Saturday, April 21, 2007

Come And Have Breakfast

22 April 2007 * Easter 3C * John 21: 1-19

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

Come and Have Breakfast

Years ago, when I merely aspired to become a priest in Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, I was at a diocesan camp somewhere in Rhode Island taking some of my final canonical exams, the last of which was New Testament. There would be a written test of an hour or so, and then a one hour “defense” with the Commission on Ministry. The Commission consists of lay people and clergy.

I had anticipated being asked what my favorite Bible verse is. So I was prepared when the question in fact did come up. “Come and have breakfast,” I replied. “No, Mr. Kubicek,” one of the clergy said, “we want to know a verse from the Bible.” Again I replied, “Come and have breakfast.” There was an awkward silence in the room.

Finally one of the clergy asked me, “And just where is that found in the Bible?”

Somewhat puckishly I said with a straight face, “John, chapter 21, verse 12, the third time Jesus was revealed after he rose from the dead, and the lectionary reading for this coming Sunday, the Third Sunday after Easter, Year C.” There were smiles from the lay people on the commission to compliment the somewhat chagrined expressions on the faces of the clergy. I passed my New Testament canonical with great relief.

I have always thought of this chapter of John’s gospel, believed by many to be a later addition to the gospel that seems to end in chapter 20, as a kind of summary of the entire Gospel story. That is, if you can remember this chapter of fishing, breakfast and the after breakfast meeting with Peter, you could probably remember many of the most important elements of the entire gospel – a gospel in which the disciples begin as fishermen and end up fishers of men, women and children. Even the charcoal fire recalls Peter’s three times denial that he knew Jesus.

It is interesting that after seeing the risen Lord Peter says, “I’m going fishing,” and the others tag along. That is, they go back to what they used to do before ever meeting Jesus. They attempt to go back to business as usual.

Along the way they learn that after an encounter with the risen Lord, there is no such thing as business as usual. I believe we still have a problem with this. First off, they are evidently not such good fishermen anymore. They fished all night and didn’t catch any!

But, not to worry, along comes Jesus over on the shore asking if they have any fish. When they say no, he says to put the net on the other side of the boat. Suddenly the net is nearly bursting with fish! One hundred and fifty-three to be exact! Someone says, “It’s the Lord!”

Next comes my favorite part. Peter puts his clothes back on and then jumps into the water! Is he excited or what? Reminds me of the morning after our first daughter, Harper arrived, and I poured myself a glass of milk and put orange juice on my cereal! It’s like Christmas, Easter, Birthday and the Tooth Fairy all rolled into one! Peter is some kind of excited to see Jesus.

When they get to shore the disciples see Jesus has a charcoal fire going with some fish already on the grill and some bread toasting on the side– but they are asked to contribute – make an offering – to the meal. Here we might note, that the meal consists partly of what he had himself prepared, and partly what they – we – bring to the table. This is the heart of the meal we come to share each week: The Lord refreshes us for his service by a gift partly derived from him, in part the fruit of our labor under his direction. We may wish to reflect on the “under his direction” clause and its importance to a life in and with Christ. Do we allow ourselves to be directed by Jesus?

For in the end it is all his gift – for the whole fruit of our labor is His, not our own, and we only enjoy it rightly or fully when we accept it as a gift from him. Moral and spiritual progress only comes as we come to acknowledge life as a gift.

Then comes time to restore a relationship – Jesus and Peter reconcile things after the unfortunate incident around the last charcoal fire. Three times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Three times Peter says, “Yes, Lord, I love you.” And Jesus replies, “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep.” This is the same Lord who says, I am the good shepherd and I have sheep not in this flock who are mine also.

After all this, Jesus repeats the very first thing he said to the disciples way back when he first met them – Follow me. Talk about a Power Breakfast!

So why do we come to have breakfast with Jesus week after week after week?

In part so that we might join our gifts with his so we can learn what it means to follow him. Evidently he needs our gifts as much as we need His.

