Saturday, August 30, 2008

Holy Ground

31 August 2008/Proper 17A * Exodus 3:1-15/Matthew16:21-28

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

Holy Ground

Peter’s story is compelling. Peter’s story is our story. Just last Sunday Peter correctly declared Jesus as “The Christ, the Son of God.” This week Peter is a stumbling block – literally in the Greek, a skandalon – a scandle.

It should be striking to us: the first assumption Peter, the keeper of the keys, makes about Jesus as God’s anointed one is wrong, satanic even. It is a cautionary tale for all of us and for the Church – the heart of the good news is the cross which always scandalizes us. Whenever we feel we fully understand Jesus, his relationship to God, his relationship to us, our relationship to the world , our next step, like Peter’s, is likely to be wrong.

Our rightful place is behind Jesus – not being in front trying to lead Jesus.

As Jesus made clear last Sunday, the only reason Peter answered correctly is because God had revealed Jesus’ identity to him. So also, for us to understand Jesus’ ministry, and in turn our own ministry and mission, it must be revealed to us by God through the Holy Spirit. We can never stumble upon it on our own.

We return to the denial of self, to turn outward toward God and others. It is a call to modesty and humility in our theology and moral deliberation. It takes a lifetime to grow into a full understanding of God’s mission, purpose and methodology. The road to understanding is strewn with missteps, stumblings and misunderstandings. God’s church does not have a mission. God’s mission has a church. We are that church, the body of Christ – incorporated into his body and his mission by the waters and Holy Spirit of Baptism.

As it is for Peter, so it is for us – what God demands is ongoing, complete reorientation. We are called to a life of daily Baptism. Christians, suggested Martin Luther, “are always one day old.” We are as much in need of being put behind Jesus today as on any other.

This is why we are taking one day together on Saturday, September 13 to hear what God is saying to God’s people. To take our place behind Jesus. To listen to what Mission God has for God’s church. Always remembering that any attempts on our part to cement our understandings, all attempts to root them in any kind of surety, will lead God to always confound us, turn us around, reorient us, and call us to begin again.

I believe one dimension of our misunderstanding and tendencies to stumble around are rooted in forgetting where we are. Like Jesus, and like Moses before him, we are standing on Holy Ground. All theological hubris, all attempts at surety in what God is calling us to be and to do, result from not taking seriously where we are.

We come into this place, or step outside back into the mission field, or into the woods, or even into The Mall at Columbia, and we forget that wherever we are, whatever time it is, we are standing on Holy Ground – for we are standing before God, or God’s image, God’s imago. In a moment we will promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons.” It is a call to recognize where we are standing – on Holy Ground before a bush that burns and is not consumed.

It seems the earliest liturgical ritual around all this is taking off our shoes. Asian culture has retained this custom longer than we have! It means to adopt an attitude of humility. This is an attitude missing from much of American society and culture. We are so saturated with notions of Roman and English property law that we completely forget that this is God’s world, God’s creation, and that we are designated as God’s imago to be stewards of all this, not merely consumers.

Further, we forget that each and every person we know and see and meet is part and parcel of this imago of God, this image of God. In the language of the New Testament, each person is God’s Beloved. Yet rarely do we take off our shoes before each imago of God we meet. Rarely do we recognize the earth and all its resources as God’s precious gifts, but rather we treat the earth and everything therein as commodities. Worse still, we accept the commoditization of people – even ourselves. How else to explain our utter willingness to wear clothing with manufacturer’s logos, in effect becoming human billboards or walking advertisements? And we do so with a sense of pride mixed with a kind of smug hipness!

Some years ago, at least 60 or more, Woody Guthrie wrote this song – a modern-day psalm, really. Singing it may help to bring us back to an understanding of where we are, which may help us remember who we are and whose we are. With any luck we may, like Peter, get back to our rightful places behind Jesus and let him lead us the way to life in its fullest. Or, like Moses, against all odds, strive for justice and peace for all people, leading people out of bondage into freedom – helping the world to be a place where all people are recognized as God’s people.

May this song remind us that every day Christians are one-day old, standing on Holy Ground.

Holy Ground

Take off, take off your shoes
This place you’re standing, it’s holy ground
Take off, take off your shoes
The spot you’re standing, its holy ground

These words I heard in my burning bush
This place you’re standing, it’s holy ground
I heard my fiery voice speak to me
This spot you’re standing, it’s holy ground

That spot is holy holy ground
That place you stand it’s holy ground
This place you tread, it’s holy ground
God made this place his holy ground

Take off your shoes and pray
The ground you walk it’s holy ground

Every spot on earth I trapse around
Every spot I walk it’s holy ground

Every spot it’s holy ground
Every little inch it’s holy ground
Every grain of dirt it’s holy ground
Every spot I walk it’s holy ground

Words –Woody Guthrie, copyright Wood Guthrie Publications, Inc 2001

To hear the Klezmatics sing this song go to:

To learn more about Woody Guthrie and his music, go to:

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Drifting Too Far From The Shore

24 August 2008/Proper 16 – Romans 12:1-8/Matthew 16:13-20

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

God’s Mission Has a Church

It is not that God’s Church has a Mission, but that God’s Mission has a Church.

