Saturday, March 31, 2007

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday – 1 April 2007
Luke 22:14 – 23:56 – The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, St. Peter’s at Ellicott Mills

Bread For The Journey

Life often turns on a dime. Such is the character of our liturgy today. The excitement of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem after a long and challenging journey from Galilee soon turns into arrest, trial and capital punishment by crucifixion – the most terrible form of Roman execution saved only for the lowest of the low: slaves and lower classes, soldiers (but not generals), the violently rebellious and treasonous. Strangely fitting since the lowest of the low were those with whom Jesus spent much of his time.

Luke’s version of this all too familiar story begins at a supper commanded by Torah, and ends with Sabbath rest commanded by Torah. What falls in between is an outline of the typical machinations of an occupying power – ritual division and domination of a subject people. This time the empire of Rome is the occupying power and Israel the subject people.

To dominate a subject people, you must first create a liaison caste, some official link between the colonizing power and the local population. To be effective, this liaison group needs to be close to the heart of the people guaranteeing that orders will be heard and listened to by the subject people, and at the same time undermining the subject people at its very heart. Rome chose well. Rome chose the royal Temple priesthood who tended Jewish life at the very center of the Jewish world, Jerusalem. By choosing the priests, Rome compromised their standing with the people fostering resentment against the very heart of the people. At the same time the priests are aware at every moment that any disturbance in what Rome wants and they are dead. And what Rome wants is peace – pax Romana. Yet, this pax Romana is a cruel peace.

The journey of thousands to Jerusalem for Passover is a recipe for unrest. Passover is the quintessential observance and collective memory of history’s most significant divine liberation of a subject people – the Exodus of Hebrew slaves from the empire of Egypt. The Biblical theme of escape from the controlling power of the Empire is on everyone’s mind – that is the sole purpose of this annual festival: to remember we once were slaves and now are free. To find themselves back in Egypt at the hands of Rome was in everyone’s heart and mind. They are hoping, praying and looking for a new Exodus, a new Moses, and a new liberating act of God. If it all sounds strangely familiar, it should. It is a narrative that plays itself out repeatedly throughout human history, our modern era being no exception.

With such a background, we might hear the story a little differently. We might note how Pilate and Herod are not at all impressed by the assertions of their liaison priests, and certainly are not prepared to be ordered around by them! They toy with the priests just as they toy with Jesus. For them this is all a cruel joke. We might note how fearful these priests are to see the kind of adoration and power Jesus seems to command among the populace – a populace that is distrustful of the priesthood in every regard. Fearful and desperate enough are the accusers that they simply make up the charges: Jesus never forbid paying taxes to the emperor, nor did he claim to be Messiah and King.

We might also note that the populace may have its own reasons for wanting the release of Barabas – he is a popular leader of insurrection against the Roman occupation. Such a person might be more useful to their desires and needs than a teacher and healer who urges peaceful reconciliation and forgiveness.

We might note that Jesus has less concern for his own safety than for the safety of the people and city of Jerusalem. His seemingly enigmatic reply to the bewailing women (who were essentially professional mourners) seems already to know of the later burning of Jerusalem by Rome some 40 years later: “…what will happen when the wood is dry?” I am just one man, he seems to say – the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 will take up to a million Jewish lives.

And isn’t it just like Jesus that he whose mission is to find the lost and scattered does so to the end of his life. He has found observant Jews in the oddest of places – among sinners, in tax stands, the blind, the sick, the poor and the lame – and now he finds one nailed on the cross next to him.

Today I find myself most intrigued by the comment that Herod “had been wanting to see him for a long time because he had heard about him.” How badly do we want to see Jesus? How badly do I want to see Jesus? I also find the comment on Sabbath rest to be compelling. Perhaps if we took more time for true Sabbath rest we might more easily see the Jesus we so badly need to know and see.