We also come so that we might learn to acknowledge life as a gift. So that we might get on with the task of Love to which he calls us like Peter – to tend to the needs of others – all others.

This story is evidence of God’s great love for us so that we might bring that love to others. This is a story about how our love of God in Christ is meant to lead us to love, tend and feed others. Or, as we say at Saint Peter’s – to become bread for the journey, feeding, healing and reaching out with Christ.

Come and have breakfast, says Jesus. You will be glad you did.


Saturday, April 14, 2007

Yom HaShoa - Holocaust Remembrance

Acts 5:27-32 * John 20:19-31

This Yom HaShoah my thoughts run in several directions. Silence. Any reflection on the Holocaust eventually takes us to silence. The great truths, the abject horrors, the banality of evil – all dwell within silence – a deep and terrible silence.

We have all heard World War II Veterans tell their stories – or Viet Nam vets – or Gulf War I vets. Often at a certain crucial moment in their recollections, they stop. There is a silence. It is a silence that is understood – a silence that speaks more than words could possibly tell. Usually it is an awe-full silence, a memory too painful and too difficult to reconstruct.

There is a legend that says that when the Romans quelled the first Jewish rebellion in the year 70 by burning the Temple and the entire city to the ground, that a Rabbi Jose stood among the rubble and ashes in the silence of the total destruction of the center of the Jewish universe and Jewish life. Rabbi Jose stood among the silence of up to one million Jewish men, women and children slaughtered by the Romans. And in the midst of this silence Rabbi Jose is said to have heard the echo of the voice of God sounding like a dove over the face of the ruined city. Legend calls this echo of God’s voice the bat qol.

In the face of the unthinkable horrors of the Holocaust – of how people like you and me, mostly Christian people were turned into murderers, torturers and cold-blooded killers driven to exterminate the people from which our faith, the faith of Jesus, originates – we often find our selves standing amongst the memories of the devastation in silence listening for the echo of God’s voice, the bat qol, to show us the way.

What I hear God saying to me these past few days is an urging to remember just where our texts come from. What we call the New Testament texts were at one time Jewish writings, Jewish stories, Jewish texts – a continuation of a story going all the way back to Genesis and Joshua, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – Jacob who would wrestle with God and become Israel. In the beginning our texts were texts of Israel –those who wrestle with God and God’s love for the world God created. The story of Jesus is a part of this story.

That is, there was no “Old” and “New” testament. There were only Jewish texts, some in Hebrew and some in Greek. Jesus and his followers were Jews. After the Resurrection his disciples continued to worship in Jerusalem in the Temple every day. This we are told in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, a stridently Jewish text.

It would not be until the end of the second century – after the quelling of the second Jewish rebellion that came from out of Galilee in the year 135 - that the texts become divided. The division is arbitrary, but not without purpose, and that purpose has not served either of our people at all well, Christians or Jews. To designate something as “new” suggests that somehow the “old” is of lesser value, is inferior. The “new” is more important, more true, more essential. For our texts and for our history, this division is misleading and untruthful, since in the end they are all Jewish texts telling a Jewish story.

When the emerging church made this decision the preaching of many of its leaders, who were by then Gentiles, betrayed the truths in the texts themselves and made the new texts out to be superior, and the people of the old texts to be inferior and enemies of the new. This seemingly simple decision, to divide the texts, set a tragic wheel in motion that resulted in crusades, inquisitions, ghettos, pogroms and ultimately the Holocaust.

