Friday, December 24, 2010


Christmas Year A 2010

One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I never remember if it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve, or for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six… All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged, fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find. - Dylan Thomas, A Child's Christmas in Wales

Like Dylan Thomas, we all have a bundle of Christmas memories, and when I plunge my hands in the snow of Christmases past out comes heading home from college around 1970.

My hair was a lot longer back then as I sat at the gate at Bradley Field with a high school friend who attended a nearby college. A young man approached us who had no shoes. He asked if he could borrow some shoes to get on board the flight since the folks at the gate would not let him on bare foot. Shows you how different things were back then! Now they make you take them off!

So I lent him a pair of sneakers out of my carry-on bag. He thanked me and headed off to the men's room. As we boarded, he was nowhere to be seen. But as we were standing in the jetway, I overheard a more corporately attired traveler say to another, "Just look at all of our 'hopes for the future' getting on this plane," drenching with sarcasm. Forty years later and on has to wonder: who has provided our country and the world God loves more hope, the corporate types or the outsiders? Of course the kid never got on the plane. I never saw those shoes again. Great scam! But I was happy for him!

Just where do we place our hope these days? For that is what Christmas demands to know. Washington? Politics? Science? Whatever passes for "progress" these days? The Arts? Young people, old people? The Economy? To quote the King of Siam, "It's a puzzlement!"

At Christmas all kinds of people return "to their own cities" just like Mary and Joseph had to that winter a long time ago. The government required it. Everyone had to be counted so that they could be taxed - so that Rome could drain the maximum amount of resources from that backwater province surrounding Jerusalem, Israel.

The times were dark back then under Rome. Just as they had been dark some 600 years earlier when Isaiah proclaimed a word of hope: "The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light. Those who live in the land of deep darkness, on them light has shined." The land was under occupation back then as well - the Exile, the Babylonian captivity, call it what you may. In the 1970's it would be called a big bummer, man!

Despite the desperate nature of the situation, Isaiah declares that there is hope. It is just that hope comes from the strangest places. For those in Isaiah's time, hope arrived as a gentile messiah, Cyrus of Persia - modern-day Iran roughly. It is safe to say that no one expected that! Yet, Cyrus liberated God's people and returned them safely home.

Then one night, six hundred years later, in the back streets of Bethlehem, a light shined in the darkness - a child was born. A baby in a manger - basically a feeding trough for barn animals. The animals in the shed sacrificed breakfast so the baby could sleep. Isaiah echoed through the night in the singing of angels, the arrival of shepherds, as the child lay there in a wooden manger of hay. The child, says Isaiah, is to be called "Mighty God!"

Do we get that? This child in a manger is God - we do well to just stop and try to take that all in for a few moments. Hope arrives in the strangest of places in the most unexpected people, but now hope arrives as a baby - a tiny child. A child who would grow up to bear the weight of the whole world and all its attendant woes and darkness upon his shoulders.

I grew up believing Chicago was the "City of Big Shoulders." Nothing like his, though. All the sin, sorrow, loneliness, sadness, brokenness and desperation of the world will one day rest on the shoulders of this tiny child - the wood of the manger turns out to be the Hard Wood of the Cross. Our hope, our only hope, is a baby lying in a manger.

Note that we do not have to go looking for hope. Hope goes out of town to the margins of Israelite society to find the shepherds and announce hope is here - the hope of the world is here, and you silly, filthy shepherds are the first to know! Hope comes to find us wherever we are! The question remains, will we respond as immediately and excitedly as the shepherds did that night in Israel?

And if we do, what do we do with this hope? Many have tried many things and have just made things worse. Take the Church, for instance. We tried to impose this hope on every and all peoples - using force whenever necessary. Force is to tepid a word - violence and even torture have been employed to convince others to let this hope into their hearts. We became the Empire to which we had been the alternative. Most people, however, could sense that what we offered was false hope - untrue hope based in our own sinfulness and greed.

Yet, even up to modern times many have seen using Jesus to establish a new political order as a promising strategy. Woody Guthrie of all people wrote a song: Jesus Christ for President:
Let's have Christ our President
Let us have him for our king
Cast your vote for the Carpenter
That you call the Nazarene
The only way we can ever beat
These crooked politician men
Is to run the money changers out of the temple
Put the Carpenter in

Christmas 1940, Dietrich Bonhoffer, who died in a Nazi jail cell, wrote that it will not work this way. Jesus will not establish his government of peace by force, but only when people submit to him freely, and allow him to rule over them. Then he gives to them his wonderful peace. When Christians are torn apart by war and debate, and churches cannot come together, that is not the fault of Christ, but the fault of people who do not allow Christ to rule over them. This does not mean that the promise is not fulfilled. Peace will have no end when we allow the divine child to rule over us.If we accept the Word and sacrament, if we accept his rule over us, if we recognize the child in the manger as our Savior and Deliverer, we allow him to give us the new life of love.
- Christmas 1940, The Government upon His Shoulders, Bonhoffer, Werke, vol 8

So where do we find him, this child who is God? How do we recognize him? In 1998 I was attending a Stewardship conference in Syracuse, New York. I was leading some music in a room of about 60 people. At a table in the front of the room was a group of deaf Episcopalians. Someone was signing the proceedings for them. As we sang, Seek Ye First The Kingdom of God, they were all signing the song as we sang. One by one people behind them began to join in signing the Alleluias, until soon everyone in the room had left our world of hearing and entered into their world. Finally, the person signing for them urged them to turn around to see what was happening. The looks on their faces was the light of Christ shining into our darkness. We were no longer singing about seeking the kingdom of God, we had entered into God's kingdom, God's world, God's rule of love for God and neighbor.

It turns out more often than not, as it was for the shepherds, we need not look for hope - we need only recognize that it is already here and submit ourselves to Him to allow Him to give us a new life of love. For He is here. He is wherever there are people who are shut out of the usual structures of power. He is wherever people are lonely, in need of feeding, healing or a helping hand to reach out. He is wherever we enter into the lives of those who are hurting in this world.

God will accomplish God's purpose with us or without us. The kingdom this child brings to us this day shall remain forever, and in the end bring down all human guilt and resistance.

Whether we are there or not, it will arrive. God himself lays his plans and reaches his objectives, with us or against us. But he wants us to be with him, not by compulsion, but willingly. God with us, Immanuel. I believe that Jesus Christ, truly man, born of a Virgin, and also truly God, born of the Father in Heaven, is my Lord! - ibid.

Bonhoffer's final Christmas in 1944, a letter from a Nazi prison cell to his fiancée included this message which has become Hymn 696 in our hymnal:

Hymn 696
By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered,
and confidently waiting come what may,
we know that God is with us night and morning,
and never fails to greet us each new day.

Yet is this heart by its old foe tormented,
still evil days bring burdens hard to bear;
O give our frightened souls the sure salvation,
for which, O Lord, you taught us to prepare.

And when this cup you give is filled to brimming
with bitter suffering, hard to understand,
we take it thankfully and without trembling,
out of so good and so beloved a hand.

Yet when again in this same world you give us
the joy we had, the brightness of your Sun,
we shall remember all the days we lived through,
and our whole life shall then be yours alone.

Even in the darkness of prison and his pending execution, Bonhoffer embodies the hope of the Christ child, a light that shines in the darkness and which the darkness has not and cannot overcome.

Where do we see our hope? Christmas wants to know. Christmas means to show us, if only we will open our eyes and see. When we do, we know that God is with us night and morning, and never fails to greet us each new day. When we do, our whole life shall be Christ's alone. Immanuel, God with us.