Marilyn J. Salmon, Associate Professor of New Testament at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities sums it all up in words that should have special resonance for those of us who see our mission as being Bread for the Journey. Those who follow Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem, including the women, witness his death on the cross – making his words addressed to them at the Last Supper seem less ironic than prophetic: “You have stood by me in my trials.” Through Luke’s passion, words are addressed to later audiences as well, from the first to the twenty-first century, to those gathered on Passion Sunday who begin once again the Journey of Holy Week. We walk the way of the cross. We grieve. We fall asleep on the way. We fail. We betray one another and deny our Lord. We repent. Forgiven and renewed in the ritual of breaking bread, we begin again, strengthened for the journey. (New Proclamation: Year C Advent through Holy Week [Fortess Press, Minneapolis:2006] p.245)

Bread for the journey – we find ourselves back where it all begins, the Last Supper.
The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ According to Saint Luke....

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Give Us This Bread

March 18 - Lent 4C

Joshua 5:9-12 - 2 Corinthians 5: 16-21 - Luke 15: 1-3,11b-32

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

“Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life for the world: Evermore give us this bread,

that he may live in us, and we in him.”

-Collect for Lent 4

Give Us This Bread

In the end, it seems, it is about bread. Which is only right since in the beginning it was also about bread. Not just any bread, of course, but “true bread” which comes down from heaven. If we could just get our hands on the right bread, Christ will live in us, and we will live in Christ. And one notes that as we pray we acknowledge that this bread is bread that is given – we ask God to give us this bread. Just as Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Those who live in Christ are those who depend on bread that is given daily.

Which in the Bible is an echo of an earlier time when our ancestors in the wilderness did in fact depend on bread that was given daily: They called it manna, which in Hebrew roughly translates as “what-is-it,” or “whatizit.”

As our first text notes, however, once out of the wilderness and into the land of Canaan, the people no longer depended upon daily bread, and instead we are told “they ate the produce of the land.”

For the benefit of anyone who missed this salient fact, the text goes to great pains to repeat this assertion: “The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they at the crops of the land of Cannan that year.”

Now this might be seen as good news – good news that the people are now capable of being self-sufficient taking their fill from the produce of the land. But we might note that the text makes a peculiar assertion that might easily be overlooked: the manna ceased on the day that they ate the produce of the land. There is a suggested causality here – self-sufficiency interrupts the bread supply.

And were we to read further into the Joshua saga we would discover that self-sufficiency begats dangerous and dysfunctional behavior. For once the people no longer depend upon bread which is given, once they take from the produce of the land, once they wean themselves from a dependence on the grace of God, new problems set in – in particular the problems of covetousness and greed.

This is something God had warned them about back in manna season. One of the Ten Commandments, the tenth, and the only one repeated twice in the Exodus text is Exodus 20:17: “You shall not covet…you shall not covet...” But once the new-found freedom of self-sufficiency had set in, covetousness was not far behind.

Indeed, after success at tumbling the walls of Jericho, things begin to go awry, all because of one person’s covetousness. The Lord had decreed that all the silver and gold and vessels of bronze and iron were to be deposited in the treasury of the Lord to benefit the entire community. Just as manna season provided for everyone to have enough, no one had too much, and if you saved it and hoarded it it went sour, so the Treasury of the Lord was meant to work for the benefit of the whole of God’s community.

Sure enough, come the next battle in chapter seven, things go poorly. A special prosecutor is appointed to find out why, and the way the special prosecutor worked in those days would be to throw some dice. And the special prosecutor determined that there had been some serious transgression against the Lord, and that the sin was in a particular tribe. Then rolling the dice again it was determined that it was in a particular family in the tribe, and another roll of the dice revealed it was one man, Achan, who had held back some of the things that belonged in the Treasury of the Lord. Achan had taken from the community goods, set aside his own little 403b or whatever, and this had caused the people to lose the next battle. One man’s sin caused the entire community to fail.

Because of Achan’s covetousness and greed, the life of the community was imperiled. For any of us who think this is just Old Testament stuff, we might do well to take a look at Luke Volume Two, The Acts of the Apostles, chapter 5 and the story of Ananias and Saphira. And what the Bible appears to be saying is that covetousness and greed kill. Withholding anything from that which belongs in the Lord’s treasury brings misery to God’s gathered community. Giving up dependence on bread that is given daily has its consequences.

And Luke-Acts goes to great pains to recreate manna season in the life of the early Christian community. What else are we to make of Acts chapter 4, verses 32-37 where we learn that “no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own but they had everything in common…There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need.”

