Saturday, January 26, 2008

God's Call To Us Today

27 January 2008 * I Corinthians 1:10-17 – Matthew 4:12-23

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

“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to proclaim the Gospel…”

Curious words indeed to hear in this season of Epiphany, which features as a central feast day The Day of our Lord’s Baptism.

Yet, at times like these it is hard not to simply fall in love with the Lectionary Schedule of Readings for Sunday morning we now call the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). Here we are on the one day of the year that we are called to reconsider who we are, where we are and where we are headed and we get Jesus calling disciples to follow him, and Paul’s take on early parish life in Corinth.

Which parish life looks very much like life in the Anglican Communion today, not to mention life in every diocese and parish within the world-wide Anglican Communion of independent related-by-parentage churches.

It looks like what we might call, in a word, “party politics.” Which of course is two words. Paul gets word that people in the church in Corinth are subdividing themselves into those who follow Paul, or those who follow Apollos, and the list could no doubt go on forever. And we may as well admit, we all fall into such traps, and it is a trap.

For instance, I will celebrate the 25th anniversary of my ordination in December. During this quarter of a century I have served under the following bishops: George Hunt, James Winchester Montgomery, Quentin Primo, Frank Griswold, David Leighton, A.Theodore Eastman, Barry Valentine, Charles Longest, Arthur Walmsley, Clarence Coleridge, Jeffery Rowthorn, Robert Ihloff, and John Rabb, not to mention three Presiding Bishops: Ed Browning, Frank Griswold and Katherine Jefferts-Schori. Many is the time I have identified myself as being devoted to Bishop Montgomery way back there in my ordained infancy in Chicago. Yet, thanks to my devotion to Paul’s take on such devotion, I have repeatedly repented of such cultism, refocused on Christ as my Lord and Savior, and on my calling, as Paul says, to proclaim the Gospel – “not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.”

The same dynamic, of course, exists in parishes. We all have a favorite rector, and those of us fortunate enough to be, as the canons of the church so eloquently put it, a “priest in charge of a cure of souls,” are pretty much resigned to the fact that the favorite rector is almost never the current rector – until of course the current rector moves on, at which point the queue moves back one slot, allowing for membership into the Sacred Order of Previously Beloved Rectors!

I have spent some time studying and admiring the lives of previous rectors of Saint Peter’s. So in the current context as much as I would love to identify myself by “I belong to Velasco,” or “I belong to Atlee,” or “I belong to Handwerk or Bell or Matthewes-Greene” or perhaps most of all “I belong to the venerable and always beloved Fr. Maddux,” all of whom I consider beloved previous rectors and role models each in his own way; and as much as I least want anyone to think of themselves as “belonging to Kubicek,” I hope and pray every day for the few minutes I spend in this most beautiful and prayerful of all places I have ever had the privilege of serving, that I am and remain one who belongs only to God in Christ.

That, of course, is precisely what Jesus himself means as he takes up the clarion call of John the Baptist, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Repent means to turn – to turn around or turn back really. The idea being that we all of us all the time get distracted and begin to walk another way, or multiple other ways, than the Way of the Lord. Jesus means to call us all back on point – on message – on target – on God’s Way.

Aligning ourselves with Christ is the only way given to us to cease sitting in darkness and see and participate in the new Light, the great light, of Christ. Which is the importance of the calling of Peter, Andrew, James and John, all of whom have stained glass windows shining down on us as we come to worship and praise God – not that they, to our way of seeing things, miraculously dropped everything and followed Jesus, but that in following Christ they began to live in a new reality, a new creation - life under God’s reign! Just as the only evidence of this new reality for the world was in the lives they lived beyond Christ’s life, death and resurrection, so it is for us: the world will only see this new way of living and being in the world as they experience us in all that we say and all that we do to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ.

That is, to repent means in part to drop the things of the past, get beyond our devotion to beloved and faithful leaders, and move forward with Christ into the already near and coming kingdom of God.

By incarnating this season of Epiphany, a season to manifest God’s light in our daily life and conduct, our society, community and the whole world will be confronted with empirical evidence of the reality of a new creation.