It is good to be back. Not that being on vacation was not wonderful, but it is good to be back in the fellowship of God’s People called St. Peter’s. And it is Peter’s day – the day he is renamed by Jesus. No longer Simon, but Peter. Which in the New Testament Greek makes for a kind of pun – for the word for “rock” is petra, while Peter is Petros. Petros is petra – the rock, the foundation upon which Jesus builds his church.

We say “builds” because we know His church is still under construction in so many ways. The church is always growing, changing, under construction, searching for new, more nimble, more creative, more flexible ways of being God’s people. Each time a new member is added to our rolls, each time a person is Baptized, we must be prepared to be called to new and different ways to “do all in our power to support one another in our life in Christ.”

A life which Saint Paul asserts is quite different than that of the world around us. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Paul does not envision a people focused on our lives in and of themselves. We are those people who trust that being in the right places at the right times – the places where God promises to be – God will transform. Our hope is not that our resolve will hold, but that God’s resolve will hold.

During an all too short week in New Hampshire, surrounded by family and friends, I found myself being visited by God in some unexpected places. In the Morgan Hill bookstore, a favorite haunt for the Kubiceks on vacation, I sat down in a wing chair, glanced at the books on the shelf next to me, to find The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages by Joan Chittester, O.S.B. – that would be Order of Saint Benedict.

Now Benedict lived a long time ago – just some 400 years or so after God in Christ walked this earth as Jesus. He tried to get away from the world – a world of Empire marked by power, wealth, violence, aggression. He tried to live in a cave, but others heard of his special gifts in finding a way to live with God so that he was coerced to join and lead a community of like-minded followers of Jesus. Benedict encouraged a disciplined approach to community life, work, study, and prayer. Some thought his methods too difficult and tried to poison his wine. Benedict was onto it, made the sign of the cross over the jug of wine, smashed it on the ground, forgave them for what they had done, and moved on to found a number of monasteries.

Benedict eventually put his ideas on how to know God all down on paper, The Rule of Saint Benedict. It begins with the words, “Listen carefully, my child, to my instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart….” I sat there in the book store reading Benedict’s Rule and Sister Joan’s reflections upon The Rule. In what was surely only a few moments out of an otherwise glorious day I felt I had time-traveled back to that cave on the cliffs overlooking Anio to listen to the voice of a fellow traveler whose wisdom draws one closer to a place where God can have at us and transform us.

The next morning I went bird watching. Some in my immediate family cannot understand why one would wake up before daylight and set off into the woods looking for birds. After all, Dad, we are on vacation! Sleep late! But off I go, my Peterson’s Field Guide in my back pocket, binoculars around my neck and a generous spray of insect repellent around my neck and ankles and hands.

About half way through the two hours in the field is when it came to me – bird “watching” is somewhat of a misnomer. Because watching and looking is not the primary skill necessary for seeing birds, but rather listening is what leads the eyes to see that solitary, magnolia warbler or indigo bunting. Bird watching is an apt metaphor for the spiritual life as Benedict imagines it – listen carefully with the ear of your heart and God stands ready to show you the way.

Down on the dock in Herricks’ Cove it would be another book that brought me a little further along the way – Margaret Visser’s The Geometry of Love. Richard O’Dell lent it to me, and it too has its origins in Italy. It is a look at how the architecture of a church, Saint Agnes’ Outside the Wall, expresses the very essence of what it means to join with Peter and say, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

It is a book alive with examining every detail of what makes a church a church, a living expression of God’s will – what is good, what is acceptable, what is perfect. Visser explores how the center aisle invites one to understand the Christian faith as a journey – a pilgrim journey from the world outside in to the sanctuary of the living God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus. We move closer and closer to the Tabernacle where reside the Body and Blood of our Saviour Jesus, God incarnate.

And she writes of how it is a church is not just a pile of rocks by the side of the road, but a living reminder returning us to those times and places where we met God along the way – those mystical, privileged experiences of the Holy. She is careful to distinguish that a church is not so much meant to induce such moments of epiphany as to acknowledge the experiences its visitors have had. It is a collective memory of such spiritual insights and mystical moments.

And with the obvious sign of the cross, crucifix and Stations of the Cross we are reminded that in order to live we must die to self – choose the transcendent over and beyond the immediate present. The call to follow the Christ, the Son of the living God, is a call to look outward towards others and toward God. Only then can we know what it means to be fully alive. It is not that God’s Church has a mission, but God’s mission has a Church. And we are that Church, the Body of Christ.

The church in bricks and stone and wood and glass tells this story and invites all who would be Christians to continue this story, so at the end of the day we are sent away: “Ite missa est,” – Go, you are sent! From which we get the word mass: to turn our lives toward others and toward God. To complete the work we begin in here in actual fact we must return to the world beyond our doors. We are to live with other people and love them, just as we are to live with God and be loved by God. God’s mission has a Church. I find myself wondering, Are we willing to continue God’s story, be transformed by that story, and so become active participants in God’s transformation of the world in Christ Jesus? Or, have we drifted too far from the shore?

Listen to the Emmy Lou Harris version of the Charles E Moody song (1923):