Saturday, August 22, 2009

We Are Home With God

Saint Timothy’s School Convocation 2009
Deuteronomy 6:10-12/I Corinthians 13:1-13

In all cultural and religious traditions, throughout all time, it is customary to stop before the beginning of a new journey and reflect: reflect on where we have been and where we are going.

Typically, like we are doing this morning, this means listening to the ancient wisdom for clues about why we are here and where we are going. So we consult texts as old as three thousand years from Torah and nearly two thousand years from the Christian Scriptures. What on earth can they tell us about beginning a new school year?

In Deuteronomy, the last book of Torah, we find the people of God who had been wandering in the wilderness for forty years. That’s a rather long vacation – longer than we have just enjoyed!

During this time God had led them and fed them. He had satisfied their hunger and thirst. We are told everyone had enough, no one had too much.

But now they were about to cross over the River Jordan to a new land and life lived more or less on their own.

Moses stops to review all the lessons they had learned along the way: lessons like love God, love your neighbor, and choose life. Lessons like, I chose you because I love you - there is no other reason at all but my love for you. I believe we can safely say everyone in this room is here today because we surrounded by such love.

And where we enter the story God, through Moses, assures everyone that crossing over into a new land, a new life, and a new world, that all shall be well because where you are I will be, says the Lord, and where we are will be home! Do not forget me, says the Lord.

It’s rather touching, really. You will have all these new things, go new places, learn new things, have new experiences – and here is God saying, please, don’t forget me, don’t forget where you come from and where we are going, together.

Not a bad message to hear as we begin a new year together - many of you leaving home to make a new home here for the next nine months, and others who make this their home day by day: we have been called here to love God, love one another, know we are loved and cared for, and know that Saint Timothy's is home!

Such knowledge provides the very foundation of our motto, Verite Sans Peur - Truth without Fear.

And to make sure we fully understand how all this love which forms the foundation of Verite Sans Peur is meant to work, Saint Paul lays it all on the line in his letter to the young church in Corinth: such love requires patience, kindness, rejoicing in the right, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping and enduring all things. Faith, Hope and Love, abide these three.

Those who rejoice, hope, believe, and endure with patience and kindness, says Paul, will transition from childish ways to a new way – a new kind of spiritual maturity. It is the promise of a new beginning – a new start.

What an exciting prospect! What an exciting promise! Spiritual maturity is ours for the taking if only we have faith, hope and love - and the greatest of these is love.

Perhaps the single most misunderstood word in scripture. When I had to memorize this chapter in high school in the King James Version, the word was Charity, not love. The Revised Standard Version was out, it was the 1960’s, and we mounted a revolt to use the RSV which used “love” instead of “charity.” Mrs. King held her ground, and today I am grateful. Throughout the Bible Charity or Love means something like doing something helpful or useful for others whether or not you like them let alone love them.

A community committed to these values of faith, hope and charity is a community that will endure. A community committed to these values will embody the very essence of Verite Sans Peur. As long as we remain committed to these values of faith, hope and charity Saint Timothy's will be a home for all of us and for all those who are sent to visit, work, live, play and ride with us this year!

And for this we all say, Amen!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Eternal Life - Now!

16 August 2009/Proper 15B – Proverbs 9:1-6/John 6:51-58
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, MD

Have Eternal Life – Now!
When our oldest daughter, Harper, was in about the fifth grade, she had a teacher who gave the children a Hershey’s Kiss as a reward for good work and good behavior. There was one condition – they had to savor it. They could not chew it up or swallow it whole, but they had to let the chocolate linger in the mouth, slowly melting, even more slowly giving the pleasure of its deep, dark chocolatey flavor to ease itself into a lingering moment of pure pleasure.

Long before that I recall learning from the culinary discipline of Macrobiotics that one ought to chew each mouthful of food at least 30 times, not simply to savor the flavor, texture and delight of the meal, but to better digest the food so that it might better nourish our bodies and souls.

This penultimate portion of the sixth chapter of the Fourth Gospel, when paired with the portion about Lady Wisdom in Proverbs chapter nine, is an invitation to stop, savor and be more fully nourished by the very “daily bread” for which we pray in our Lord’s own prayer.

For those who “eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood,” there is the promise of eternal life. And as it had been said before by Lady Wisdom: “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity and live, and walk in the way of insight!” Proverbs 9:6

This talk about drinking blood and eating flesh is not about some kind of Twilight vampire kind of thing, or any kind of flesh eating aliens or bacteria – we are not talking cannibalism here either. Or, as Martin Luther so quaintly put it, “this is not the sort of flesh from which sausages are made…nor as such as purchased in the butcher shop.” Although, at the time Jesus was alive, and in certain tribal societies to this day, people eat certain animals specifically to acquire the attributes of said animal. So one might eat a lion to acquire strength and courage, or one might eat a gazelle to acquire swiftness and speed, and so on. As odd as it sounds, this is not so far off-base from what is being said here in Proverbs and John.

The promise in these two invitations to feast at Lady Wisdom’s and Jesus’ table is 1) of a spiritual maturity, and 2) eternal life.