Those who contribute to the life of Christ and manifest God’s light in this place include:

Errol and Gavin Elliot and Errol’s crew in the kitchen yesterday

Pat and Ollie Hand who began the kitchen renovation

Tom Hesson for the new organ

Greg Fraser and the Choir for glorious music

Suzonne Sage and her companions for ministry to youth in and beyond the parish

Jennie Boyer who secured a Millenium Goals Grant from the diocese of $12,000 for Itipini

The people of our Altar Guild: Beth McSweeney, Judy Stone, Jane Bergman, Katherine Schnorrenberg, Eric and Lalitha Samuels, Diana Pon, Sharon Sachs

Eric Samuel and the dozen or so people who represent us at PATH (People Acting Together in Howard)

Our Evangelism team of Beth McSweeney, Katherine Schnorrenberg, Guv Mitchell and Tom Hesson who distributed hundred of leaflets in the neighborhood to announce the times of our Christmas services

Those who serve week in and week out at the Altar and as Ushers

Those who count the offering and prepare the deposit each week

Deena Cate and her companions for making the church beautiful

Angela Mitchell, Anne Pounder, The McSweeneys, Katherine Schnorrenberg for hosting the hospitality of literally feeding us week in and week out and at special events

Katherine and Tom and Mary Maruguerite for their devotion to our Youth

The young people of our Youth Group themselves who do so much for Saint Peter's and those in need

Anne Pounder and her dedicated volunteers who operate our Vacation Bible School

Katie, Debra, Katherine, Anne, Denise, Tracey and all who educate our young people in the way of Christ.

Barrington who comes often in the dark of night to keep this place clean

Bev Foster and now Brenda Brewington and a new host of volunteers (Annette, Gloria, Tracey, Mina, Janet) who do heavy lifting in the office

Phil Shaw who keeps us informed and connected on a day to day basis

Our officers, Our Vestry

Robin Fleegal and the teachers in our fantastic church school

Alexa Fair and Katie Shaw who help with book keeping

John Francis who is faithful in keeping track of our finances which, despite how it feels, are bountiful and powerful in the ministry it empowers to happen

Mary Marguerite and Gina who bring a spirit and energy to the life of our community that grounds us in Christ and the mission to which He calls us, and so ably and faithfully help me to see new ways of looking at things

My family, Harper, Kirk Alan, Cerny, Lucky the dog, and most of all Mallory without whom I would not be standing here …

These are just some of the people here at Saint Peter’s who proclaim the Good News of Jesus week in and week out, day in and day out. To remind ourselves of just what this Good News is, and who we are called to be and what we are called to do, we are directed by both the Catechism and Baptismal Covenant in our Book of Common Prayer.

Turning to page 855 in The Book of Common Prayer, and as we prepare ourselves to meet together, let us review The Mission of the Church, and the Ministry we all share as Baptized Lay Persons:

An Outline of the Faith: The Catechism BCP 855-856

The Church

Q. What is the mission of the Church?

A. The mission of the Church is to restore all people to

unity with God and each other in Christ.

Q. How does the Church pursue its mission?

A. The Church pursues its mission as it prays and

worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice,

peace, and love.

Q. Through whom does the Church carry out its mission?

A. The Church carries out its mission through the ministry

of all its members.

The Ministry

Q. Who are the ministers of the Church?

A. The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops,

priests, and deacons.

Q. What is the ministry of the laity?

A. The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his

Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be

and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on

Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take

their place in the life, worship, and governance of the


Q. What is the duty of all Christians?

A. The duty of all Christians is to follow Christ; to come

together week by week for corporate worship; and to

work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of


One might say this is our job description – a job description shared by all persons, lay or ordained. We are a people called to work for unity, justice and reconciliation. We are not perfected in this calling of ours – many times I feel the least capable of living such a life as it is described here. Only with your support, the support of a community of the baptized, do I even have a chance of living into this new life of working, praying and giving for the spread of the kingdom of God.

At this point I would ask us all to sit in silence to review the Annual Report, giving special attention to the Nominating statements of the four persons who have offered to be elected to our vestry. We will vote for three of them later this morning. All four would be an asset to the life of our community, but for now our bylaws only allow us to elect three. Use this silence also as a time of prayer and meditation to discern the ways in which God may already be calling you to a new life of ministry in his Body, the Church as it is articulated as our job description in our Catechism. Then I will call us back together to sum up my remarks for the day and lead us in renewing our Baptismal Covenant.

I believe Saint Peter’s is on the verge of a profound new journey of renewal and growth. I am in my fourteenth year as rector of this remarkable and historic parish. I honestly can say I love this parish and its history – I have met the children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces and nephews of the man who literally built this church with his own hands, his own heart and his own soul. Yet, I do not hear God calling us to relive any of our history, but rather to honor it and learn from it, just as St. Paul and Jesus this morning urge us to drop the past and move into God’s glorious promise and future!

