Saturday, June 28, 2008

Get To Work!

29 June 2008 * Genesis 22:1-14/Matthew 10:40-42

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

“Let’s put our clothes on and get to work!”

- The Right Reverend Eugene Taylor Sutton

Friday was spent with our Presiding Bishop, The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts-Schori, and yesterday was spent at the Consecration of Eugene Taylor Sutton as the XIVth Bishop of the Diocese of Maryland! In the course of these two days, a lot was said – all very positive and very hopeful.

At the very heart of the Consecration is the investiture of the new bishop – he is clothed in the vestments symbolic of his office: stole, mitre, chasuble, cope, ring, staff and Bible. As the Presiding Bishop remarked, “This service is always a bit like taking a bath or getting dressed in public!”

The recurring theme over the two days in the life of our diocese is summed up best in Bishop Sutton’s remarks at the Peace in the Washington National Cathedral, “Let’s all put our clothes on and get to work!” Those would be our Baptismal clothes which clothe us to join with Christ in his ministry of reconciliation. As we heard from Saint Paul yesterday, “…in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us!” II Cor 5:16-20

This is the good news with which we are entrusted, and this is in fact at the heart of our lessons for today. What God in Christ is asking in the Gospel from Matthew is quite simple: Is our mission here in the Diocese of Maryland and in this parish church of Saint Peter’s consistent with the mission of Jesus and with the kingdom of God? There is no more important question to be asked.

And as difficult as it may be to see in what is perhaps the single most difficult story in all of Holy Scripture, the story of the Binding of Isaac is asking essentially the same question. One immediately is struck by the fact that the text has little interest in the emotional side of Abraham and Sarah losing a son, “your son, your only son, whom you love.” Rather, the text is primarily concerned with one thing and one thing only: God’s covenant with Abraham, a covenant that is to lead to the blessing of all the nations of the world!

That is, as we observed a couple of weeks ago, Isaac means “laughter” or “he who laughs,” and suddenly what is at stake is the death of Laughter – the laughter of all nations because from him was to spring the promise of redemption and salvation for all people. God had placed all his trust in Abraham and Sarah becoming the parents of a great nation, and that nation becoming a blessing for the whole world.

We naturally ask, just why would God test Abraham in what strikes us as such a horrific test of faithfulness? The answer lies, as always, in the back-story. The story begins, “After these things….” These things are a running tally of Abraham’s failures of trust in God and God’s promises. Twice Abraham passes off Sarah as his sister rather than his wife because he feared for their lives despite God’s promise that nothing would happen to them. Then there are those times Abraham and Sarah laugh at God’s promises that they would somehow give birth in the geriatric ward with Medicare picking up the bill! Because of their doubt Abraham and Sarah conspire a way around God’s promise by having Abraham rush God’s plan through his having a child with Hagar.

This all comes after twelve chapters of Genesis in which humanity is portrayed as steadily moving further and further away from God. So it is “After these things” that God tests Abraham to see if indeed he is to be entrusted with God’s plan for the salvation and redemption of the whole world. This was a unique test for a unique figure in history. A figure who was to give birth to those who would give birth to the Christ child. None of us wants the death of Laughter, but we often want the Laughter without the tears.

Such a text challenges and tests our faith as well. We tend to resist the notion that there exists an evil so deeply entrenched in this world that God must go to such dangerous and shocking measures of sacrifice to root it out. But then, our faith begins with a cross on Calvary. We want to overlook the truth of the matter, that our God’s grace often comes with blood on it. In Genesis and in Jesus, God himself “provides for the sacrifice.”

Jesus is making very much the same point in Matthew: unless you honor the prophets who criticize your social ills; unless you accept the righteous ones among you, who for Jesus often are identified as sinners; and unless you attend to the needs of the “little ones,” you will not be recognized as one of my ambassadors. Unless you are about the work of reconciliation, healing and building up the life of my Father’s kingdom, you will never be recognized as one of my disciples. Is our mission consistent with the mission of Jesus and with the kingdom of God?