One survivor of the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel gets to the heart of this tragedy of dividing and labeling the texts when he raises the following questions:

How is one to explain that neither Hitler nor Himmler was ever excommunicated by the church? That Pius XII never thought it necessary, not to say indispensable, to condemn Auschwitz and Treblinka? That among the S.S. a large proportion were believers who remained faithful to their Christian ties to the end? That there were killers who went to confession between massacres? And that they all came from Christian families and had received a Christian education? (Elie Wiesel, A Jew Today [New York: Random House, 1979] p.13)

Those responsible for the Holocaust had all too much help from the Church throughout the centuries – most of all its silence. Once Constantine, the Roman emperor, married a Gentile Christianity to the pagan religion of the empire, the wellfrom which we have come to drink was been poisoned. Out of this poisoned well more than six million Jews alongside some five million others were slaughtered. All of the men and boys were circumcised for the same reasons Jesus and his cousin John were circumcised – that they might enter into the Covenant with the God of Israel, and then into Torah, and then into marriage, and then into good deeds. If Jesus and John had been born in the Eastern Europe of the early 20th Century, Constantine’s Christianity would have killed them too, when it was discovered that they were circumcised.

Jesus, we read, breathes on the disciples. To us this sounds odd – even impolite. To those Jews who wrote and first read these texts, this was a sign. For in Hebrew and in Greek the words for breath also mean wind and spirit. God’s spirit-wind-breath is first pictured hovering over the chaotic waters of creation. When the first formed human lay completely lifeless, God breaths spirit into its nose and it becomes a living being. When the hopes of Israel in exile were cut off, the people a dead people, Ezekiel is commanded to call to the breath, and the breath came rushing from the four winds and raised the slain of Israel to new life and new hope. In Acts the wind blows into Jerusalem, and Jews from all over creation are gathered together and brought to life.

Jesus breathes this spirit-wind of God into the disciples who are hiding behind closed doors. It is a replay of Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones. It is a replay of Adam and creation. It is a promise of new life and new hope for a people who stood among the ashes and ruin of Jerusalem and its Temple when these texts of ours were written.

The day I stood among the ruins of Dachau eleven years ago it was cold. The wind blew rain and snow alternately through the air. I wandered the acres of the camp alone, in silence. In the ruins of the crematoria I heard a voice calling to me, the wind whistling, a lone figure across the acres of cold stones and abandoned buildings gestured to me – began calling to me. I recalled the legend of the bat qol. In words alternating from German to English and back to German, he tried to tell me his story. He had been in Dachau as a young man for trying to help Jewish children. He is still there today. He too was trying to hear the voice on the wind and understand the bat qol. He reached into a bag and pressed a pamphlet in my hand and said, “This is for peace.” Then the wind blew him away just as it had brought us together for that fleeting moment frozen in time. Then it was silent again.

Perhaps the question for Christians on a day such as this is can we sit still enough, silently enough, to hear the bat qol? Are we yet ready to see both the truths and the untruths of our tradition – untruths that have resulted in unspeakable acts against the very people of God Jesus brought into our lives? Can we find new life and new hope among the ashes? Amen.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

I Am With You Always

Easter Vigil 2007 – Matthew 28:1-10

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

Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia!

On this night we move from the cross to the empty tomb to an encounter with our Risen Lord on the road – the road of our journey with Christ. Together we experience the transition from darkness to light, from death to life. This is our Passover – we pass over from enslavement to sin to liberation and the promise of new life.

Most of all on this night we locate ourselves within a story – the story of God’s salvation for the whole world, a story that begins in Creation and extends far into the future, because the story of God’s Creation and Covenant and Redemption and Salvation is not ended. It is only just begun!

Our God creates (Genesis 1:1-2:2), limits darkness (Genesis), delivers us to freedom (Exodus 14:10-15:1), gives us daily bread (Isaiah 55:1-11), forgives our past misdeeds (Zephania 3:12-20), and gathers the lame and the outcast, turning their shame into praise and renown (Zephania)!

Or, as Psalm 115 puts it so eloquently, “Our God is in the heavens, our God does as God pleases. You don’t have to like it, you don’t get to vote on it – What a God!

