the prayer of Humble Access that says in part, “…we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table.” We don’t like to think of ourselves as wretches, we prefer to feel worthy. It seems more modern to believe, as Eucharistic Prayer B puts it, “you have made us worthy to stand before you.”

But that is just Newton’s point with the words, “who saved a wretch like me.” God makes us worthy, not we ourselves.

What all this has to do with a Transfigured Christ is just this – we read that Jesus is speaking of “his departure.” The word in Greek is exodos, the word for exodus, that defining event of Biblical Faith when a band of slaves escaped to freedom by the grace of God. The Exodus and Passover define the New Testament’s ultimate understanding of who Jesus is: our Passover. Luke carefully chooses just this word in a narrative meant to make Christ’s identity manifest to the world.

And the Exodus has long been the inspiring theological underpinning for all freedom movements throughout history, especially the Slave Trade. Slaves would read the texts of the Exodus and Passover and pray and sing for their day of Exodus from slavery to come.

Then note the movement– from witnessing the divine nature of Jesus on the Mountain Top one day, to the very next day going down to the bottom of the mountain to heal a young man convulsing with “a spirit” on the ground. We might note the very human lack of patience on the part of Jesus as he uncharacteristically berates anyone and everyone within earshot – putting our essential wretchedness there for all to see. Yet, God’s Amazing Grace is on display as the young man is healed and we read “all were astounded at the greatness of God.”

John Newton knew what such healing felt like within himself. He wrote his hymn so that others might come to recognize the need to let God’s grace into our lives so that we might undergo the kind of transformation that led Newton to put an end to an evil that was at the time understood as an economic necessity. As Christ was transfigured on the mountain top and began his Exodus journey to the cross and resurrection, Newton was so transfigured – made new. One man, and he made transfigured and new, came to make an enormous difference for countless thousands of people.

I suspect that Transfiguration has something to do with our developing a capacity to somehow put into action Jesus’ very real call to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. It does not feel natural, and it does not come naturally to us. It seems likely that if we were ever to fully embrace our Lord’s commandment in Matthew 5:44 the world would truly be a very different place. In the end it is all about healing – healing a broken world, and healing our broken selves.

Perhaps if we can sing Amazing Grace enough times we too, like Newton, might feel the inner workings of the Holy Spirit working God’s amazing Grace in our lives. We and the world may yet be healed of all wretchedness. Amen

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Where Do We Stand?

11 February 2007
Epiphany 6C * Luke 6:17-26
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

Where Do We Stand?

Before Jesus was born, kicking around in Mary’s womb, we heard that He would bring down the mighty from their thrones, fill the hungry with good things, and the rich He would send away empty.

We have heard Simeon and Anna proclaim Jesus will set the rising and falling of many.

At Jesus’ baptism by John a voice declared, “You, you are my son, the beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

In his hometown synagogue he proclaimed the fulfillment of the coming of God’s Jubilee year when debts would be wiped away, land returned to rightful families, good news for the poor, captives would be released, the blind would see.

All this and more sets the backdrop for these blessings and woes delivered not on a mountainside, but down on a level plain. The text reads, “He went down with them; he stood on a level place.” Jesus comes down to be with us, to stand eye to eye. Perhaps he is seated as it says he lifts up his eyes to those who follow him. He is not speaking down to us – he speaks eye to eye, heart to heart.

Put more simply, Luke is telling us where Jesus stands.

Luke’s version of these familiar blessings also found in Matthew are delivered not in some theoretical third-person, but are directed at you and me: Blessed are you poor now. Blessed are you who hunger now. Blessed are you who are reviled on account of me.

Luke’s version differs also in delivering woes: woe to you rich, woe to you who laugh now, woe to you of whom others speak well.

Which he follows with familiar words: love your enemies, do well for those who hate you, bless those who curse you, give to everyone who begs from you.

For too long we have referred to Jesus as if he is proposing to turn the world upside down.

From a Jewish point of view, and if Jesus was anything he was Jewish, the world is already upside down. Upside down from the way God created the world in the first place. God created the world and said, “It is good.” This means there was enough richness and beauty to nourish and sustain all of creation.

“The earth is the Lord’s and everything therein.”