Jesus, God on earth, was touched by human hands. I believe that Jesus Christ, truly man, born of Mary, and also truly God, born of the Father in Heaven, is our Lord. Together may we live out of this simple declaration of who we are and whose we are. Hope has been born and is with us night and morning. God bless us, every one!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Stir It Up

12 December/Advent 3A - Matthew 11:2-11
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Mount Calvary Church, Baltimore, Maryland

Stir Up Thy Power, O Lord, and With Great Might Come Among Us
These are the opening words of the Collect for the Third Sunday of Advent every year. It is my favorite collect. I imagine God at one end of a long wooden-handled spoon stirring a pot of soup filled with lots of good things, keeping things moving, keeping things from settling, burning or sticking to the bottom of the pot, making sure the mix is just right to produce a nourishing, tasty and filling treat. I imagine we are the soup and all the various ingredients, each of which is necessary for the soup to both taste good and be good for us.

But I always end up asking myself: do we really want God to come among us with great might to stir things up? No one much seems to like change and things being stirred up. And yet, here we are praying for God to come with “great might” to stir things up! Sounds like change to me.

Both John and Jesus understand the consequences of doing God’s stirring up with great might: John is in prison and Jesus is on his way to the cross. Both were advocates for change. Both ended up in prison and executed.

So here we find John in prison sending his disciples to ask the important question: Are you the one we have been waiting for? Are you really the one that last week I said I was not worthy to carry your sandals? Because I have to say, I did not expect to end up in prison if you were the one who was coming to liberate us from this occupation. This was not what I expected at all. Are you the one, or is there another yet to come?

John seems to have lost hope. Now at some time or another we all know what it is like to lose hope – to hope for something that never seems to come. We wait and wait and wait and wait, but it never seems to come. Or, when it finally arrives it is not at all what we imagined, expected or wanted it to be.

When we remember times and feelings like these we begin to get some idea what John the Baptizer is feeling as he languishes in Herod’s prison by the Dead Sea. He was waiting and hoping for something really really big to stir up this world and set it right-side up again.

Now it would be easy to judge John harshly for not trusting immediately that Jesus is the One. And many of us have to admit, we look around at the world today and wonder, like John, just what has the arrival of God in Christ done for us and for the whole world?

Some days it is easy to lose hope. Especially if we are looking for a wholesale rearrangement of the way things are. Especially if we are hoping for the peoples of the world who seem hopelessly divided and hindered by sins somehow to be speedily reconciled, friendly and cooperative rather than divided, hateful and competitive.

Jesus responds to John and to us, “Go and tell what you see and hear….the blind receive sight, the deaf hear, lepers are cleansed and the dead are raised up!” Feeding, healing and reaching out to others, the real "others" - widows, orphans, resident aliens, the unclean, the blind and even the dead. This is Biblical language to describe people who have been written off or left out of the life of the community and for a variety of reasons thought to be unclean and dangerous to be around.

Go and tell what you see and hear. And what the people around Jesus see and hear are little victories over death, blindness, and loneliness. People are being restored to real life in real community. Barriers are being torn down. Prejudices are being dropped. Those who have been excluded for their entire lives are now included in the life of God’s people.

Think of the struggles just in our life time - for women, for civil rights, for gay and lesbian people, for immigrants. We live in a land where nearly all of us are immigrants - resident aliens. Few of us have ancestors who were here when the Euro-invasion began.

The big picture, suggests Jesus, is changing one life at a time. The work is not done. Jesus is still recruiting more and more people to do the work that he does and, as he promises, we will doc even greater things than he does! He wants us to be a part of his work! He needs us. God needs us. The world needs us.

And to join with Jesus we need not to lose hope. We need to be a people of hope.

So for just a moment fill in this sentence, “As Christmas approaches I hope for …..”

Maybe write it down, keep it in your purse or pocket. Hold onto your hope. Every time you touch that piece of paper, pray for your hope. Or, just think about it. Let your hope carry you through the rest of Advent and Christmas and throughout the year ahead.

Maybe we can begin to feel what John was feeling and what Jesus was feeling, hoping that God would do something, anything, even some small thing, toward setting the world right-side up again!

Jesus calls us to a life of hope and commitment: hope in what the joy of his birth really means and commitment to the ministries of feeding, healing and reaching out to others with him, through him and for him. Jesus tells us: do not lose hope. I am with you always to the end of the age. Go and tell what you see and hear! Amen.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Far, Far Away Was A Man

5 December 2010/Advent 2A - Isaiah 11: 1-10/Matthew 3:1-12
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Mount Calvary Episcopal Church, Baltimore, MD
Far, Far Away Was A Man

Once upon a time, in an ancient and far away country, when there were no cities, and no towns, only small tribes and caravans of people living on the land, wandering from place to place looking for vegetation for their sheep and goats to eat, there was a mountain top.

Whenever people climbed to the top of this mountain they felt the presence of God, who would tell them to always love the One God who cares for you and loves you always; and always care for one another, especially the others, those who are poor, have no families, widows, orphans and strangers.

And the people would leave the mountain top and remember to care for others the way God cared for them.

Throughout the years people would come and go from the top of the mountain and return with the message God had given them- to love the God who loves them, and to care for one another, especially others beyond the tribe.

And when the people came back from the mountain, many placed a stone there for remembrance. In fact, many who came but had not heard God themselves also left a stone to commemorate the remarkable events and stories which they had heard about those who did.

Each placed a stone as a token, and many placed the stones together, one building upon the other, until soon a magnificent Cathedral covered the mountain top where God's presence could be found and heard. People would come to the Cathedral, and entering they would know that something important was there, and they would pay their respects, praise the name of God and ask favors of many kinds. And each one would leave a stone.

Over the years, as more and more people came and left more stones one atop the other, a great city was built around the Cathedral on the mountain, with long, winding, narrow streets, lined with homes and shops, fountains and plazas. People coming to the mountain would need to stop and ask the way to the Cathedral so as not to get lost in the back streets of the city. And each one would leave a stone.

As the years continued to roll by, and the people continued to come and leave stones, a great wall with majestic gates was built around the city. People coming to the mountain would have to find a gate they would be allowed to enter. Sometimes the gates would be open, and sometimes the gates would be closed.

For many, even in the city, the top of the mountain became difficult to find, now that it had been covered by so many many stones. The gates were crowded, the streets were crowded, winding and narrow, there was so much noise and activity both inside and all around the gates of the city that no one could hear the directions to find their way to the top of the mountain where God's presence would remind them to love the God who always loves them and to care for one another, especially the others beyond the walls of the city.

Far, far away, in a lonely and barren wilderness beyond the gates of the city, was a man. A voice, crying in the wilderness. Above the crowded streets, beyond the crowded gates, above the top of the cathedral towers, the voice could be heard. Some people, discouraged at no longer being able to find the top of the mountain could hear his voice, so loud and lonely and lovely was the cry from the wilderness.

First one, then another went beyond the gates of the city and followed the sound of that voice. They could hear it floating on the winds, they could hear it like music in the sky.

As they came upon the man lonely in the wilderness, they could make out his cry: "Prepare ye the way of the Lord. Make straight his roadways, make straight his paths. Prepare ye the way of the Lord!"

Over time, more and more people came out of the city and into the wilderness, following the voice carried on the wind, until everyone, all the inhabitants inside and outside the gates of the city were there with the man lonely in the wilderness.

And the people joined in his cry, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord. Make straight his roadways, make straight his paths. Prepare ye the way of the Lord!" So that more and more people everywhere could hear the voices of many being carried on the winds to the four corners of heaven and earth.