The spiritual maturity piece asserts that there is something more than just bread and wine available to satisfy our hunger and thirst. There is the Word of God, identified by John as Jesus, the Word made flesh. The Word can satisfy deeper hunger and deeper thirst. In fact the Word satisfies our deepest hunger and deepest thirst. This has everything to do with our spiritual maturity and life as we live it here and now.

Similarly, eternal life has nothing to do with “timelessness and death, but is full-filled life here on earth that makes us yearn it will never end. Living life to the fullest as disciples brings great joy in the present and a hope for the future.” Jurgen Moltmann, The Coming of God, p 291

As one preacher once put it, “We are on the road to heaven now if today we walk with God. Eternal life is not a possession conferred at death; it is a present endowment. We live it now and continue it through death.” William Sloan Coffin, Credo, p170

It is life lived with, in and through God in Christ here and now – this is eternal life.

And I suspect it comes about only as we savor the meal. I suspect it only comes about if we savor the Word of God. I suspect it only comes about if we take the time to sit down at the table and linger awhile. We need to savor His flesh and savor His blood if He is to live in us and we in Him.

Christian faith would be so much easier if it were a matter of mere belief or intellectual assent. Our rather scandalous, carnal and incarnational gospel reminds us that Jesus intends to have all of us, body and soul. He intends to course through our veins, be digested fully, and nourish every nook and cranny of our hearts, bodies and souls! He wishes to consume us as we consume him.

This is why we come to the table week by week, day by day. This is why some of us gather weekly on Thursday evenings to gaze upon our Host, to linger in His presence, to savor each moment we do nothing but experience the Word of God made flesh.

He wants all of us. He wants us to have all of him.

Like the manna in the wilderness, those who sit at table with Him, those who linger and savor each moment, there will be enough. For every one there is enough to go around. There is sufficient bread and wine that gives eternal life for all of us.

We moderns are not usually inclined, says John Booty, to give thanks for that which is sufficient. But this is exactly what Lady Wisdom and Jesus have in mind here. This is why we call this Eucharist – literally Greek for Thanksgiving.

The real question for all of us is whether or not we are willing to take time out of our daily lives and even on our Sundays to linger with the Word of God? To savor the fullness of life He means to give us?

Give us this day our daily bread – this we pray. After our prayers will we give God in Christ – the Word of God – the necessary time to give us the bread we need to satisfy our deepest hunger and deepest thirst? Will we linger at the table and savor His presence? Not even God knows the answer to this question – only we do.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

They Shall Be Taught By God

9 August 2009/Proper 14B – 1 Kings 19:4-8/Psalm 34: 1-8/ John 6: 35, 41-51
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

They Shall Be Taught By God

This is our prayer for today: “…we, who cannot exist without you.” How odd it sounds in a world in which we are expected to be responsible for ourselves. Yet, here is Jesus saying, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me…”

We do not come to faith by ourselves.
We do not come to faith by our own deduction, reasoning or insight.
According to Jesus it is not our religious experience, not our philosophical insight, not the accident of birth or economic status that places us in the realm of Light and Life that is the presence of Jesus within the community of Faith.
We are wooed, invited, even cajoled. We are saved by Grace alone. Amazing grace! Generous grace!

Conversely, we do not save anyone. God does all the saving, thank you. And those of us who have been invited to eat the bread of life and drink from the cup of salvation can only bear witness to the abundance Jesus brings to the hearts and souls and lives of believers.

It has ever been thus. Jesus knows this. Those who, as he says, are “taught by God” are those who know about being drawn, wooed, invited and even cajoled by God!

Look back at the Exodus/Wilderness journey: “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his own possession out of all the peoples that are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number…but it is because the Lord loves you…” Deut 7:6-8a

Those taught by God remember this: God chooses us only because God loves us.

Nor does God draw us into God’s presence because of anything we do. Just look at Elijah. Elijah has just defeated the Gods of Baal on top of Mount Carmel in a blazing display of God’s power, and yet Jezebel, instead of being impressed and cajoled herself, takes out a contract on Elijah.

Elijah sits beneath a broom tree feeling like a failure. All that he has done seems to count for nothing now that he sits alone, by himself, in hiding. “I am no better than my ancestors!” he cries out. Remember them last week? Wishing to either return to the bondage of slavery in Egypt, or to die in the wilderness? So Elijah also prays, “Lord, take my life away!”

In a culture that values extremes of success, extremes of acquisition, extremes of consumption, it is easy to feel extremes of failure. In a culture that values competition over cooperation, independence over inter-dependence, it is easy to feel utter loneliness, despair, and at the end of one’s rope as we say.

Those of us who are taught by God, however, can remember just how it is that God touches Elijah with an Angel, and gives him bread to eat and water to drink. And as if that were not enough, the Angel returns a second time – providing bread enough for the journey of the next forty days and nights to Mount Horeb, Sinai, the mountain upon which God chooses us because God loves us: the place of making a Covenant with the Lord our God.

Jesus knows that the Psalmist is speaking a life giving truth when we sing, “O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.”