And it is Paul and all other New Testament writers who go to great pains to assert that God in Christ is the same God as is attested in the Hebrew scriptures. This story of God in Christ finds its place within this long existing story. There is only One God, the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

This Easter Vigil invites us to step back and look at the bigger picture – to experience the convergence of past, present and future. This is the night when we are to suspend our tendencies toward historical literalism and all inclination to analyze events from a distance. These Old Testament texts along with epistle and Gospel invite us to imagine ourselves within the story itself

Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia!

Paul. In his ineffable letter to the Romans (6:3-11) Paul reminds us that since we have now died to sin we are free to live anew! Baptism, writes Paul, means the possibility for new life in every moment that we live. Baptism always means a new beginning.

And this new beginning is made new with each and every Baptism. For we are not those who see Baptism as some sort of cosmic insurance policy for eternal life, but rather we are those people who understand that Baptism is our initiation into a covenantal community and a particular way of life. Baptism does not mark us as individuals, but as members one another of a community – the community of Christ – the Body of Christ!

Baptism is about belonging and participating in the community of Christ. And with each and every new Baptism this Body of Christ, the Church, is made new, is changed, is forever moving into new territory, establishing an ever wider beachhead for the Kingdom of God!

Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia!

We are the women who go to see the tomb. We experience the great earthquake. We see the angel roll back the stone and sit upon it. We hear the words, “Do not be afraid.” Nevertheless, we are. We look into the tomb and see that it is all as the angel has said – it is empty. Jesus is nowhere to be seen. The dead one is on the loose!

So we run back up the road to find the others, to tell the others what we have seen and heard. With fear and great joy we run - with tears of grief and joy mingled with dust in the rising sunlight of the new day, the first day of the week, the first day of a new life, the first day of a new world.

We are running, racing, already with a mission, already with a Gospel, already with Good News for the rest – he is risen, he is on the loose, he is going before us, he will meet us back at home in Galilee, there we will see him….

When all of a sudden, Whoa Nellie!!! All of a sudden in the middle of the road, in the midst of the dust and tears and laughter and fear and joy, in the midst of an angel directed mission, in the middle of the road, He appears and cries out, “Hail!”

Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia!

We fall to the ground, we grab onto his feet, we worship him. We hold onto him as if we have the power and the strength to hold him there, to keep him still, to never let him out of our sight ever again. We hold on for dear life to his feet, the feet of him who just two nights before washed our feet. We whose feet had been racing now had hearts racing, leaping, pounding in the excitement of seeing our Lord Jesus before us, our hands grasping his feet.

Then he repeats the angel’s words, “Do not be afraid.” He calms our racing hearts and minds. All becomes still And he repeats the mission – Go and tell others what you have seen and heard. Worship leads to mission, mission leads to encounters along the road, and instructions that according to the gifts that have been given us, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world.

Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia!

Jesus says, “Do not stay here, do not hold onto me, do not simply worship me, you must go ahead and out into the world and tell others what you have seen and heard. Behold, I am making all things new!”

And when they get to Galilee he is there, as he promises. And he says, “Behold, I am with you always to the end of the age!” You do not need to search or to inquire or to carry on all sorts of hocus-pocus, for I am here. That is Jesus. He does not say that he will someday come, nor is he prescribing ways one might get to him. Rather he says quite simply, “I am here.”

Know, my sisters, my brothers, he calls you to be with him.

He calls you to know he is here, even now.

He calls you to do something beautiful with your life and bear much fruit.

The world needs you, The church needs you, Jesus needs you,

They need your love and your light.

There is a hidden place in your heart where Jesus lives,

Where Jesus is always to the end of the age!

This is a deep secret you are called to live, Let Jesus live in you, Go forward with him!

Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia!

And so are we, so are we!

Friday, April 6, 2007

Good Friday

Good Friday 2007

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

The Hard Wood of the Manger

I have always had an intuitive sense that to make sense out of Good Friday and just why it is so good requires some reflection upon that other Christian festival that for reasons that are more patriotic than theological outshines Holy Week and Easter in American culture: that would be, of course, Christmas.