Then the man lonely in the wilderness led them to the banks of a river, and invited them to all bathe in the waters of the river. And as they bathed in the waters of the river, he said to them, "Remember. Our God also speaks to us in the life of the waters of this river. Remember what he has said: love the One God who cares for you and loves you always, and always care for one another, especially the others, those who are poor, have no families, widows, orphans and strangers. Remember, remember, remember!"

"And, Oh yes! Another one is coming who will show us all the way back to the top of the mountain. Yes, you will remember today, but soon he will show us that to find our way back into the Cathedral, we have nowhere to look and nowhere to go. For he will tell us that the Cathedral and the top of the mountain is here, in the midst of us, wherever we are as a community of his people. Together. All of us. Including the others beyond the community. Especially the others. Here in our midst, wherever we are, God's presence, God's voice, God's message does dwell. Remember, remember, remember today, but the one who shall come will show us the Way."
And so it was, the beginning of our story. And so it is today.

When you listen far above the crowds and noise, a voice can still be heard floating on the winds, beyond the gates of the city, above the tops of the highest cathedral, calling to us, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord. Make straight his paths who is more powerful than I is coming after me...He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire..."

Remember to care for others the way God cares for you. Amen.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Quality of Waiting

28 November 2010/Advent 1 – Isaiah 2:1-5/ Romans 13:11-14 Matthew 24:36-44
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, St. Peter's at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

The Quality of Waiting

As a people, Americans are not used to waiting. As each year rolls by, we seem to get worse and worse at waiting. The urge to be first in line, first in the doors on Black Friday, to speed to get from point a to point b, to take short cuts, cut in line, use “redial” to be the “tenth” caller and win free tickets to another event we need to hurry-up and get to so we can get “good seats,” and on and on it goes.

We live in a culture that says, “We want it all and we want it now!” To disengage from this national spirit of “not-waiting” is to appear to be somehow Un-American, “not a team player,” or even “wimpy.”

This urge toward “not-waiting” ramped up to Warp Speed on Friday, aka Black Friday, and, I am told, will hit Intergalactic Nuclear proportions tomorrow, dubbed Black Monday by the On-line purveyors of all that we need and don’t need. We may as well face it, it is mostly the latter.

So along comes Advent. Well actually, it came along sometime near the end of the second century after the birth of the Christ-child, the one whose birthday somehow has become associated with this national urge not-to-wait.

For Advent calls us to a kind of waiting – waiting to celebrate that moment in time (or is time itself only a moment?) when God, the One who set all that we call creation and the universe, infinity and beyond, in motion suddenly appeared as a little baby, while at the same time waiting for God to appear again, anew, reclaiming or rebirthing this place we call - well, what do we call it? The world, earth, the universe, reality? Jesus most often calls it a kingdom.

As is often the case, our Gospel lesson begins in mid-story. Jesus is answering a question from his disciples. They are standing looking at the Temple, in Jerusalem, the place where it is said that God’s finger touches the earth to hold it in place – to stabilize it, to hold it steady, to keep it safe.

And Jesus, always seeming to need to stir things up, has pointed out to his friends that one day it will all be gone – not one stone will be left standing on another. Well, if you believe you are standing at the center of the universe, the center of all creation, the center of God’s kingdom, and you are told it will all be gone, you are surely going to ask, “So when, pray tell, might this happen?” Enter our text.

So now having stirred things up, this God who arrived one day as a baby now all grown up lets loose with another curve-ball: don’t know. No one knows. Not the angels, not me, only God knows. So just remember the time of Noah. It will be like that – when you are least expecting it, it will HAPPEN! And as in the time of Noah, when it happens, watch out.

Actually, the words he uses are “Keep awake.” Note how Paul, formerly known as Saul the persecutor of Christians on behalf of Rome, issues a similar alert some three or four decades later: “… you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to awake from sleep.”

Could this possibly be the Bible’s way of saying, “Wake up – the time is NOW!”?

So one quality of waiting has to do with staying awake – or, with waking up in the first place. The Bible seems to know that our vigilant state of not-waiting, which could be characterized as endless-doing, lulls us to sleep. As one professor of mine in seminary puts it, we are usually most always in a state of sleep-walking. That is, we are not awake to what is really happening around us – which Paul, and Jesus in his own inimitable fashion, is saying, “Wake up to the ways in which the Lord is at work even NOW!"

If we were awake we would know that. If we were awake we would know that those who keep apocalyptic calendars on the wall waiting for that day to arrive have somehow missed the essential words “no one knows.” If we were awake we would be those people who cultivate “an eternal preoccupation with the divine” (Paul Gordon-Chandler in his book, Songs in Waiting) such that we would see the ways in which God in Christ is already present and at work all around us!

As Jesus says to the Samaritan woman at the well, “The time is coming and now is!” It is now time for the vision in Isaiah to become a reality – that we turn our swords into ploughshares and pruning hooks – that the time for war is over and it is time for weapons of violence to be turned into instruments of nourishment – that it is time for all people, all kinds of people, from every corner of creation to come together to share in divine instruction – that it is time to walk out of darkness and “walk in the light of the Lord.”

Or, as Paul says, it is time to “live honorably in the day.” For it is this very moment as it was in the time of Noah, even now what all that we do and say is measured and judged in light of the Gospel that has been given to us by our Lord, Jesus Christ.

So how does one cultivate such an eternal preoccupation? How does one wake up? How does one see what is going on all around us – what some call “the real presence of Christ”? How do we cultivate a quality of waiting in the midst of a world demanding that we do anything but wait? In a world that says, "Want it all and want it now."

Two thoughts come to mind from the pen of Franz Kafka – yes, that Franz Kafka, who in addition to such tales as The Metamorphosis, The Trial, and In The Penal Colony, wrote a series of Aphorisms – reflections on life and how it is best to be lived.

The first has to do with how it is we view life. “The variety of views that one may have, say, of an apple: the view of a small boy who has to crane his neck for a glimpse of the apple on the table, and the view of the master of the house who picks up the apple and hands it to a guest.”

The second has to do with being still and really waiting. “It isn’t necessary to leave home. Sit at your desk and listen. Don’t even listen, just wait. Don’t wait, be still and alone. The whole world will offer itself to you to be unmasked, it can do no other, it will writhe before you in ecstasy.”

Advent is a time, four precious weeks, which invite us to look at the world from a different point of view, and to wait, be still and alone, allowing the whole world to offer itself to you, “unmasked.” God has no desire to hide anything from us. Those who wait upon the Lord already know this. Amen.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Real Presence

Proper 29C – Jeremiah 23:1-6/Psalm 46/Luke 23:33-43
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Mount Calvary Episcopal Church, Baltimore, MD

Today You Will Be With Me

This Last Sunday after Pentecost is often called Christ the King Sunday.

We would do well to recall how this all began. The people of God begged Samuel to beg God to give them a king. After all, all the other nations had kings and they wanted one too. They were tired of God raising up Judges to meet the needs of specific times and situations.

As you may recall, God counsels Samuel to convince the people that kings do not always work out very well. Samuel tries, but the people continue their demand for a king. Eventually, God gives in, and voila! Saul is made king, and right away things do not go so well.

Verna Dozier in her book, The Dream of God, calls this “the Second Fall,” after the fall in the garden. Not content to let God run the show, the people rely on one of their own – and over time it results in some good times, but mostly bad.

Witness Jeremiah writing after the disastrous reign of Jehoiachin resulting in the Babylonian captivity. Jeremiah’s warning is good for just about any age, any time, any place.