It was God, who with very penetrating eyes looked at the world from every angle, every perspective, from every which-way possible, and declared that it is good. Created in God’s image, we are to look at the world and see that it is good. Everyone is to see how good it is. Everyone is to see how God made enough for everyone and everything to flourish – as Mary the mother of God puts it, to be filled with good things.

It has been said that God made enough for everyone’s need, not everyone’s greed.

Blessed are you who are hungry. God made the miracle of creation so that there will be someone to feed you. Woe to you that are rich .You have filled your pockets refusing to share.

Jesus calls us to join him in turning the world right-side up again.

We hear these words of Jesus, God’s son, the Beloved, and wonder does anyone believe what he says?

If anything is certain, it is that with Jesus we are not called to sustain “business as usual.”

If we are hearing and believing what Jesus says, we no longer have the luxury to think that the “church’s business” is to “preach the gospel” while refraining from criticism of society’s oppressions.

As a contemporary rabbi of Jesus, Hillel, once put it: “If I am not for myself, who is for me? If I am for myself alone, who am I? And if not now, when?"

Way back in the wilderness after the escape from slavery in Egypt the people depended upon God alone. This was manna season – and the story says everyone had enough, no one had too much, if you hoarded it it spoiled and went rotten. When we depend upon ourselves alone, things spoil and go rotten.

Way back in the wilderness, God said to the people, “I place before you a blessing and a curse, life or death. Choose life.”

Jesus is not making this stuff up. Jesus is the Word of God. He comes down eye to eye, on a level playing field, asking, in effect, when will we join him in leveling the playing field for the poor and the hungry?

He places before us Blessings and Woes, life and death, and implores us to choose life.

Luke tells us where Jesus stands. Jesus wants to know where we stand.


Sunday, February 4, 2007


A Meditation for Benediction
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek
Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church, Ellicott City, Maryland

To all who come inside this church, the sign of this candle always burning, the veils always drawn, remind one and all that He is in this place. This is the dwelling place of his body and blood. This is the home of the One who is the Light of the world, the Light of all creation, the true light that enlightens everyone. He is the light that shines in the darkness and which the darkness has not and cannot overcome. In his light we see light. He resides here in His Tabernacle as both guest and host – our guest and our host. Every moment we spend in this place is to be an acknowledgement of His presence among us. The candles we hold today reflect His light.

So on a day such as this one we bring him out for all to see: as a reminder really. A reminder that we cannot keep him in the Tabernacle, we cannot keep him in this place. Rather, he urges us to go out with Him, as Him, as His body in this world, to join him in His ministry to a broken and suffering world. We pray every Sunday to be made into his instruments of healing in this world.

John Macquarrie observes that this wafer reminds us that this material world is one in which God, as its author, uses the things of the world to mediate his presence and grace. “It is the kind of world in which a wafer can be the sign, or perhaps I should say the shrine, of Christ’s presence. Whatever theory of presence one may hold … so long as it remains within the Eucharistic context and the Eucharistic community, that bread is for us the bread that comes down from heaven for the life of the world. And this is not something merely for our contemplation. Christ is not confined to the Eucharistic bread or even to the Church. He is not a ‘prisoner of the tabernacle.

“The Scottish churchman, George Macleod, used to watch the grain ships from Canada and the United States bringing their cargoes of wheat into Liverpool harbour, and he reflected that the wheat has the potentiality of becoming the body of Christ. This is the point where sacramental theology spills over into the market place. Bread is not a mere commodity; things are not bits of matter. We can learn this [elsewhere], but we learn it above all from Jesus Christ, the bread of God which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” John Macquarrie, A Guide to the Sacraments (Continuum, NY:1997) pp. 154-156.

Like the wheat, like this wafer, we are all endowed by our Baptism with the potentiality of becoming the Body of Christ. We are invited to step out of our various tabernacles, tombs, caves, or wherever it is we keep ourselves locked up, and to join with Him in being bread for a broken, suffering and hungry world. As we focus our gaze on Him, may we see ourselves, for in truth this is who we are: His bread, His Body and His light for the world. “His broken body is my broken body upon which others feed. His blood spilled is my blood shed to rejoice the hearts of all. His tomb is mine, and in it others die to rise again.” (Aiden Kavenaugh, “Christ, Dying and Living Still”). Through the mystery of His body and Blood, we become him, he raises us up into the life of his kingdom. His light shines through all we do and say. We cannot keep him in this place. His life was given for the life of the world – the whole world. Amen.