Which brings us back to - whatever does it mean to live “in Christ?” It has something to do with a return to manna season. We might note in passing that among the principal characters in the story of the “Prodigal Son,” or “The Waiting Father,” or “The Angry Older Son,” that there is an example of what it means to live in Christ: the servants or slaves. We might note with particular interest that at the father’s command, the servants evidently have free access to all the best in the father’s household: the best ring, the best clothes, the best food! And these servants are to administer all these “best” things according to the father’s wishes.

Now we might readily identify ourselves with the father, or the younger son, or even with the seemingly justified anger and self-righteousness of the older son, but the character of the servants truly gets at what it means to live “in Christ.” The servants are stewards of all the best in the household, and are trusted to do with those things what the Father wants done.

Isn’t that who we are? Have we not been entrusted with all the best God has created – the earth and all that is therein? Look around and see the abundance and richness God has entrusted to our care. As servants in God’s household, we are stewards of all creation. Covetousness and greed, withholding anything that belongs to the whole community of God, lead to seriously bad consequences. Not much exegesis is needed to verify this.

Saint Paul says that being “in Christ” means that in addition to bread that is given daily, God gives us something else: a ministry of reconciliation. One suspects that these two things are related – a willingness to accept bread that is given daily and reconciling the brokenness of the world – a brokenness largely born of profligate living, covetousness and greed.

We are ambassadors for Christ, says Paul – God makes his appeal to the world through us. We are those people who pray for bread that is given daily. May we also pray for the courage to be reconciled to God so that we might accept the ministry he so desires to give to us – the ministry of reconciliation. Our willingness to accept bread that is given daily has consequences for the whole world and everyone and everything therein.


Sunday, March 11, 2007

A New Lifestyle

Poem: "A New Lifestyle"

by James Tate

from Memoir of the Hawk. © The Ecco Press. Reprinted with permission.

A New Lifestyle

People in this town drink too much
coffee. They're jumpy all the time. You
see them drinking out of their big plastic
mugs while they're driving. They cut in
front of you, they steal your parking places.
Teenagers in the cemeteries knocking over
tombstones are slurping café au lait.
Recycling men hanging onto their trucks are
sipping espresso. Dogcatchers running down
the street with their nets are savoring
their cups of mocha java. The holdup man
entering a convenience store first pours
himself a nice warm cup of coffee. Down
the funeral parlor driveway a boy on a
skateboard is spilling his. They're so
serious about their coffee, it's all they
can think about, nothing else matters.
Everyone's wide awake but looks incredibly

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Sin, Repentance and Grace

11 March 2007 * Lent 3C

Luke 13:1-9 * The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills

Sin, Repentance and Grace

Sin, Repentance and Grace – that is what this pithy little story is all about. Sin, Repentance and Grace sit at the heart of Christian living and this season of Lent.

What may be surprising is just how Jesus addresses these core issues of faith.

He is approached by some who want to play one of the oldest and still popular games of human existence – The Blame Game. When bad things happen our first impulse is to blame someone.

For instance, if Lucky our whippet steals a jar of peanut butter off the counter and eats it all, which she loves to do, my first impulse is to blame her, yell at her, call her a bad dog and so on. I rarely stop to think first. I rarely stop myself long enough to remember that I left the jar within her reach. Blaming Lucky helps me to feel better about myself, or, even better, not even consider my complicity in the lack of peanut butter for lunch.

The Blame Game gets taken to extremes. Note that implicit in the question to Jesus is laying the blame for the death of those offering sacrifices at the hands of God. “Did they die because they were particularly bad sinners,” is code for, “God killed them, or allowed them to be killed, because they were not good enough…or faithful enough…or offered their sacrifices in the wrong manner or with the wrong attitude.”

This is a particularly insidious version of The Blame Game – Blame the victims and Blame God all in one fell swoop. It would be virtually breathtaking if it were not such a common every day occurance.

We may as well face it, when we say things like, “God won’t give you anything more than God knows faithful people can handle,” it is still at the end of the day saying that God causes the deaths of the worshipers at the temple, or the person who has cancer, or the dog hit by a car.

Jesus, being God incarnate, knows that this not only hurts God’s feelings but is just plain wrong. So wrong that Jesus calls playing The Blame Game Sin. I don’t know about you, but I just hate it when he does things like this. It really means I have to change, or perish like the people upon whom the Tower of Siloam toppled.