Woe to the shepherds who have scattered the flock. Note: the history of Israel as told in The Bible is unique in giving us the account warts and all, and in Israel taking blame for its own problems.

God through Jeremiah, however, makes a promise, despite the bad leadership – a new shepherd, dare we say a Good Shepherd, will be raised up from the line of David.

Second note: some three hundred years after Jesus comes what Verna Dozier calls “the Third Fall,” when Constantine takes the church from being an alternative to life lived in the Roman Empire to become the organizing principal for the Holy Roman Empire. As good a short term strategy as this may have been for the Empire, the results have been at best mixed, and often disastrous, for the church, for it has made us complicit in a string of historic events that Jesus would have found utterly impossible to believe – the crusades, the inquisition, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, anti-semitism right up to and through the Holocaust.

After all, look where we find our “king”. He is himself a Jew hanging on a Roman cross. One might want to count the number of times our text refers to “they” or “them” – “When they came to the place of the Skull,” “they crucified Jesus,” “Forgive them for they do not know what they are doing,” “they cast lots to divide his clothing.”

Who are “they”? Not the Jews, and not even the Jewish Temple leadership, who by the way were appointed by Rome. “They” are the Empire – all those who worked on behalf of the Roman god, Caesar. The principal henchman, of course, being Pilate, Caesar’s “man” in Jerusalem.

So one thing we might do on this Christ the King Sunday is to consider the irony of the Third Fall – the Church becomes the Empire, the very instrument of human sin and destruction that placed Jesus on the Cross in the first place.

Jesus is a funny kind of king. He wrote no books. He had no army to command or to protect his kingdom. When his subjects try to pick up the sword he reprimands them. He founded no institution. He instituted no form of government – not even for his disciples! He rides a donkey when other kings might ride a horse. He claims to have no home. He spends most of his time with outcasts of all kinds. He is a king like no other king that ever lived.

Which is the Good News for those of us who stand at the foot of the cross this day and look up to him for direction in a world full of bad shepherds scattering flocks in every possible human institution, most especially the church. But I need not get into that here.

We are to take solace, hope and faith from the ancient words of Psalm 46 which assures us that though the waters rage and foam around us, though the mountains tremble, God is with us.

We are urged to “Be still, then, and know that I am God…the Lord of Hosts is with us.”

Not only is our king a funny kind of king, our God is a funny kind of God. When life is at its most tumultuous, says God, “Be still.” Stop. Be still. Don’t do anything. Be quiet and you will know the presence of the Lord.

Some six hundred years after Jeremiah decries the leadership of God’s people, a new shepherd arrives. This morning we see him hanging on a Roman cross, making a promise – “Today you will be with me in paradise.” After that he breathes his last, hands over his Spirit, and dies.

As we say in our creed, “He suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again…and is seated at the right hand of the Father…”

This is what makes our king our king – a king like no other.

And this is why his promise is true – for as long as we are with him today, and we are, we have nothing to fear of all the bad shepherds loose in the world. Because there is no power like his power which has been loose in the world since that moment on the cross when he gave up his Spirit, and that third day when he became king of all creation.

God says to Jeremiah, “I myself shall gather the remnant of my flock.” Even now God in Christ the King gathers us as his faithful remnant. Because God’s Good Shepherd gathers us we are free to be still in the midst of whatever storms rage around us and know that he is God – and that he is with us today – here and now in the real presence of his Body and Blood.

To Christ be Glory forever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


14 November 2010 - Isaiah 65:17-25/Psalm 98/Luke 21:5-19
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter's at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

By Your Endurance You Will Gain Your Souls

The audience for this story has known about the destruction of the Temple since the very beginning. The Temple - the place where God's finger touches the earth and holds it still. The center of Jewish and early Christian worship and sacrifice. Day after day the early disciples went to the Temple to pray.

Not one stone left on top of another, he said. Imagine what it must have been like for Luke's original audience to be standing amidst the still smoldering rubble listening to these words: Teacher, when will this be? When will this be! It is now - by the time Luke was written the Temple was just a memory.

The secular and modern analog for us, of course, would be the World Trade Towers. To understand the impact of what Jesus is saying, we would have to somehow imagine a catastrophe that was of an even greater magnitude and conveyed even greater psychic damage than that of 9/11.

So this story revolves around an absence - absence and loss. This destruction of the Temple by Rome in 70 a.d. expelled the Christians and Jews who worshipped there every day into a world without any maps to provide guidance. Yet, both Christianity and Judaism survived this unprecedented holocaust - both found new ways, new forms, new directions to live their faith in an increasingly hostile world.

We know absence. We know loss. In nearly every century of its existence, the church has been subjected to some kind of brokenness and loss - some kind of splintering and division.

It is important for us to pay careful attention to Jesus at this crucial moment in first century time as well as our own time. For what he counsels, what he commands really, is not to be bothered by timetables and what might happen. Focus yourselves on what you are doing now.

That is, the message of Jesus is all about what to be doing in the meantime, the in between time if you will. And the heart of his message is “endurance” or what is elsewhere in Luke (8:15) translated as “patience.” It is important for us to note that Luke uses this word only twice, at the beginning of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, and at the end.

Note the words of caution: Do not be misled, do not follow false prophets, do not panic, do not prepare your defense beforehand. For those who observe these cautions, not a hair on your head will be lost, and by standing firm you will win yourselves life – eternal life lived with and in the eternal heart of God's Love.

What is it, then, that holds us together at times like these? What is it that allows us to endure?

A community sustained by Word and Sacrament - a community sustained by hope, vision, and song.

Isaiah had seen it all some six centuries before Jesus - that previous destruction of Jerusalem, the city of Peace, and its inhabitants carried off to captivity in Babylon. Yet, Isaiah, like the Psalmist, is sustained by a vision and by a song.

The vision is of a new heaven and a new earth! The song is a new song, a song that will burst forth not only from the mouths of men, women and children, but all creation will join in the singing! The seas will make noise! The rivers will clap their hands! The hills will ring out with joy! Like the rest of us, creation awaits a new beginning.

A community of faith that sustains itself with God's Word, God's Holy Sacraments, and is open to God's Hope, God's Vision and God's Song, is a community that endures.

"By your endurance you will gain your souls."

The Vision, says the poet Isaiah, will be a new heaven and new earth. It will be a time when before we call on the Lord, he will answer. It will be a time for the wolf and the lamb to feed together. It will be a time when the lion shall eat straw like the ox. It will be a time when "they shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord."

For there will be no time for division. There will be no time for tearing down. For we shall be those people sustained by God's Word and Sacrament calling all creation to sing a new song!

So that on that day when He returns to judge the quick and the dead, we shall be been knit together into One Body and One Spirit. One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. One God and Father of All.

Of All. Not some. Not many. Not most. But All.

All shall know the glory of the Lord.

And all shall join in one voice and sing:

Sing to the Lord a new song,
For he has done marvelous things!

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Knit Together By Water and The Holy Spirit

Think of someone you know knitting. Sitting in a comfortable chair, needles in hand, a skein of yarn on the floor, skillfully taking a single strand of yarn or thread and transforming it into a pair of socks, a sweater, a comforter, a scarf, a cap – generally speaking things that keep us warm and snug. This person knitting is usually a woman. I remember my Grandma Cooper knitting me a sweater when I went away to college in New England!

Our collect for today, and a number of places in Scripture, says that God is like this: “Almighty God, you have knit together your elect into one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Jesus Christ….” Psalm 139 says, “…you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Paul in Colossians chapter 2 writes, “…that their hearts may be encouraged as they are knit together in love, to have all the riches of assured understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, of Christ…” And again Paul writes in Ephesians chapter 4, “…from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.”