This is what I believe our Bishop means when he asks us to “get our clothes on and get to work.” Or, as our Presiding Bishop put it, we are to become Healthy and Transformative congregations “so we can do what we are called to do: like lobby our state legislatures and lobby Congress to begin to enact Millennium Development Goals in our own desperately poor urban and rural districts.”

As Matthew’s Jesus says later on in chapter 25, if you feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoners, welcome the strangers, you are welcoming, visiting, clothing and feeding me. I am the stranger, I am the hungry person, I am the little ones.

The XIVth Bishop of Maryland invites us all to get to work in this prayer he offered as a gift to each and every one of us: O Lord our God, look with favor on your pilgrim people in the Diocese of Maryland. Help our lay persons, bishops, priests and deacons to lead lives worthy of the calling to which we have been called, with all humility, gentleness and patience. May our life together be infused by the grace of truth and the spirit of reconciliation; in times of celebration may we freely rejoice, and in times of distress may we listen to and forgive one another in love, always eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Open our hearts to receive the Living Christ in our midst; may we never tire to seek him in prayer and action, and in works of mercy and justice throughout the world. This we pray in the name of Jesus our Savior.

It is indeed time to put our clothes on and get to work! Amen.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Light of the World

22 June 2008 / Proper 7-A: Matthew 10:24-33

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

The Light of the World

"…nothing is covered that will not be uncovered,

and nothing secret that will not be known."

Jesus says we are to be fearless in our witness to the new kingdom life he comes to proclaim and live. We can be fearless because there is much about God and kingdom life that is yet to be revealed. That which is covered or hidden will be revealed. Revelation continues. It does not end with tradition or scripture. God's revelation is not limited to a handful of Biblical writers and editors who gave us our scriptures. God, says Jesus, is not limited at all except by the limits of our own imagination as to the nature of God and God's intended kingdom.

There are those who live among us, fortunately, who every day seek to help us see that which is covered, hidden and secret about God and God’s kingdom. In our tradition we call them mystics because they are able to recognize some of the mysteries of God's hidden-ness in the midst of our everyday surroundings and encounters with one another.

One such person is remembered in our Calendar of Saints: Evelyn Underhill who died on June 15, 1941. Underhill was a lay person, and someone with little formal religious training. Yet, her abilities to recognize the hidden dimensions of God's presence in our life and to write about these mysteries of God makes her one of the most significant witnesses to Christ in recent history. That few Christians have ever heard of Evelyn Underhill speaks to the hidden nature of God's ongoing revelation itself. Yet, she left us what I consider one of the most important prayers next to our Lord’s prayer:

Lord! Give me courage and love to open the door and constrain You to enter, whatever the disguise You come in, even before I fully recognize my guest. Come in! Enter my small life! Lay Your sacred hands on all the common things and small interests of that life and bless and change them. Transfigure my small resources, make them sacred. And in them give me your very self. Amen

Some years ago while in London I fell in love with the gallery of Pre-Raphaelites in the Tate Museum. Prominent among them is William Holman-Hunt whose painting, The Light of the World, shows Jesus standing at a door and knocking, a lantern in his hand. I was absolutely drawn into Hunt’s mystical and luminous rendering of the 20th verse of the third chapter of the book of Revelation: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock…” The same scene was featured in a stained glass window next to the pulpit in my parish in Connecticut. And I only recently learned why it is I am so attracted to this mystical image: while moving my mother to Sykesville from Chicago she found this: a prayer card I made in Sunday School at First Congregational Church, Oak Park, Illinois, with Hunt’s The Light of the World on the front, and the words, “I come that they might have life,” on the back

This image reveals an inner and well hidden truth about God in Christ: he is in fact always standing at the door and knocking, waiting for us to open our door. Which reveals a not so hidden truth about us, even those of us who are disciples of the One we call Lord: we tend to keep our doors closed. And we tend not to hear the knocking. Why? That's right: we are too busy doing so many important things that we just do not hear Jesus knocking on our door. If we are not busy with work or family, we are so busy with church busy-ness that we cannot hear Jesus knocking at the door. That is Jesus' constant complaint about organized religion and tradition: it keeps us too busy to hear or participate in God's ongoing revelation. And so whatever new thing God is presently calling into being remains hidden to us.