So when John writes that it was “about the sixth hour” on the Day of Preparation, he is signaling that in Jerusalem as Passover approaches, it is one chaotic and busy time! And since John also places Passover on the Sabbath, it means that on top of Passover there is the already hectic and frantic running around town that takes place in Jerusalem before the beginning of the Sabbath every week: the shopping areas and markets are just teeming with people buying, selling, haggling, yelling, pushing, shoving, racing and just about every other kind of ing-ing imaginable. Having been in the markets of Jerusalem hours before the Sabbath begins I can confirm that not much has changed in this regard.

Which is to say it is like the Day of Preparation before Christmas Eve, say, when relatives are arriving at the airport, the train station and the front door, some early, some late, a blessed few on time. A day when all bon fide, red-blooded U.S. males are completing long put off last minute shopping. Kitchens are marked off with yellow caution tape with ingredients and spicey invectives flying through the air. Kids are tugging at peoples apron strings, overcoats, pants legs and demanding to know when when when can we open the first gift?!? Uncle Pete is asleep in the parlor, while Aunt Hilda is busy trying to convince the household teens that yes, we do dress up for Christmas, and yes, we do dress up for Christmas dinner. While all the while the soft glow of the moon’s beams reflects off the pillows of new fallen snow.

Which is to say, most people in Jerusalem are not at all present, let alone aware, at the insignificant little drama going on down at the Pro-Counsel’s office. In fact, most people in first-century Jerusalem would make it their habit to stay as far away from Pilate and his Roman minions as possible every and any day of the week.

So it came as no surprise to me to learn that there is a long tradition that says the hard wood of the manger is the hard wood of the cross. It works of course the other way around: the hard wood of the cross is the hard wood of the manger. Christmas and Good Friday really mean to convey the same truth: God chose to become incarnate, that is human, and experience all that being human entails, which ultimately speaking leads to death. Not always the horrible death depicted on the Roman crosses used for executing only the lowliest of the low, but death nonetheless.

To put it another way, being born into this world of Mary the God-Bearer, and being fully human, not part human and part something else, means that he was in fact born to die. That seems obvious to us at this point, but it never seems quite so obvious as we joyfully entertain ourselves with Christmas Carols, building the crèche, swinging the incense, gazing at poinsettias and falling on our knees to sing Silent Night, dimming the lights to inject about as much treacle as one church can possibly bear at one time. It all seems so, well, darling and sweet at the time. Death tends to be the last thing on our minds.

Enter Good Friday to remind us that Christmas is one of the reasons Good Friday is Good. Since receiving a sentence of capital punishment and being executed all in one day does not stir up visions of sugar plums or anything else good in our little Christmas saturated heads. Good Friday is Good because of Christmas – because Jesus Christ the human being means that God entered our reality, allowing that we may, and even should, be human beings before God. Being created in God’s image carries some responsibilities after all, and being human before God is as good a place to start as any. Nevertheless, as Dietrich Bonhoffer has observed [“Incarnation, Cross, Resurrection” in Meditations on the Cross (Westminster John Knox, Louisville:1996) p.76ff], this God with us, Emmanuel, is not a simple confirmation of the goodness of humankind. The decisive distinction is that Jesus was without sin.

“Among other human beings, however, Jesus lived in deep poverty, unmarried, and died as a criminal. So Jesus’ human existence already contains a double condemnation of human beings: the absolute condemnation of sin, and the relative condemnation of human circumstances.” p. 76

Yet, despite this double condemnation, of which we are to take careful note, Jesus himself is genuinely human and wants us to be genuinely human as well, while at the same time indicating that we are not the ultimate end of creation, but rather of penultimate status. As such we are to be taken seriously, but not that seriously, since hidden deep within us, like yeast in a lump of dough, are the seeds for the Kingdom of God – that is the potential for life as God truly wants it to be – free of poverty, crime and isolated individuals among other things.

