Saturday, March 28, 2009

All Shall Be Well

29 March 2009/Lent 5B – Hebrews 5:5-10/John 12: 20-33
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, St. Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland
The Divine Kernel of Being
Some Greeks, that is gentiles, ask Philip, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” This is what we all want. This is why we are here week after week. We wish to see Jesus. For somehow we know, we suspect, we intuit, that if we see Jesus we will see what Meister Eckhart might call “The Divine Kernel of Being” – that Divine Spark of God’s essence, God’s imago Dei, the image in which we are created. We seem to know that in seeing Jesus we just might find something essential about ourselves.

Jesus and company are in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover, the busiest time of year. Jews from all over the world were making the pilgrimage to be there, as well as curious gentiles, seekers, tourists, and thanks to John the Evangelist we are there too. Just prior to this episode God in Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead, Mary anointed Jesus’ feet, Judas complained of the extravagance of this loving act, and Jesus has made his Triumphal entry into Jerusalem – commonly referred to as Palm Sunday.

Response to these events is widely divided between those who wish to see Jesus, and those who plot to destroy him. The latter would appear to be in the employ of the “ruler of this world,” elsewhere identified with Satan and all the “evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God,” as we say at our Baptism. We know who they are.

Jesus begins a somewhat mysterious speech that hinges on the natural life of a grain or kernel of wheat, “the corn of wheat” as the British and the King James have it. Kernels or seeds generally have a hard shell protecting the germ of new life within. Once in the ground it must “die” to its current state, literally be broken open, so that new life may emerge and bear much fruit. This kernel is a miraculous powerhouse of potential “much fruit,” a notion to which we have become perhaps too inured. Like the action of a few grains of yeast in dough or in the brewers art, the fruitfulness of one grain of seed must have seemed a mighty act of God’s generosity to all the people’s of the ancient world – the very same people we hear later Jesus intends to draw to himself – “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

And he cries, “Father, glorify your name.” And a voice from heaven replies, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” This is said, we are told, for our sake, not his. This is why John brings us into this story, placing us in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover with a few Greeks who wish to see Jesus, so that we may hear the voice of God.

It is still a wonder to behold, how the smallest of things can yield such bounty. It has been calculated that if one kernel of corn is planted yielding just forty new kernels, and those forty planted, and so on, that in a mere six years that one kernel will yield as many seeds as there are human beings on this planet – all from just one seed! What if we are that seed for Jesus?

Can we begin to see how it is that Jesus is able to turn this prediction, assertion really, of his impending death in Jerusalem into a parable of hope not just for you and for me, but a parable of bountiful hope for the whole world – a world which he promises to draw to himself?

Sir, we wish to see Jesus! How fortunate for us that we find ourselves in the presence of God’s word in the so-called Letter to the Hebrews where in the space of a mere six verses we are given as concentrated a view of the germ, the essence, the kernel of just who this Jesus is – which gives us a glimpse of ourselves. So as to clarify again, Jesus does not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but is appointed by the one who spoke at his baptism, “You are my son.” And, we are told, also says, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”

I remember oh so well being on silent retreat in a Victorian building in Racine, Wisconsin, suitable as a home for the Adams Family, contemplating these very words. Melchizedek arrives from we know not where in Genesis chapter 14 as a Priest and King (King of Peace) who brings bread and wine to Abraham – the elemental nourishment of the Eucharist – and gathers Abraham’s tithe and bears it to the altar. This is the first mention of the Tithe, the first of the Four Holy Habits, in the Bible! Then Melchizedek rides off mysteriously we know not where never to be mentioned again until here in Hebrews as a prototype of Jesus – a declaration, perhaps, that Jesus’ priesthood is unique, without precedent or succession!

And this High Priest of ours, unlike Caiaphas we are told, offers “up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission...he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” There we are again, included in the text of this most sublime, dense, inscrutable and divine of all epistles – we, his obedient servants by baptism.

It speaks of Jesus’ deep solidarity with humanity – a humanity which continues to know sufferings, a humanity that continues to pray with loud cries and tears. The divine author of this epistle declares that our God who hears these prayers is not absent from our sufferings, but is present in the midst of sufferings – and yet, is not overcome by them, promising to draw us up as he is lifted from the tomb into the eternal habitations from whence he came.

Here is a priest who does not offer a lamb or a dove or a pair of small birds, nor bread or wine, nor any atonement for sin. In the presence of God this priest of ours offers weeping and screaming in the lifting up of our prayers and the prayers of all humankind. His passion for God and his passion for us is God’s love for all humanity and all creation, for each one of us in which he places the kernel of His imago Dei – the Divine Kernel of our Being.