God is doing a lot of knitting! Sitting there, needles going full tilt, knitting us. Knitting us together into her community, her fellowship, the mystical body of God’s own son, upbuilding us with love, encouraging our hearts, filling us with the knowledge of God’s mystery, of Christ!

What I hear in this metaphor of God as cosmic knitter is that in creating us and creating the community of God’s own people in Christ, there is one strand, on thread if you will, connecting us all one to another and all to God in Christ. It is the Holy Spirit, God’s spirit, God’s breath, God’s wind that is the common thread. One common thread knit into the very fabric of God’s kingdom on earth.

We inspire – literally breathe in - this Spirit with each breath we take! By the inspiration of this Holy Spirit the thoughts of our hearts are cleansed! And we are made One Body, One Spirit committed in our hearts to One Lord of All – not some, not most, not many, but One Lord of All.

God in Christ, however, uses water instead of knitting needles to do much of his knitting us together into one communion and fellowship. Water. It is the water of creation over which the Spirit/Breath/Wind of God hovered in Creation. It is the water of the Red Sea which God’s Sprit/Breath/Wind drove aside so the Hebrew children could scamper their way from slavery to freedom. It is the water of the Jordan River in which Jesus received the baptism of John and was visited by the Holy Spirit and a voice proclaiming, “You are my Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” God says these very words to each of us when we are baptized. “You are my Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

It is the very same water in which All the Saints we remember this day were baptized. This water shaped their lives in such a way that they did astonishing deeds to further establish God’s kingdom in our midst. On pages 19-30 in the Book of Common Prayer you can find some of their names. Since 1979 we have added about two or three names every three years so that the list has grown.

We need to remember, not one of them ever set out to be saints. It has only been in retrospect that we call them that. As we sing, they were baptized just like you and me. Some, like James Hannington and his companions, gave their lives attempting to bring the love of Christ to others. Some were amazing teachers, some abandoned a life of riches and nursed the sick and tended to the poor. They have names like Lawrence, Hilda, Margaret, and Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky! They all bathed in the water of Baptism, God’s Holy Water, and so were knit together into the fabric of the life of God’s kingdom on earth.

Once upon a time, about 25 years ago, I baptized a little girl named Eleanor. She was about four or five years old. After her baptism we were back at her family’s home having brunch when I felt a tug on my pants leg. It was Eleanor. I asked, “What is it, Eleanor?” “Can you still see the cross on my forehead?” she asked. Meaning, of course, the cross traced with oil blessed by our bishop, sealing her as Christ’s own forever. Also a sign of the promises she made to seek and serve Christ in all persons, and to strive for justice and peace for all people. Not most people, some people, or a lot of people, but all people. And I said, “Yes, Eleanor, I can still see the cross on your forehead.”

This morning, on a mountain top near the Sea of Galilee Jesus says, “You are blessed.” We are blessed if we are hungry, if we are poor, if we weep, and are excluded and defamed on account of the Son of Man. We are to love our enemies. We are to do to others as we would have them do to us. By water and the Holy Spirit, we have been knit together with all those who have gone before us, and all who will come after us into the mystical body of those people who are peacemakers in the name of Jesus Christ. There is one thread holding us all together and it is the thread of water and the Holy Spirit that makes us all one people in Christ. It is the thread of the Holy Spirit that says, “You are my Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Paul prays for the struggling, little church in Ephesus: “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.”

May the eyes of our hearts be enlightened! May we know what is the hope to which we are now being called! May we be bathed in the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe!

In a moment we will all promise that with God’s help all that we say and all that we do will proclaim the Good News that God is at work in Christ Jesus reconciling the world to himself as he knits away day after day, night after night, knitting us together into one communion and fellowship! When we put on the garment God is knitting for us, people will see the cross on our foreheads and know who we are and whose we are.

A world that is hungering for righteousness, a world that mourns, a world that seeks comfort and love and care, a world that seeks mercy shall obtain mercy and shall be satisfied because the things we do this day makes us blessed. The blessing we are given is a blessing that is meant for the whole world and everyone therein – it is meant to usher in a world of justice and peace for all people – not some people, not lots of people, but all people. Let us be glad and thank God for making us his Beloved children, Now!


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Burma Shave!

31 October 2010/Proper 26C - Habakkuk 1:1-4;2:1-4/Ps119:137-144/Luke 19:1-10

Burma Shave!
To get the gist of this little morality play about Zacchaeus the tax collector we need to recall what we learned last week - tax collectors in the Roman Empire made a living off of how much more money above and beyond the tax itself they could collect for themselves. So not only were they collaborators with the occupying enemy, but they were stealing from their own people as well.

So when Zach voluntarily offers to give half his possessions to the poor and repay everyone four times what he had defrauded them, Jesus takes it to heart and declares "salvation has come to this house."

Begging the questions: What need we do for salvation to come to our house? How much is enough?

The story is told of the Duke of Cumberland, who, as a distant relative of the royal family felt that he could sit in the Royal Box at St. Paul's Cathedral in London. And that if he sat in the Royal Box he could worship as he pleased. So whenever the priest intoned, "Let us pray," the Duke could be heard to say, "Yes, let's, let's..." And while the priest was reading this story of Zacchaeus, and got to the part where Zach promises to give away half his possessions and repay everyone four times what he had defrauded them, the Duke shouted out, "Too much, too much!"

A similar attitude takes hold of the girls in my classes when I assign a one page paper. "Can it be a 16 point font? Can it be double spaced?" they ask. Which is another way of responding somewhat like the Duke, "How little can we get away with and pass?"

It is an all too human tendency this attempt to get by with the minimum. When it comes to the salvation of our souls, however, is this really the way to go?

And the Bible is relentless in reminding us over and over again that the management of our money, assets and resources, is directly connected to the salvation of our souls. Jesus talks about it all the time. In fact Jesus talks about money and possessions more than any other single topic except the kingdom of God, and often relates stories about money and possessions when talking about the kingdom of God.

His preoccupation with stories like that of Zacchaeus and parables about money and possessions is simply a signal to us that he took seriously the relentless reminders in Psalm 119 to always and endlessly meditate on God's law, God's decrees, God's commandments - many of which, like the law of the Tithe (giving 10% off the top of the best of our resources), are positive, but others of which are warnings in the negative.

Take the poetry of the prophet Habakkuk, writing during the oppression of the Babylonian captivity 600 years before the time of Jesus. Habakkuk issues the oft repeated cry, "How long, O Lord, shall I cry for help?" That is, when might we see some relief.

God says, in effect, erect a sign by the side of the road large enough for runners to see as they are passing by. It is the origination of the old Burma Shave campaigns leading eventually to the invention of the billboard - that's right, God ordained Burma Shave signs and billboards!

" Henry the VIII/Sure had trouble/Short term wives/Long term/Stubble/Burma Shave"

On this sign, however, Habakkuk is to "write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may see it!"

The vision begins with a warning. In verse 4, those who are "puffed up" and proud shall not live. Then in verse 5 (note how the good stuff always comes one verse after our lessons leave off) God gets going:"Moreover, wealth is treacherous; the arrogant do not Death they never have enough, they gather all nations for themselves, and collect all peoples as their own." Those who attempt to live by their own devices have no life of good.

God's vision then gets on a roll, "Alas for you who heap up what is not your own!...Will not your own creditors suddenly rise, and those who make you tremble wake up? Then you will be booty for them because of all you have plundered."

Searching for an answer as to what qualifies as that which is "not your own," we surely recall Psalm 24 - "The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it/the world and all who dwell therein." Again, just one verse after the 6 verses nearly all of us memorized as the Twenty-third Psalm, which itself declares, does it not, that all we need is the Lord?