This reality of this incarnate double condemnation does seem inevitably to lead to the Cross – a cross which until later in the Good Friday service is conspicuous by its absence from the sanctuary. Some churches do not even bring it in at all, so powerful is its presence and meaning in our midst. We prefer, perhaps, to meditate on the hard wood of the manger.

Jesus Christ, the Crucified – “This means,” writes Bonhoffer, “that God has pronounced the final judgment over fallen creation. God’s rejection which happened on the cross of Jesus Christ contains the rejection of the human race without exception.” p.77

It is the “without exception” clause that is perhaps deserving of most of our attention. For it leaves no room to boast of our being human, nor the world of its divine order. Lest we think this is primitive stuff, we need only recall that in the writings and visions of the prophets God is frequently pictured as putting humanity on trial with Creation in the jury box. So just for a moment imagine a jury box filled with trees, flowers, birds, animals, fish, whales, crabs and oysters. Their duty as jurors will be to determine whether or not we have succeeded or failed in our duties as Stewards of all creation – the Earth and all that is therein – this fragile Earth our Island Home. One does not need to be a die-hard proponent of Global Warming to hazard a guess at the jury’s verdict. Rampant greed fueled by consumer-driven capitalism does have its down sides – destruction of the Earth for one, and usually the grinding up of human laborers as another. Someone has to fund all those year-end corporate bonuses and golden parachutes. We contribute whether we mean to or not. Usually the grinding of the market economy, so-called, does not allow much time to reflect on all of this. One good reason to take time on Good Friday to simply sit and think about the unthinkable.

Yet, it is under the symbol of death –the cross - that human beings are now to live on, “in judgment upon themselves if they despise it, or toward their own salvation if they acknowledge it.” At the end of the day, we can choose – we can choose to see the cross as judgment or as grace. The latter, of course, is what leads to Good Friday being good.

And not to run too far ahead, but it is of course Jesus Christ, the Resurrected that makes Good Friday truly and ultimately Good! For it is in Christ’s resurrection that God brings an end to death and calls a new creation into being. “See,” says the Risen Lord, “I am making all things new.” (Rev 21:5)

Just because it is Good Friday does not mean that we or the world are frozen in time and place. In Christ being raised from the dead resurrection and new life has already commenced in the midst of this tired old world with its wars and tumults of wars, famine, poverty, cancer, depression, hunger, and all manner of sufferings. In the lives of those who are baptized into the Body of Christ, a beachhead is set. Resurrection is a sign of this old world’s end and of its inevitable future. And so human beings remain human, though sharing in Christ’s resurrection we in no way resemble the old human beings if we are among those who acknowledge the cross as grace. To be sure, up to the boundary of our own death, “those who are resurrected with Christ remain in the world of the penultimate, the world into which Jesus himself entered and in which the cross stands. Thus, as long as the earth exists, the resurrection will not suspend the penultimate, even though eternal life, new life breaks into earthly life ever more powerfully and creates space for itself in that life.” p.78

Incarnation, cross and resurrection become clear in their unity and in their differences. They make up a kind of mosaic of life in Christ – we cannot survive with just one dimension of God in Christ, we need all three at all times and in all places. “Christian Life means being human by virtue of the incarnation, it means being judged and pardoned by virtue of the cross, and means to live a new life in the power of resurrection. None of these becomes real without the others.” p.78

The hard wood of the manger is the hard wood of the cross. The Biblical story begins with a tree in a garden, and begins again on a tree in Jerusalem. Good Friday is good when we take the time to reflect on just where we stand in the midst of these three dimensions of life in Christ – Incarnation, Cross and Resurrection. Where we find our selves and where we can see our selves makes all the difference in the world and for the world. Even in times as chaotic and disruptive as the sixth hour on the Day of Preparation, we come to prepare ourselves to be fully incorporated into the life of Christ and the Body of Christ. Amen.