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.