For fun and for homework, you may wish to see what happens one verse after our story in Luke. Read Luke 19 verse 11 and the parable that follows. It is the oft misunderstood tale of a Master who leaves town to accumulate more "power," and leaves his slaves some money to do "business with" while he is gone. Two of them invest the money and make the Master more money. These investments often led to farm foreclosures leading to a lifetime of indentured slavery. The third buries the money and gives back the original sum: "I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit and reap what you do not sow."

This third is the "whistle blower." He unmasks the evil of those who amass fortunes off the back breaking labor of those who work day and night. He chooses to take the money out of circulation where it can no longer dispossess another family farmer.

When we take these lessons one verse further, we begin to see what is afoot. Habakkuk is urged to be patient in prayer, Bible Study and meditate on God's commandments - the endless 176 verse mantra of Psalm 119 returns this Sunday to remind us where true happiness and wealth really is to be had.

So will we be happy to get away with the minimum requirements? How much is enough? What need we do for salvation to come to our house today? Read, re-read and study these words - then go one verse or more further. See if our answers to these pivotal questions change as a result of our finding God's commandments to be our delight! Consider the law of the Tithe. Then remember the prophet:

Wealth is treacherous/The rich all huff/Like death they never/Have enough/ Habakkuk


Friday, October 15, 2010

To Love God's Law

17 October 2010 - Jeremiah 31: 27-34/2 Timothy 3:14-4:5/ Psalm 119:97-104/Luke18:1-8
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, St. Peter's at Ellicott Mills

Oh, How I Love Your Law!
"I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts." Jeremiah 31:33b

"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation...." 1 Timothy:3:14-15

"Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all day long." Psalm 119: 97

"Then Jesus told them this parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart...And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?" Luke 18: 1, 7a

Psalm 119 gives us 176 ways to say the same thing - Happy are those who walk in the way of the Lord (Ps 119:1), Oh, how I love your law! all the day long it is in my mind (Ps 119:97). At 176 verses it is the longest of the 150 Psalms. It consists of 22 eight line stanzas, each stanza beginning with a sequential letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It is an astonishing exercise in puzzle working, poetry and praise!

Psalm 119 calls for the kind of continued learning Paul commends in his letter to Timothy (which by the way would be the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament since the New had not been written yet!). As a subject of our recitation and meditation, Psalm 119 offers an entrance into a life of continued, endless prayer. So Jesus tells a story to underscore our need to pray always and not lose heart! It is what Paul elsewhere commends: "pray without ceasing."

And note the forceful summary by Jesus: for those chosen ones who pray day and night, justice shall come and come quickly.
Are we even aware of this linkage? That our prayers are to be linked to justice?

Don't we often tend to be rather selfish in our prayers? We would always like immediate results - but would like those results to be centered on what we want rather than what we need. And what Jesus says we need is to pray always and not to lose heart.

There is no better place to begin to pray always than with Psalm 119. One hundred and seventy-six verses reminding us to have Torah, God's law, in our minds all day long. The word "Torah" or one of its synonyms appears in almost every one of the 176 verses: Torah, law decrees, precepts, statutes, commandments, ordinances.

A Rabbi was once asked, "What does a Rabbi do?" He replied, "A Rabbi is to lead God's people to study Torah so that one day everyone will know Torah. On that day when everyone knows Torah, everyone will be a Rabbi so that there will no longer be any need for Rabbis!"

"I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts." Jeremiah 31:33b This is the dream of God as revealed to the prophet Jeremiah - that we become a people of experts in loving the law and living the law.

We in the church tend to suffer grave misunderstandings about this word law. These misunderstandings come from mis-readings of Paul, compounded by particular Christian theologians throughout the ages. The word "law" sounds static with the sole purpose of convicting us of sin and misdoings.

Whereas a regular reading of all 176 verses of Psalm 119 would reveal a much richer range of meaning. The "law" is a treasure, a gift really, that makes one wise and happy! The psalm is written in the first person, making the words of the psalm personal, words that belong to us, words that are given by God to be ours! Torah is not a static set of rules, but a map that provides a personal way of life, a guiding force, a pathway from which it is all too easy to stray - but is sweeter than all alternative paths available!

At its core, Psalm 119 as a source of our daily prayer and meditation directs us to endlessly reflect on the Decalogue - the fancy theological name for the Ten Commandments. The first "table" or "tablet" of the Ten Commandments focuses on our love of God (4 commands), the second "table" or "tablet" focuses on our love of neighbor (6 commands). Jesus summarizes Torah, or the law, as just this in Mark 12:28-34 - Love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul and all your mind, and Love your Neighbor as yourself - and in Luke he gives the example of the Good Samaritan, concluding, "Do this and live." Luke 10:28

Jesus spent much of his time discussing the law, Torah, with any and all persons he could! Jesus demonstrates that continual focus, discussion and meditation on God's law is what leads one in the way of life that is really life, and offers justice for all people.

Torah as understood at the time of Jesus was a continual unfolding of God's will, new each day, new in each age. Torah, or law, was not confining, but empowering and necessary to being God's people in the world.

Meditating on the law day and night, as Jesus lives and instructs us to do ourselves, reminds us of our God given responsibilities to love and care for our neighbors - especially those in greatest need.

It turns out God does have a plan to care for those in greatest need: we are that plan!

How wonderful it would be if all of us, every day, would read all of Psalm 119! How might the world be different if our love of God's law was something we treasured in our hearts all day long? For Jesus this is faith - Torah in action every day.

So it is he asks, "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"

All that we say and all that we do will be the answer to his question. Amen.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Less Faith and More Fear

3 October 2010/Proper 22C – 2 Timothy 1:1-14/Luke 17:5-10
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, St. Peter’s at Ellicott Mills

Faith and Fear

Many would agree with the proposition that we live in fear-full times. People fear for their jobs. People fear they may lose their homes. People fear an unidentifiable enemy may once again attack our shores. People fear there will not be enough resources to get through the next month, the next week, the next day. Parishes fear not having the resources to get through the next year. People fear the planet is undergoing irreversible damage due to human consumption. None of these fears is unfounded.

All these fears and more were in Paul’s mind as he wrote to Timothy. And Paul’s greatest fear was that Timothy and the young emerging church would be afraid to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ: “Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord…”

This fear evidently seized the disciples as well – they had a fear of having not enough faith: “Increase our faith!” they cry out. And when faced with all the fears that seem to spring up day and night throughout the world and in our own inner worlds, many are the times we feel like making the very same plea – Lord, give me strength – Lord, increase my faith – Lord, get me through the night.

To which Jesus replies, in essence, “You just need the tiniest bit of faith imaginable,” coupled with a metaphor or parable about the relationship between slaves and masters.

Admittedly, our Republic is still young enough that any discussion that begins with the word “slave” attached still raises high emotional reactions – and with good reason. There are examples almost daily to suggest that matters of race, which are inextricably tied to slavery, are still matters of deep concern. Just look at the firing of CNN’s Rick Sanchez for calling Jon Stewart “a bigot.”

But at the core of this metaphor Jesus uses is a relationship – a relationship that is anything but casual.

So as I was sitting in the chapel at Fairhaven yesterday waiting for a funeral to begin, I read all 176 verses of Psalm 119. Psalm 119 is a long meditation on those who “walk in the law of the Lord.” Other synonyms for law are his “statutes”, “commandments”, “righteous judgments”, and “your word.” Then there is this synonym in verse 38: “Fulfill your promise to your servant, which you make to those who fear you.”