I can also honestly say I love every individual in this parish, past and present, and I love the sense of Christ’s presence mediated in our very midst by the company of everyone who calls Saint Peter’s his or her spiritual home.

Although, as our welcoming statement in our weekly bulletin puts it best, I confess to not being perfected in this love, I want to become more fully loving, and welcome into our community all who wish to join us in this endeavor.

Jesus calls us today and every day to join with him in proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom, and to Feed, Heal and Reach Out to all people in his name. May we, as we pray, answer readily his call, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works. I know with his call, his ministry of reconciliation, and his love as our central focus, all things shall be well.


Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Wrath of God

Feast of the Baptism – Matthew 3:13-17

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

The Wrath of God

This Feast of our Lord’s Baptism tells us something about the wrath of God. Yet, with all of the hullabaloo surrounding Christmas and Epiphany, today’s Feast of the Baptism might be easily overlooked.

I visited Israel ten years ago with an ecumenical and inter-faith group from Baltimore, and when we visited the site where Jesus’ baptism is said to have taken place, it became apparent that for Orthodox and Baptist Christians this was perhaps the most sacred historic place we visited.

My Baptist roommate immediately remarked, “This is it!” When I asked what he meant, he explained that the scenery we were looking upon was exactly what is painted behind the baptismal pools in many Baptist churches. And our Orthodox companions explained that this Feast of the Baptism is their most sacred Feast day next to Easter.

Indeed, this Feast of the Baptism may offer us the most important reminder of who we are and whose we are. It is on page 298 in the Book of Common Prayer that we are told, “Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body, the church. The Bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble.”

Baptism is not a precious moment to name a child. It is a moment of transformation and change. I recall a bishop who once pointed to the Baptismal Font and said, “This is a dangerous place. No one ever comes away from this font the same as when they come to it.”

Indeed, although Jesus’ baptism is very different from our own in some ways, he comes to John as one of us. John tries to defer to Jesus. Jesus has none of that. He asserts his full humanity – he looks for no privilege, he does not pull rank. This is to become a hallmark of his mission and ministry.

Just as he comes up out of the water, we are told, everything is changed. He sees the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. Then comes a voice from offstage – from heaven says the text: “This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

I don’t remember exactly when it was that I got it – the connection between what our prayer book says about Baptism and this story – a story, as I have said, that gets lost somewhere between Christmas, Epiphany and the coming of Lent.

But it is quite simple – if our Baptism makes us, incorporates us, into the Body of Christ, then when we come up out of the waters of Baptism this offstage voice must be saying to us, ”You are my Beloved…I am well pleased with you.”

I honestly truly believe this to be the case. I now imagine at every Baptism at which I am present that little cherubim like we sang about at the beginning of this service are singing into the ears of the newly baptized, “You are God’s beloved….God is well pleased with you….” As we “grow up” we tend to forget we ever heard these words. We need reminders. If one looks carefully at the promises we make and renew at every baptism, we are meant to be the reminders for the rest of the world!

A case can be made that the entire Bible from front to back means to remind us that we are God’s Beloved people – God’s Beloved Community – meant to be a blessing to all nations and all people, announcing to them just how much God loves them too. When we forget all this, and when we forget just how beloved we are in the eyes of God, we tend to forget how Beloved others are also. This provokes the wrath of God. Maggie Ross, a hermit and writer on the life of the Spirit, has suggested that, “The wrath of God is his relentless compassion, pursuing us even when we are at our worst.” The Fire of Your Life, (Paulist Press, NY:1983) p. 137

To make just this point, the late Henri Nouwen wrote the following in his book, Life of the Beloved. It is a passage that compiles some of the endless references in the Bible to just how much the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus really loves us. We might note that the majority of these quotations come from what we call the Old Testament:

God says to us:

I have called you by name, from the very beginning. You are mine and I am yours. You are my beloved, on you my favor rests. I have molded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother’s womb. I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace. I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child. I have counted every hair on your head and guided you at every step. Wherever you go, I go with you, and wherever you rest, I keep watch. I will give you food that will satisfy all your hunger and drink that will satisfy all your thirst. I will not hide my face from you. You know me as your own as I know you as my own. You belong to me. I am your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your lover, your partner, your spouse … yes, even your child. Wherever you are I will be. Nothing will ever separate us. We are one.

-Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved, p.30ff

I have put this on a bookmark that I want us all to have in our Bibles. Read it once a day so that we may never forget who we are and whose we are. Once we pass through the waters of Holy Baptism we are never the same, thank goodness! We are the Body of Christ sent into the world as instruments of healing for the world, the whole world, and everyone and everything therein. We are agents of the “wrath of God!”


Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Uncontrollable Mystery on the Beastial Floor

6 January 2008 – Epiphany * Matthew 2:1-12

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


by: W. B. Yeats (1865-1939)

NOW as at all times I can see in the mind's eye,

In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones

Appear and disappear in the blue depth of the sky

With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,

And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,

And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,

Being by Calvary's turbulence unsatisfied,

The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.

"The Magi" is reprinted from Responsibilities. W.B. Yeats. New York: Macmillan, 1916.

Epiphany – manifestation – suggests, even requires, that we are looking for something. Like the magi, wise men from afar, we are looking for something – anything to help us better understand why we are here and where we are going.

William Butler Yeats helps us to imagine this all too familiar story in a new light depicting our magi as “unsatisfied ones.” This unsatisfaction is repeated twice in the space of only eight lines. Recalling their first seeing the Christ of God in that manger in Bethlehem, then disappearing again so as not to give Herod the satisfaction of knowing where to find the child.

Those of us who know the rest of the story know what a fateful decision this was to be – for Herod took it upon himself to have all male children two or younger killed in hopes of eliminating any one of them displacing him as the titular King of the Jews.

Poor Herod shares the deep misunderstanding of those in power in any time and any place – a belief that a show of violence and force is enough to maintain power. And the misunderstanding that the one who was born on “the bestial floor” would lead some kind of military or guerilla revolt against the occupational forces of Rome. Herod’s is a miscalculation that continues to be repeated over and over again – just read the day’s headlines and it is there – ongoing attempts to use “helms of silver,” weapons of all descriptions, to bring law and order and peace to a troubled world.

It is the violence of Calvary – history’s most distinctly unsatisfying demonstration of the ineffectiveness of capital punishment – contrasted with the incarnation of God as Jesus in the most humble of settings, a feeding trough for beasts of the field.

Only certain magi, poets, and visionaries have ever managed to fully appreciate that singular moment when God came down to be with us as a naked, vulnerable, newborn child. Ask a Ghandi or a Martin King what they have seen.

At the heart of this Epiphany tale is the necessary moment of decision – a choice needed to be made in the face of power, violence and a show of force: will we give the Herod’s of this world our support, tacit or otherwise? Or, not?

The Magi, we are told, “departed to their own country by another way.”

We might overlook what might be the two most important words in this all too familiar story: “another way.”

I believe Matthew in his singular telling of this tale – for it appears only in Matthew’s gospel and no other – is calling those of us who like the Magi are searching for a better understanding of why we are here and where we are meant to be going, that there is the way of the world, and there is “another way.”

Yeats imagines the Magi as having seen “another way.” They do not do the King’s bidding. They do not support an administration of power sustained by fear, violence and killing. They find the “turbulence” of Calvary and its display of capital punishment as unsatisfying for a world that calls us to respect the dignity of every human being.

There is something about the revealed and “uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor” of Bethlehem that calls, urges, demands we find another way. Is it just a coincidence that the very first generation of people who followed Jesus became known as “the people of the Way”? And that the “way” was His way, a new way, “another way” as the text before us would have it?

I imagine that Matthew’s telling of this tale still calls us to become a people who are looking for, advocating and bringing into human consciousness “another way” in a world in which all the old ways continue to be utterly unsatisfying.

Our satisfaction lies with the Magi – they demonstrate the importance of making a choice against supporting the old ways and physically striking out on “another way.”

This is who this Feast of the Epiphany calls us to be – people of the way, those who choose another way. We have now only a moment for this – like the Magi our time and our place calls us to such a moment of decision with no time to ponder, dither or “make up our minds.”

But as the Gospel of Jesus Christ shows us time and time again, although we have now only a moment to choose to follow Him in another way, it is enough - even if this moment is seemingly overwhelmed by other forces of history. For when we join our moments of decision with His and that of the Magi, new forces are set in motion that cannot be overcome by the inadequacies of power, violence and death.

We are to see in this moment nothing less than the light of Christ. We are to walk in His light until we are so joined with it and with Him that no earthly powers of darkness will be capable of overcoming it, or us. For this we give thanks to the God of the “uncontrollable mystery of the bestial floor.” Amen.