Biblical theologian Walter Wink has said, “…history belongs to the intercessors, who believe the future into being.” The priest according to the order of Melchizedek is the one who intercedes for us – who believes the future out ahead of us, and who lights the way into it for all those of us willing to follow him, for “where I am there will my servant be also.”

The Jesus we wish to see is the bearer of a fundamental message of hope grounded in God’s profound love for the world, “for God so loves the world that God gives his only begotten son, so that those who believe in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

Is it any wonder they wish to see Jesus? Is it any wonder that we are here? All it takes, said Jesus, is as much faith as a grain of mustard seed, the tiniest of all the seeds. The gift of a seed of faith is ours today should we plant it in our hearts, tend it, and let it take root. Allow the hard shell of the kernel to be broken open, and the Love of God in Christ to bathe the germ of new life in your heart, and all shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of thing shall be well.
If you have faith as small as a mustard seed/
If you have faith as small as a mustard seed

You can take trees and hurl them in the sea/
You can take trees and hurl them in the sea

The lame will walk and the blind will see/
The lame will walk and the blind will see

Wars will cease with the end of greed/
Wars will cease with the end of greed

Loaves multiply so there’s enough to feed/
Loaves multiply so there’s enough to feed

As you sow you shall receive/
As you sow you shall receive

As you pray you will believe/
As you pray you will believe

Trust in the Lord, He’ll supply every need/
Trust in the Lord, He’ll supply every need

As you follow Christ you’ll begin to lead/
As you follow Christ you’ll begin to lead

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Light The Dark Streets!

22 March 2009/Lent 4B – Numbers 21:4-9/Ephesians 2:1-10/John 3:14-21
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

Look Up And Live !

They’re baaaacckkkkkkk! Way back in The Garden there was a Serpent causing trouble for all of us. They came back during the Wilderness Journey with Moses. And now John the Evangelist calls our attention back to the wily serpent again - although this time as a symbol of healing, wholeness and salvation.

John begins, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” This sets up what is perhaps the most famous verse from all of scripture, the one that decorates sports arenas and stadiums all across the country, John 3: 16! The contrast here is clear: die with the serpent or look to God for healing; have eternal life or perish. It does not get any simpler than this.

But to make sure we get the contrast, John throws in a discussion of light versus darkness and judgment versus salvation = eternal life, which at its simplest means life lived with God, healed and whole.

All indications are that John, Nicodemus (who begins this little dialogue in chapter 3), Moses, the assembled mob in the wilderness, Paul and the Ephesians all know all there is to know about the troubles of this world.

The sin in the wilderness is “speaking against the Lord.” The sin in Ephesus is “following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath like everyone else.” Not much wiggle room there!

And the sin in the words of Jesus at the time of Nicodemus was that as the Light that is the Life of the world was coming into the world, and “people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light so that their deeds may not be exposed.”

It’s not so difficult to understand what Jesus in John is getting at. Everyday in the news more and more evil is coming to light. The evil has been lurking in the darkness, in the shadows, in board rooms, in derivatives, in credit default swaps, in increasing road rage, in increasing gas and electric cut-offs, in increasing evictions and mortgage foreclosures, in secret prison cells, in the persecution of women and children, on death rows here and around the world, in gluttonous carbon consumption, in just about every corner of God’s green earth, the evil prefers to lurk in the darkness.

The strategy of evil seems to be so much in so many places that no one can keep track of it all. Until. Until it comes to light – exposed – convicted by its own actions.

God has no need to judge. God so loves the world that God only wants to save the world, not condemn it.

It has been like this all week. A friend emailed me wondering why the world is covered by so much darkness and meanness. The mechanic in Catonsville who assured me that the world would be an even darker place without all the priests and nuns and faithful people at prayer shining God’s light in the dark places. And the other mechanic next door who asked me to anoint and lay hands on his knee which had recently been surgically repaired but still hurt like the dickens.

Everyone seeks healing. Everyone seeks some relief. More and more people seek the light. More and more people look to God for healing. John says look up! See him there hanging on the tree – behold the hard wood of the cross on which hung the world’s salvation. Come let us adore him. Look up and live!

The contrast here is clear: die with the serpent or look to God for healing; have eternal life or perish. It does not get any simpler than this- Look up and live!

Even with Paul Harvey recently passed on to the by and by, we know the rest of the story. The earth shook, the veil in the temple was rent from top to bottom, the glory of the Lord has been revealed. Soon we will be through with the trouble of this world as we shine the light in all the dark places and encourage every man, woman and child to come to the light and find eternal life!