One dimension of our relationship with the Lord is meant to be “fear.” Which got me to wondering as I sat there in the chapel at Fairhaven: “Why do we fear all sorts of other things, but no longer seem to fear the Lord?”

That is what is at stake here – the fear of the Lord. Elsewhere we read, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”(Proverbs 1:7, 9:10, Psalm 111:10, etc….) I have to believe that the question about increasing our faith is related to our inability to fear the Lord.

Which evidently leads St. Paul to write to Timothy, “God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a strong mind.” To which Jesus answers, you don’t need a lot of faith, you just need a tiny bit of faith and a proper amount of fear – fear of the master, which can be read as respect, awe, and reverence for the Lord.

So we see that the fear that should be our real fear, fear of the Lord, is a mixture of awe, respect and ultimately must be coupled with trust and love. So much trust and love that just the tiniest speck of faith and fear should be enough to move mountains and uproot trees!

To truly develop such faith and fear, I would suggest reading all of Psalm 119 once a day for 30 days. I believe that at the end of 30 days you will have at the least a mustard seed’s worth of faith in and fear of the Lord. It will lead to a new appreciation for his commandments and statutes.

As we move into our Stewardship Season and prepare to make our pledges for the year ahead, there is one command that is given to guide us – the law of the Tithe – giving 10% of our resources to the mission and ministry of Christ’s Church. Why, we might ask ourselves, don’t we have enough faith in the Lord and fear of the Lord to respect His command to Tithe? Why do we waste so much time and energy fearing those things we have no control over at the end of the day?

Might living into the commandment to Tithe actually Increase our Faith?
And might becoming Tithers deepen our relationship with the Master?
Might becoming Tithers be one way to demonstrate our witness and testimony about our Lord?
Might just a little Faith and more Fear – Fear of the Lord – result in less Fear in and of the world?

If you have faith as small as a mustard seed

You can take trees and hurl them in the sea

The lame will walk and the blind will see

Wars will cease with the end of greed

Bread multiplies so there’s enough to feed

As you sow you shall receive

As you pray you will believe

Trust in the Lord, He’ll supply every need

As you follow Christ, you’ll begin to lead


Saturday, September 25, 2010


26 September 2010 - I Timothy 6:6-19/Luke 16: 19-31
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, St. Peter's at Ellicott Mills

The Life That Really Is Life

Living at a time when the gap between the rich and the poor is ever-widening is one of the most pressing issues facing us, along comes Luke with this story about the Rich Man and poor Lazarus.

Coupled with this all too familiar parable is the First Letter of Timothy laden with imperatives to "fight the good fight," "take hold of the eternal life," " do good, be rich in good works, generous, ready to share," "take hold of the life that really is life."

And of course the familiar and oft misquoted, "For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil..."

Enter Michael Douglas stage right to reprise the role of Gordon Gekko in the sequel, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. You have to love the irony of it all - synchronicity as Carl Jung would have it: Gordon Gekko and the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus crash into our collective consciousness side by side, all at once!

We like to call the Gospel "Good News." What is perhaps most interesting about this morning's lessons is that they are not, strictly speaking, "news" at all.

Jesus says as much. The pitiful image of the now poor, tormented rich man, begging for a drop of water, and then begging for Abraham, who appears as judge in the after-life, to send someone, anyone at all, to warn his five brothers not to squander their lives as he had.

Or, as Paul to Timothy would have it: "As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our that they may take hold of the life that really is life."

Alas, Abraham says, in effect, "This is not news. This is no warning. Since the time of Moses and the prophets it has all been said before."

That is, the Good News this morning is no news at all. It is yesterday's news. In fact it is yesteryear's news - yesteryear having been as long as 1300 years ago when Jesus told this story! And for us, of course, something like 3,300 years ago.

Yet, here we find ourselves, our nation, our government, and indeed most every nation on earth, placing our "faith" somewhere, anywhere, other than in the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus. We give it all fancy names like "free markets," "capitalism," "trade agreements," "derivatives," and whatnot, but at the end of the day we are placing an tremendous amount of faith in money. What elsewhere Jesus calls "unrighteous Mammon," personifying money as a player on the world stage.

So we build bigger and bigger barns, filled with more and more stuff, until finally we get to the end of the line only to find that Paul to Timothy has it just right: "...we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it."

Footnote: other great world religions also ponder the problem of money. The Hindus believe keeping money in circulation is good karma, accumulating money is bad karma. Muslims have very strict guidelines for what we would call tithing. What with Islam developing out of Judeo-Christian monotheism this should come as no surprise. Seen as a reform movement within the monotheistic tradition, Islam agrees with Jesus on this one - you know what the Lord God Almighty says about money, so let's do it and tithe.

Yet, all these years beyond the attempts at the prophet Muhammad, blessed be his name, to remind the world of what was delivered by God through Moses in the wilderness, delivered to the prophets in and out of exile, and reiterated by Jesus during the Roman occupation, as an alleged "Judeo-Christian" culture in America we seem to have conveniently forgotten it all.

Enter Zen Buddhism - no I am not suggesting we all become Zen monks. But there is an idea, a way of approaching life in general really, that might help us to remember all that we tend to forget - remember all that we desperately need to remember.

Shoshin - or, Beginner's Mind. "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few." Shunryku Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (Weatherhill, NY:1973), p.21

I think we approach these stories we call Gospel with more of the expert's mind than the beginner's. We believe we have heard them and heard them over and over and know what they are all about - until we do not hear them anymore. What else can explain the current socio-economic predicament and the environmental predicament?

Jesus is right. Abraham is right. We have heard it all before - so much so that we no longer hear it. Turns out the Good News, and the Best News, is Old News!

It is up to us to go back to our sacred writings and listen to them as if for the very first time, with no presumptions, no preconceptions, no clever exegetical, historical-critical explanations. We will be richly rewarded if we do.

Unlike the rich man's brothers, we have the opportunity to listen anew "with an empty mind and a ready mind. If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's there are few." ibid

I believe it is in listening with a beginner's mind - Shoshin - that we "may take hold of the life that really is life."


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Like One Of Us

12 September 2010/ Luke 15:10-10
The Reverend Kirk A. Kubicek, St. Peter's at Ellicott Mills

One Of Us

We come from Love, We return to Love and Love is all around. God is Love. Love is God.

So God comes to us as Jesus. God was one of us. Why, we ask? Why would God take such a risk? It is a risk, as it turns out, that means losing his life.

While God as Jesus lives among us we hear of him sharing meals with all kinds of people - just as we come to share a sacred meal today. We are here only because Jesus invites us to his table - it is, after all, his table, not ours.

When he eats with the religious insiders, the Pharisees and the Scribes who were experts in how to live life the way God expects us to live, he chides them for their pride, their lack of humility, and he takes them to task for their guest list - people very much like themselves.

He suggests inviting people utterly unlike themselves - and we may as well face it people not at all like us - the poor, the lame, the sick, widows, orphans, resident aliens, tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners.

Seemingly to make his point, that is where we find him. And the Pharisees and Scribes are not excited at all. You think they might appreciate him showing the way, offering fresh and new insights into how to do what God wants us to do, but no, we are told that they are grumbling!

"This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them, " they sneer!

Not at all enjoying a debate, not wishing to correct them or chide them any further, Jesus tells them some stories - one about a lost sheep and one about a lost coin. Oh, yes, and about a shepherd and a woman - who, as it turns out, are metaphors for God. God is like a shepherd. God is like a woman. This is what Jesus says.