Having images of toppling towers etched into our eternal memories, we should be able to tap into what Jesus is saying at some dimension or other.

What is interesting is that Jesus is saying that playing the Blame Game, to blame the victims for not being Holy enough, or to suggest that God is behind their misfortune is the greater Sin. As Timothy Shapiro a commentator on this puts it all too well, “The sin is found in those who think the sin is found in those who have misfortune fall on them.” [Timothy Shapiro in New Proclamation (Fortress Press, Minneapolis: 2006) p.199]

So when he urges us to Repent, what we are to repent of is playing The Blame Game and to show some mercy toward those like the unfortunate worshippers and the good people near the Tower of Siloam.

Part two is even more humbling, and for those listening in on Jesus it would have been hilariously funny. It seems there is a joke in the Greek. The word for manure is in fact not so refined – it is street slang, or what we in some more innocent era called a swear word. So think of the harshest possible word for manure, and imagine the gardener – read tenant farmer – saying it to the wealthy absentee landowner, followed by “and if in a year you are still not happy YOU cut it down”! There would be serious snickering among the tenant farmers and servants in the crowd who only dreamed of ever shooting back at their superiors in such a fashion.

And what the story means to convey in part is that the absentee owner does not get his hands dirty, knows little of how to tend fig trees, and is trying to tell someone who knows the tree, the soil and the kind of care necessary how to do his or her job.

And it is the gardener who introduces the notion of Grace – “Sir, let it alone.” Don’t blame the tree, don’t order me to cut it down – give it another chance. Give it a moment of Amazing Grace. Give it a chance and it will bear fruit in its own time.

Laughing at the first part of the story and recognizing our need to play The Blame Game makes us the landowner. This is meant to break us down and open us up just enough to laugh at ourselves, repent and show a little more grace toward others, since God only knows every day we wake up and get out of bed God is bestowing upon us a great deal of Amazing Grace whether we deserve it or not. Another way to put this, we are all, at the end of the day, complicit through what we do or don’t do in the misery of others and the very planet God created and calls “good.”

“Or not,” however, is the operant phrase. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under God’s table. But it is God’s primary attribute to have mercy upon us as long as we keep on repenting of our various sins, most especially it seems playing The Blame Game. The Good News is that God does not want to blame us, God wants to save us and so came to live among us as one of us to teach us about Sin, Repentance and Grace.

There is plenty for all of us to chew on in this otherwise enigmatic little episode, so I share with you another take on the Good News of God in Christ. It comes from William Countryman’s little book, The Good News of Jesus (Cowley, Cambridge:1993):

The new life of the good news is like this: There was a woman who lived in Sonoma County, near Sebastapol. She had no relatives there – not even any close neighbors. The nearest was an elderly man who lived a half-mile away. Behind her house she had a garden, and at the foot of the garden, two apple trees that were her pride and joy.

Once she was called away to care for her only living relative, who was sick and lived very far away. She gave a key to the elderly man, who promised to look in on her house every week or so; but he was too infirm to care for her garden. She thought she would be away a few months, but she was gone two years. From far away, she heard about drought and storms.

When at last the woman came home, she found her house had lost some shingles, and there was a little water damage inside. Then she went through the house and out into the garden. It was overgrown with tall grass and nettles. At the foot of the garden were her two apple trees. They were in bloom – at the height of their bloom, when apple trees look like white clouds with a touch of pink and the petals are just beginning to fall and carpet the ground with white as well.

She stood awhile and drank it all in, and her heart filled with delight and thanks. Then she unlocked the tool-shed, took out her pruners and, wading through the weeds, went down to the apple trees and began cutting out the dead-wood. And she thought of the day when she would have apples for herself and her neighbor.


Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Music & Image Meditations for Lent

My friend and colleague Ana Hernandez shares these meditations for Lent.

Hi there,I'd like to share some visual meditations with you. They were produced by my friend Cynthia Black (the mad creator) and feature her photography and my tunes. Covenant Song is my favorite. Please pass them along to anyone you think might be interested. Thanks for your support. Enjoy!

Open My Heart:

Covenant Song:

Blessings and Peace,Ana Hernandez