Soon I will be done with the trouble of this world

I’m goin home to be with God

Die with the serpent, or look up and live

God so loved that world that he gave us His Son

There’ll be no more weeping and wailin’

I’m gonna see my momma and poppa

We’re gonna see our sisters and brothers

We’re going home to be with God

Soon we will be done with the trouble of this world

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Batter My Heart

15 March 2009/Lent 3B * Exodus 20:1-17/Psalm 19/John 2:13-22
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

The Meditation of My Heart

Psalm 19 holds today’s lessons all together. It is all in tension – the glory of God as seen in the created universe versus the glory of God revealed in Torah. We tend to translate Torah as “law,” but it can also mean “direction” or “teaching.” It might be better to say that the Ten Words – the Ten Commandments - is not a bunch of rules so much as it is proclamation from God’s own mouth as to who God is and how those of us created in the image of God are to be.

So the Psalm begins by directing our attention to the “handiwork” of God. Can we even begin to imagine the immensity of it all? Something like a billion universes out there, of which we reside in only one. To get the sense of it, a billion looks something like this. If one were to plant 1000 tulip bulbs every day since the day Jesus was born, you would need to continue planting 1000 per day for 750 more years to get to a billion. Or, think of it in terms of setting aside 1000 dollars a day for 2759 years to reach one billion dollars! We have developed a somewhat jaundiced view of all this what with billions of dollars being lost, and billions of dollars being given away. All in the name of what? Covetousness might be the right answer.

If there is a lesson to be learned from the current economic melt-down it would be that there has been abject disregard for the Tenth Commandment. We ought to note that it is the only commandment of the Ten repeated twice: “You shall not covet….you shall not covet.” In ancient literature such repetition means, “Alert! Pay special attention to this!!!”

Guess we forgot to pay attention and let our covetousness run wild. The danger now, of course, is that we begin to wish that Jesus and his whip of cords would return to smash his way up and down Wall Street with Hank Paulson and Bernie Madoff in tow!

But that would be to miss the true meaning of our Lord’s little demonstration at the Jerusalem Temple during the busiest time of the year – Passover – a time to remember that we were slaves liberated by the grace of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus so that we could enter into a covenant relationship based on the Ten Words. Now we find ourselves slaves to covetousness.

Which is why a little bit past the Ten Words God also commands The Passover so as not to forget who we are and whose we are. God knows how easy it is to forget: Just as easy as it is to forget that coveting – despite being the foundation of a consumer driven economy – is bad for us.

And Jesus is not upset with the need for money changers and the selling of unblemished animals for the appointed sacrifices. These were aids to visiting pilgrims. After all, who could hope to get a lamb all the way to Jerusalem from Galilee without it getting at least a little scuffed up? What he protests is the greed and covetousness that has turned “my Father’s House” as he calls it into a money making machine at the expense of poor people who were having a hard enough time staying in one place let alone getting ahead under the yoke of Rome’s military enforcement of oppressive taxation.

So Jesus is calling for a reform - a reform of the Temple customs. But as the inner edges of the text suggest, what really needs reform is the Church, His Body – which of course means that we who are by baptism His Body need to reform our ways. He seeks to raise us up.

Jesus and the Psalmist know that the Ten Words offer a way of being that is meant to help us remember how we are meant to live, and the pitfalls we are to avoid. How does the Psalmist put it? “The law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul … the commandment of the Lord is clear and gives light to the eyes!” Who among us could not use a little more light? Who among us could benefit from a revival of the soul?

Note how the double warning against coveting is counter balanced by the commandment that takes up fully one-third of the entire Ten Commandment discourse – the command to observe Sabbath time. Sabbath was not about being religious and going to church. Sabbath offers an alternative way of being in a world driven by covetousness, profit and greed – to name just one of the Seven Deadly Sins(all of which depend on covetousness). The Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus knows that passion and covetousness cannot be vanquished by decree.

So God says in effect, “Do not covet anything that does not belong to you, do not covet anything belonging to your neighbor; rather, let me give you something that belongs to me. What is that something? A day – a day of rest, a day of no work, a day of no coveting, a day of gratitude, a day of prayer and meditation.”

May the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer. Sabbath time means to unplug from life as it is lived six days of the week – six days of coveting things of space – and instead learn to covet time spent only with God. Jesus and Psalm 19 issue a call to return to the Four Holy Habits: Daily Prayer and Study, Sabbath Time, Weekly Corporate Worship, and Tithing. Meditation and Contemplative prayer, Sabbath time with God, offers us a way out of a culture of Covetousness, which as we have seen in recent months and years is a problem for us all.