Then I don't know about you, but when I do hear the knocking, I tend to look out the peephole to see who it is. Oh, no! I say. It's Jesus! I know what he's all about and he's going to want me to do something for someone. So I run and get my Palm Pilot, run back to the door, and without opening the door I speak through the keyhole and say, "Look, Jesus, I am awfully busy today! I am a week late with the Newsletter, I have a 67 email messages to respond to, but look, I have an opening a week from Thursday at 2:00 PM. Could you come back then?"

All this shambling and dodging when I know that what verse 20 also says is true: “If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you.” It is an invitation to Eucharist – to Thanksgiving – to a heavenly banquet with our Lord and Savior!

So it is we pray, “Lord! Give me the courage and love to constrain you to enter.” To constrain means to force, to urge, to compel. Hunt’s rendering of The Light of the World has no door knob or handle on Jesus' side of the door. Only we can open the door to let God in. Or else God remains hidden from us and we remain hidden from God. The Holy Habit of Daily Prayer and Bible Study is a time-honored way to open the door and let Jesus in.

What Underhill’s prayer acknowledges is that in so opening the door to Jesus we are hoping Jesus will bless and change everything in our common life together. He will make things new. Help us to understand our life together in whole new ways. We pray for change!

Today we have an opportunity to open the door together and let Jesus reminds us of what words he taught his disciples to pray – the Biblical Lord’s Prayer that calls us to live for today, to live on bread that is given daily, bread that is his body given for us and for the whole world. We pray that we might forgive others the very same way we wish our sins to be forgiven. Every now and then we need to renew our prayers. In this case we will be going back to the kinds of language Jesus uses in Luke and Matthew rather than the colloquial and politicized cadences of the time of King James and Queen Elizabeth. Jesus wants to come in and teach us his prayer anew so as to shed new light on how we might live into the life of his kingdom.

It is a good thing to learn new ways to pray so that we might hear what Jesus says to us in whole new ways. He desires to bless and change all “the common things and small interests” of our lives.

And in our prayers we must thank God for mystics like Evelyn Underhill and William Holman-Hunt! They teach us to listen for that knocking on the door, and encourage us to open the door. Only we can open that door and welcome the Risen Lord even before we recognize our guest, whatever disguise He comes in. The Kingdom of God is at hand for those who have eyes to see it and the make the time to welcome it into our midst. "…nothing is covered that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not be known.”


Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Theology of Laughter

15 June 2008/Proper 6 * Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7 / Mathew 9:35-10:23

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

Why did Sarah laugh?

“The tragic is the inevitable. The comic is the unforeseeable.”

-Frederick Beuchner, Telling the Truth (Harpers:1977)

“Why did Sarah laugh?” God asks. To which anyone remotely familiar with God and God’s good news in Jesus Christ might answer, “And why not?!” And besides, laughing is better than crying, and maybe not all that different. Abraham and Sarah are laughing because if by any crazy chance they should have a baby boy, then they really would have something to laugh about! It has been suggested that they are laughing at God and with God, and they are laughing at themselves too because laughter has that in common with weeping. No matter what the immediate object of either your laughter or your tears, suggests Frederick Beuchner, the object of both ends up being yourself and your own life.

After all, they had had quite a life. He was nearly 100, and she was ninety. They had a nice house in the suburbs, a two car garage, a wide-screen HD TV with satellite hook-up to 300 channels! They had prepared a room for the babies to come, but alas it had become a storage room over time since the babies never came. Sarah got her clothes at Nordstrom’s, Abraham was pulling down an excellent salary with fringe benefits and an early retirement plan. And then they got religion, or religion got them. Abraham was convinced they should pull up stakes and move the whole scene to some other country God would pick out where God promised to make Abraham the father of a great nation which would in turn become a blessing to all nations. So that’s what they did, and that’s when the troubles all began.