We who have been deceived, lulled, into notions of evolutionary progress are surprised to learn that we now represent the decline of homo sapiens – a decline from the Stone Age to the present. It is estimated that Paleolithic hunters and gatherers were far more affluent than we are – affluence measured as a ratio between means and ends. Keeping their ends modest, three to five hours of “work” per day was sufficient to meet their needs, leaving the rest of the day for gossiping, entertaining, dancing and even napping - whereas we have willingly consigned ourselves to lives of hard labor. Cited by Huston Smith in Forgotten Truth [Harper One, San Francisco:1976] p.125-127

And looking at what our industry has gotten us, ironically it is an age of unprecedented Hunger. Now in the time of our great technical achievements, starvation has become an institution. The amount of hunger seems to increase relative and absolutely with the “evolution” of culture. Begging the question, is it evolution or devolution? Anthropology or Entropology? ibid

Institutional starvation is just the tip of the iceberg of our modern predicament. William Willimon observes, “Our hungers are deep. We are dying of thirst. We are bundles of seemingly insatiable need, rushing here and there in a vain attempt to assuage our emptiness Our culture is a vast supermarket of desire. Can it be that our bread, our wine, our fulfillment stands before us in the presence of this crucified, resurrected Jew? Can it be that many of our desires are, in the eternal scheme of things, pointless? Might it be true that he IS the bread we need, even though he is rarely the bread we seek? Is it true that God has come to us, miraculously with us, before us, like manna that is miraculously dropped into our wilderness?” Feasting on the Word Vol 3 [Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville: 2009] p.337

Can we adopt any measure of humility and allow God to minister to us? To allow God to draw us near to Jesus? To allow God to teach us, feed us and love us? Not because of what we do or who we are, but “it is because the Lord loves you”?

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Whoever Comes to Me

2 August 2009 * Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15/Ephesians 4:1-16/Matthew 6: 24-35
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland
“I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beg you to lead a life
worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”
We will be reflecting on “the bread of life” for the next several weeks. There is much that demands our attention. And we will get to all that in due time. But like Maria in The Sound of Music, let’s start at t he very beginning.
Which of course is the story of manna. Note how the people are already grumbling. They want to go back to being slaves where you at least got three squares a day! What is interesting for us to note is that the Lord hears their complaining and addresses the problem immediately. Of course they have no idea what this stuff is – they call it “whatizit”? It is up to Moses to point out that “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”
Note also that this all happens after Aaron calls them to “Draw near to the Lord.” So after we complain, we are to draw near to the Lord – whatever that may mean. It is worth considering, for it may be the most important step between complaining and getting the bread the Lord gives us to eat.
Which of course begs the question, what constitutes “whatizit” for us? It’s obviously not bread, but it is what the Lord provides, and the Lord seems to know what they really need. So as we draw near to the Lord, what do we really need?
Looking at the Gospel for a moment, not a dissimilar circumstance. Jesus has just arranged for the five thousand to be fed, and then takes off for some quiet time. Not to be. As soon as the crowd figures out he is gone, they get into boats and went “looking for him “ in Capernaum.
When they find him Jesus gets a bit snippy: You only followed me because you want more bread and fish! Don’t you realize there is something more important going on here? Don’t you see that you can have bread that endures for eternal life?
Leave it to a view of religion providing for our wants – a religion of convenience – rather than seeking religion that endures for eternal life. Such religion of convenience sees our relationship with God as a kind of lobbying effort on a grand scale. The Romans called it do ut des, “I give so you will give.”
So they ask, “What must we do (give) to perform the works of God?” To which Jesus rather succinctly replies, “Believe in me. For the bread that comes down from heaven gives life to the world.” Which means something more like, “Trust in me, align yourself with me and my life.” Or, as Paul so quaintly puts it in Ephesians, “Be a prisoner of the Lord.”
Still not really getting it they cry out, “Sir, give us this bread – always.” Which echoes throughout the Gospel of John. Recall the Samaritan woman at the well who says, “Sir, give me this water (the water of eternal life) so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Do we see how people just do not get it? He is speaking to her of a well of eternal life that springs up within her, and she is still thinking of drawing buckets from a well!
And does she not echo that pivotal phrase coming in chapter 12 when some Greeks come looking for Jesus like the crowds in the boats today, and they say to Philip, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
Which, like the hokey-pokey, is what it’s all about: seeing Jesus. Drawing near to the Lord. Getting in our boats and looking and looking and looking until we find Jesus. And upon finding Jesus, or Jesus finding us as he did with Paul, we are to dedicate our lives to him – believe in him whom God the Father has sent – and so become prisoners for the Lord so that we might lead lives worthy of the calling to which we have been called.
Which Ephesians asserts is building up the Body of Christ – his Church.
Looking at page 299 in the Book of Common Prayer, do we see that these words come from Ephesians? And on the page facing, it says that the bond established in Baptism is indissoluable, incorporating us into the Body of Christ! This is the calling to which we have been called.
So let us find ways to draw near to the Lord. Let us get into our boats and go looking for him. And like all the people in all these stories, may we persist in our looking for and seeing of Christ so that we might indeed live lives worthy of the calling to which we have been called. Let us partake of the bread the Lord provides – the bread we need, not the bread we want - and the wisdom to know the difference.
To be continued. Amen.