Rather than wishing revenge on Wall Street and Mr. Madoff, we might do better to join in this sonnet prayer of John Donne calling us to invite God in Christ into our hearts– the place which should be ordered with reverence appropriate to the dwelling place of God which is cluttered up with worldly ambitions, anxieties about our possessions, and designs to get the better of our neighbors:

Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me,and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurped tower, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again;
Take me to you, imprison me, for I
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.


Saturday, March 7, 2009

Do The Hokey Pokey

8 March 2009/Lent 2-B * Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16/Mark 8:31-38
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills 21043

Time for a Penitent Heart Transplant

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, forever and ever. Amen

As someone once said in Bible study when we read this collect for today, “Maybe what we all need is a “penitent heart” transplant!” After at least eight Year B Bible Studies on this one passage, with clergy and lay persons in a variety of settings, when asked what it as people heard in this gospel, not one person chose the phrase, “and after three days rise again.” That would be the Good News of Jesus Christ the Son of God!

What we hear instead are the words of suffering, rejection, death, deny yourself, lose your life, adulterous and sinful generation and shame. This must be what Peter heard too, and why he rebuked Jesus. “Lord, I just said you are the Christ! These things cannot happen to you! You are God’s anointed, God’s Beloved! God is well pleased with you!”

To which Jesus responds, “Rebuke me, will you? I will see you and raise you four rebukes!” Or, “Get behind me, Satan!” Which is just another way of saying, “Just whose side are you on anyway? Your Way? Satan’s Way? Rome’s Way? Jerusalem’s Way? The World’s Way? Have you considered getting behind me and joining in my Father’s Way? That would be, God’s Way!”

Jesus draws a line in the sand. We know from other stories that he did this from time to time. And in drawing that line Jesus basically says, "Do not comfort yourself by thinking that God is on your side. Be more concerned about whether or not you are on God’s side!”

All of which is followed by the invitation to do three things: deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus: which is not an invitation to be crucified – although for some who take this invitation seriously it has come to that.

The invitation is meant for us to take seriously the promises made in our baptism and sealed with a cross on our foreheads with oil.

We are to pick up this baptismal cross and follow him. We are to let this cross lead us in His Way – God’s Way. Not pick up our crosses and then go where we want. Follow him.

Baptism is a Penitent Heart Transplant. In Baptism we are given a New Heart – a heart that listens to Jesus. Note that at the outset it says, “Jesus began to teach….” So the first step in following Jesus is to Listen to Him. That is what the voice on the mountain said a few weeks ago: This is my Son, my Beloved – Listen to him.

In Baptism we are also given a New Name. Just like we hear that Abram becomes Abraham, and Sarai becomes Sarah, and God even gets a new name, “God Almighty” – no doubt a distant relative of Bruce and Evan Almighty. And in his Baptism, Jesus gets a new name – God’s Beloved. Now we are God’s Beloved! God is well pleased with us!

In our Baptism the sign of the cross is marked on our foreheads with oil, chrism, blessed by our Bishop. This cross marks us as Christ’s own forever. We belong to him. He belongs to us. We are One.

It is the same cross we trace on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday with the Ashes made from Palm Sunday’s Palms. And the same cross we trace with oil blessed by our Bishop when we come forward for Healing. The cross is not some terrible end to an otherwise faithful life with God in Christ, but rather the cross meets us and marks us at the beginning of our communion with him – and remains with us forever. And ever!

We keep tracing it over and over to remember – to remember who we are and whose we are. We are those people Jesus calls to get behind him and follow him. We are those who have Penitent Hearts – which means we repent.

Repent is an interesting word, for it means to turn around. The idea is that when we are baptized and given a new heart and a new name, we turn ourselves about and walk in God’s Way – which is what get behind Jesus really means.

What I love about our new Penitent Hearts and repentance is that in Hebrew and Aramaic the word for this is Shoove! And turning toward God means to turn away from Satan and the Devil and all the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.

So last Sunday when Jesus was in the wilderness being tempted by Satan, he shook the devil off and shooved toward God. Which is what he says we are to do today: we are to turn away from the temptations of this life, this world, the world of profit, and shoove, turn to God, shake the devil off, get behind Jesus and Follow him! This is the Way – the Way of true life, real life, abundant life in his Father’s Kingdom. The Only Way!

Shake shake shake, shake the devil off
In the name of Jesus, shake the devil off

When he says, “Forget about God!”
shake the devil off

Shoove shoove shoove, turn yourself about
In the name of Jesus, turn yourself about

Love your neighbor as yourself,
turn yourself about

Pick up your cross and follow me
And turn yourself about

The moral of today’s story:
it turns out the Hokey Pokey IS what it’s all about!