Off they go with the station wagon loaded with a handful of friends and relations and a U-Haul trailer full of idols behind. The friends included their brother-in-law Lot for whom the trip turns out to have been a bad mistake. The first thing that goes wrong is that Pharaoh is struck by Sarah’s beauty, and so Abraham passes her off as his sister and lets the chips fall as they may. This results in a complicated domestic situation which almost cost Abe the woman who would be the mother of a great nation, and from which he extricates himself by finally telling the truth at a considerable loss of face and credibility.

Next thing is that when they get to the Promised Land, Lot and his crowd claim the place isn’t big enough for all of us. So they split the land, giving Lot all the fertile and good pasture land, leaving Abraham with the area around Dead Man’s Gulch. Some parts of the Promised Land were more promising than others! The years roll on like empty baby carriages when suddenly some strangers arrive to announce that God has a plan. The plan is that Sarah will have a baby boy after all. She laughs, hiding in the tent, laughing so hard she falls on her face with tears streaming down her long wrinkling and aging cheeks. God says, “Why does Sarah laugh?” This sobers the old girl up and she denies the whole thing.

The interesting thing is that God simply says, “Oh yes, you did laugh.” And then far from getting angry, God says, “You will have a boy and you will name him Isaac,” which in fact is Hebrew for “he who laughs.” So God not only tolerates the laughter, he blesses it and joins in on it himself, which makes it all very special laughter indeed. God and man laughing together, sharing in a glorious joke – one that later only Hannah and Mary will ever truly understand.

We might ask, Where does this laughter come from? And the answer would be, from as deep a place as tears come from. Much like tears do, laughter also comes out of the darkness of the world where God is of all missing persons perhaps the most missed, except that it comes not as an ally of darkness, but its adversary; not as a symptom but as its antidote. The laughter of Sarah and Abraham does not eliminate the darkness of endless childless years of tears, and the long years ahead wherein lies even more darkness, as in when Abraham is asked to take his long awaited son and sacrifice him on top of a mountain as a burnt offering. There is much darkness behind and ahead.

And they both have to face the darkness both of death and life in a world where God is seen at best from a distance. But with their laughter and the blessing of God something new breaks into their darkness, something unexpected, something so preposterous and glad that all they can do is laugh at it in astonishment. I often wonder if we have lost the capacity to be astonished.

Meanwhile, Jesus calls us to join his laborers to bring in the harvest – a metaphor for bringing more people into God’s community of faith. He offers authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. We are to proclaim the good news, cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers and cast out demons. All without expecting anything in return. Nothing. Nada. Oh, and later he will say that in our spare time we should work on becoming perfect! Perfect, he says. It is his word for us: Perfect, “like my Father in heaven is perfect.” Apparently he read the first chapter of the book of Genesis and believed it where it says we are made in God’s image, male and female are we so made. If that’s not enough to make us laugh I don’t know what is! Oh, and as in the Abraham saga, Jesus states clearly that joining in the labor of the harvest will not necessarily make the darkness go away.

It is the Gospel as comedy, with comedy being that which is unforeseeable. As in how can Donald Duck foresee that after he is run over by a steamroller, he will pick himself up on the other side as flat as a pancake for a few seconds, but alive and squawking, and just as suddenly pop back into his old self? So imagine the disciples first being asked to pray for God to send laborers into the harvest, only to learn a few verses later they are the ones the Lord is sending! Imagine further that when Matthew writes “disciple” he means us – you and me – we are meant to be the laborers God is sending! Anyone laughing yet?

Consider the evidence, however: Abraham and Sarah do have the baby, Noah who drinks too much saves humankind, David the runt of the litter becomes King of Israel, the disciples do carry on the work Jesus asks them to do, Lazarus stands up and walks out of his tomb, Jesus does rise from the dead, Saul who persecutes Christians becomes Paul the only reason we gentiles are here, and, of course, we are here. We are here because of all these unforeseen things God has done in the past. This same God in Christ Jesus says we will do even greater things than Jesus did! It is our time to join the laborers and bring the harvest in, laughing until the tears run down our cheeks all the way home – home with the God who sent us here in the first place. It is time to say, “Here am I, O Lord send me!” Amen.


Mississippi John Hurt

Don’t you hear my Saviour callin’

Sayin’ who will go and work today

The fields are ripe and the harvest waiting

Who will go bear those sheaves away

Here am I, oh Lord send me

Here am I oh Lord send me

Here am I, oh Lord send me

Here am I, oh Lord send me

If you can not sing like angels

If you can not preach like Paul

You can tell of the love of Jesus

You can say that He died for us all

Saturday, June 7, 2008


8 June 2008 * Proper 5A: Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26

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

The Sacrament of Healing


By Madeleine L’Engle

When I pushed through the crowd,

jostled, bumped, elbowed by the curious

who wanted to see what everyone else

was so excited about,

all I could think of was my pain

and that perhaps if I could touch him,

this man they said worked miracles,

cured diseases, even those as foul as mine,

I might find relief. I was tired from hurting,

exhausted, revolted by my body,

unfit for any man, and yet not let loose

from desire and need. I wanted to rest,

to sleep without pain or filthiness or torment.

I don’t really know why I thought he could help me

when all the doctors with all their knowledge

had left me still drained and bereft of all that makes

a woman’s life worth living. Well: I had seen him

with some children, and his laughter was quick and merry

and reminded me of when I was young and well,

though he looked tired; and he was as old as I am.

There was that leper –

but lepers have been cured before-

No, it wasn’t the leper,

or the man cured of palsy,

or any of the other stories of miracles,

or at any rate that was the least of it;

I had been promised miracles too often.

I saw him ahead of me in the crowd,

and there was something in his glance

and in the way his hand rested briefly

on the matted head of a small boy

who was getting in everybody’s way,

and I knew that if only I could get to him,

not to bother him, you understand, not to interrupt,

or to ask him for anything, not even his attention,

just to get to him and touch him….

I didn’t think he’d mind, and he needn’t even know.

I pushed through the crowd

and it seemed they were deliberately

trying to keep me from him.

I stumbled and fell and someone stepped

on my hand and I cried out

and nobody heard. I crawled to my feet

and pushed on and at last I was close,

so close that I could reach out

and touch with my fingers the hem of his garment.

Have you ever been near when lightning struck?

I was, once, when I was very small

and a summer storm came without warning

and lightning split the tree under which I had

been playing and I was flung right across

the courtyard. That’s how it was.

Only this time I was not the child

but the tree

and the lightning filled me.

He asked, “Who touched me?”

and people dragged me away, roughly,

and the men around him were angry at me.

“Who touched me?” he asked.

“I did, Lord,” I said, so that he might have the lightning back

which I had taken from him when I touched his garment’s hem.

He only looked at me and then I knew

that only he and I knew about the lightning.

He was tired and emptied

but he was not angry.

He looked at me and the lightning refilled him,

and he smiled at me

and I knew that I was healed.

Then the crowed came between us

and he moved on, taking the lightning with him,

perhaps to strike again.

Complementary medicine. The Sacrament of Healing. Friday’s Howard County section of The Baltimore Sun featured an article on Robert Duggan receiving the Richard G. McCauley Leadership Award from the Horizon Foundation for his work of founding the Tai Sophia Institute, a graduate school for healing arts and sciences with specific focus on Traditional Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine.

I know Bob. I have worked with him in an attempt to gain some understanding as to how one can be proactive in staying healthy rather than waiting to treat a symptom or disease. In the article Bob mentions the motivation for his work in what has come to be called complementary medicine – he has five young grandchildren. “Will they grow up to live in a world where you have to get diseased to get help, or where wellness comes first?” he asks.

Our story says that Jesus offers wellness to everyone. In our passage from Matthew, we witness in just a brief few verses three healings: Matthew the tax collector, the daughter of the leader of the synagogue, and the woman in the crowd. And almost every Sunday we ask God “to strengthen us to be instruments of healing in the world.”

So central is this urge toward healing in the Bible and in our common life together that in our mission statement we define our mission as “Feeding, Healing and Reaching Out with Christ.” Just how do we do that? Just how does one, or a community of persons, become “instruments of healing in the world?” Especially since there can be no doubt that this is the foundation of our baptism: we are baptized to “continue Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world.” BCP 855 So how do we do this?

One suspects it begins by accepting healing ourselves – for it is only in acknowledging our own dis-ease and wounded-ness that we gain the understanding necessary to be instruments of healing for others and for the whole world itself.

There are any number of dimensions of the human condition that cause us not only personal distress, but often have the effect of dislocating us from the midst of our community, our family and our church. This is why Matthew can be said to be healed simply by Jesus calling him to work with him and eat with him. Tax collectors were seen as collaborators with the occupying military forces of Rome. The taxes they collected paid to keep the Roman occupational forces in place. Tax collectors were shunned by the community, which caused them a great degree of dis-ease, of dislocation, and of separation from the life of their community.

Note how Jesus himself refers to Matthew as in need of healing in reply to those who question his choice of dinner partners. It is no accident that our catechism refers to healing of the spirit, mind and body, suggesting that our primary need for healing is of our spirits and our minds. It also suggests that there is no healing of one without healing of the other two. The world of the Bible knows no separation of our spirit, mental and bodily selves. Disruption of spirit, mind or body nearly always causes disruption of the other two. It is difficult to imagine anyone not in need of healing in one of these three dimensions of life.

And we know that any disruption of spirit, mind or body deeply affects other dimensions of our lives. Like the rudder of a boat or a ship, these disruptions lie way beneath the surface of our lives, and yet direct our lives in ways we often fail to recognize.

It is apparent in our gospel that Matthew, the woman with 12 years flow of blood and the daughter of the synagogue leader in bed at home are all in very different ways separated from the life of the community, but separated nonetheless. Here the sacrament of Holy Unction or Healing means to be restorative, and to protect us from any such feelings of separation, alienation, and loneliness, knowing that the whole body of the faithful holds us in prayer.

It is to this sort of disorder and dislocation that the rite of healing is addressed. So the object of the rite of anointing can be understood as a renewal of baptismal anointing by which each of us is christos so that the suffering and separation of sickness becomes identified as a participation in the pascha Christi. By such anointing, we recall the passage of Christ through death to life, and of the patient’s consecration to that mystery… moving us to a deeper realization of life in the resurrection.

This would be why this sacrament is most properly carried out in the midst of the gathered community at prayer, and in the midst of the Eucharist which means “thanksgiving”. We move from confession, or acknowledging our brokenness, to healing, to passing the Peace of God, to the Great Thanksgiving – all of which together constitute a modality of healing us in spirit, mind and body. It can be seen as a form of complimentary medicine – a modality that stresses that wellness indeed comes first. It is no secret that for Jesus wellness comes first.

Dianne M. Connelly is a colleague of Bob Duggan’s. She has written a book I think of often: All Sickness is Homesickness. She bases it on the notion in Saint Augustine’s confessions, “our hearts are restless until we find our home in thee.” So it can be said that all of life is a homecoming – a coming home to God.

Jesus lives and proclaims a profound truth: we all come from Love, return to Love and Love is all around – knowing of course that God is Love with a capital “L.” He comes to us to lead us home, to take us home. He promises his disciples the night before his crucifixion that he will return to gather us up to the Household of Love where he has prepared a place for all of us, for each of us.

Will we live in to our mission of Healing with Christ? Will we allow God to transform us into his instruments of healing in the world? Will our children grow up to live in a world where you have to get diseased to get help, or where wellness comes first?

It all starts right here, right now. With Jesus wellness comes first – before all else really. The degree to which we can accept the healing offered in the Sacrament of Healing is the degree to which we can become a healing presence for others. We come from love, we return to love, and love is all around. All of life is a homecoming, a coming home to God. For those like Matthew who get up and follow Jesus, or like the woman fight through their fears and the crowds to simply touch the hem of his garment, or like the father seeking out a release from bondage for his daughter, there is always an invitation to renew our baptismal anointing, allowing ourselves to be gathered deeper into the healing life of the community of Christ.