Now it would be too easy to think that the lost sheep and coin represent lost sinners, and that God is out there searching high and low for them. And I suspect at least some of the Pharisees think this is what is going on. But we have already noted that God in Jesus does not need to go look for sinners! He is already surrounded by them at the dinner table - and THEY are listening to him, unlike the Pharisees and the Scribes. Ooooops!

So it could be that Jesus is suggesting that those listening to the stories need to be found - that would be the Pharisees and Scribes, but that would also be us as we hear the stories now. Now the sheep and the coin can do nothing to be found - God does all the heavy lifting here searching and sweeping until finally, God finds one of us. There's nothing we can do to be found.

In between our coming from Love and returning to Love we often get lost. Most often we get lost in thinking and believing we know where we are going, when in fact the God who is Love has a different idea for us. Not to worry, Jesus seems to say. God is already out there looking for us - we just need to be ready and willing to be found. That may mean stopping, quieting our hearts and minds, and just waiting and, like the sinners and tax collectors, listening for that voice of God to break through the veneer of "togetherness" we wear on the outside to protect ourselves from all that may hurt us.

Don't worry, say's Jesus, God is already searching and sweeping - sweeping away all that separates us from the love of God.

But what if it is not just we who are lost? What if we have lost our faith? Or, never had it in the first place? Do we find ourselves sometimes in the place of the shepherd or the woman - seeking that which we have lost? Possible seeking the faith that has become lost to us?

To lose faith is simply to lose the conviction that one has been found in the first place. We begin to wonder whether we are being sought at all. We begin to wonder at one time or another whether there is in fact a shepherd or peasant woman tracking us down. What these stories say to us at times of lost faith is again, not to worry, for we have wandered into the place where we can be found - so now maybe we are the tax collectors and sinners instead of the Pharisees and Scribes. And again we need to be ready and willing to be found.

And how much fun is it to be found? Jesus says there is going to be a party, rejoicing - a celebration! In fact once the woman finds the lost coin she spends it for a neighborhood block party! Turns out that God as a peasant woman is searching and searching just so she can bring everyone back together for one big party!

So the question before the Pharisees and Scribes turns out to be, "Are you ready to party with all these outsiders? Because guess what? God is! She is really really ready for everyone to come home and Rejoice!"

So there it is: God becomes one of us, comes looking for us wherever we are, to take us all home for a big joyful celebration. The only question is, Do we want to be found?

If God had a name, what would it be
And would you call it to his face
If you were faced with him in all his glory
What would you ask if you had just one question

And yeah yeah God is great
Yeah yeah God is good
Yeah yeah, yeah yeah yeah
What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us?
Just a stranger on the bus
Just tryin' to make his way home

If God had a face what would it look like
And would you want to see
If seeing meant that you would have to believe
In things like heaven and in Jesus and the saints and all the prophets

And yeah yeah God is great
Yeah yeah God is good
Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah

What if God was one of us
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home
He's trying to make his way home
Back up to heaven all alone
Nobody calling on the phone
Except for the pope maybe in rome

-Eric Brazilian/Joan Osborn 1995


Saturday, August 28, 2010

Shabbat Shalom!

29 August 2010 - Proper 17 * Jeremiah 2:4-13, Hebrews 13: 1-8,15-16, Luke 14: 1, 7-14
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, St. Peter's at Ellicott Mills, MD
Shabbat Shalom
It is again, the Sabbath Day. We would do well to note the severe edit in our selection for today: verses 2-6 detail another healing on the Sabbath. This time Jesus throws down the gauntlet challenging the Pharisees, "Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or is it not?" But they were silent.

Then comes his observations, and let's face it, rather severe critique, of their social practices. And we may as well admit, who among us does not try to get the best seat in the house? In the stadium? At the restaurant? Who among us does not invite our closest friends for a meal? Or, those to whom we feel indebted due to their hospitality toward us?

Put in today's terms, who would ever want to invite Jesus to dinner? Or, who would invite Jesus to join us for our Sabbath observance? Beginning in chapter 4 of Luke's gospel we have one Sabbath episode after another in which Jesus takes the initiative to stir things up - beginning with his harsh words in his hometown synagogue (Lk 4:23-30), and now all these healings and radical critique of good table manners and Sabbath observance!

There are at least two things at stake in this enigmatic little episode - one to do with meals or banquets, the second to do with Sabbath, Shabbat, and the essence of the command to "remember the Sabbath."

Nearly half the words of the Ten Commandments (55 of 108) concern remembering the Sabbath. And they stand nearly in the middle as a bridge between the first three concerning our relationship with God, and the final six concerning our relationships with one another. There it is again, Love of God and Love of Neighbor, defined in 108 words delivered by God to Moses and the people of God at Mt. Sinai.

In addition to being a day of rest, set apart from the rest of the week when we are hard at work, Shabbat is to be a holy day set apart to build up the spiritual element within us - a renewal of our spiritual life in God! Today we are hard pressed to even remember that we have a spiritual life in God, let alone devote an entire day to contemplate what that means. It evolved as a day of study, a day to remember where we come from, a day to remember God as the creator of the universe, that all we are and all we have is a gift, a day to separate ourselves from the misery and slavery that for so many centuries were the lot of Israel - a day, once a week when the home of the humblest Jew was flooded with light! Shabbat banishes care and toil, grief and sorrow. On Shabbat, the most despised and rejected of men and women are emancipated from oppression and tribulation and degradation of this world, feeling themselves to be a prince or princess, king or queen, a member of a great, eternal and holy family!

A look inside the Jewish Sabbath reveals not a day of strict and dreary adherence to demanding rules, but rather households filled with Joy, Gratitude, Sunshine, Light and Love. Recalling the Exodus and Passover, recalling the Return from Exile, Sabbath represents a day to Return to God from the worries, claims and demands of the other six days of the week.

So the healings Jesus performs on the Sabbath seem to emulate the very essence of what it means "to remember the Sabbath" - to remember God's desire to liberate and unbind us from all that keeps us enslaved to that which is not of God.

Then there is the meal itself - the Sabbath meal or banquet. Meals eaten at table in the Jewish world of Jesus were not simply times to nourish oneself with vast quantities of food, but rather meals eaten at table are eaten as if the table is the altar in the Temple in Jerusalem. Consider that by the time Luke's gospel was committed to writing, the Temple and its altar were in ashes, and remain so to this day. Consider then just what sitting at table on Shabbat signifies right down to our own day.

The traditional greeting on Shabbat is "Shabbat Shalom!" Shalom means more than just peace. Shalom means whole, complete, full, welfare, justice. It is the essence of our Baptismal promise, "to strive for justice and peace for all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being." BCP 305 We have all seen the bumper sticker, "No Justice, No Peace/Know Justice, Know Peace."

So the greeting, "Shabbat Shalom," suggests that we remember that at very heart of this most central of the Ten Commandments is remembering that God wants and seeks the liberation and release of all those whose lives are bound by misery, slavery, worry, rejection, injustice and indignity.

For our Sabbath observance we gather as a community at a common table. Among other things, the Sacrament of his Body and Blood on this table represent the essence of Shabbat Shalom - a foretaste of that heavenly banquet, a foretaste of life for all persons in God's Kingdom.

Today's story serves up several challenges for Christians in all times and in all places. One is to dissuade Christians from all presumptions of privilege, noting that one day we will all be seated according to our Host's will, not our own. Presumption of privilege - whether based on things like race, class, gender, nationality, native tongue or even religion - not only do not distinguish us, but if we allow them to define us at all will ultimately, says Jesus, disgrace us.

We do not determine who is worthy to sit at God's table. The counterintuitive message in here, of course, tells us that our table ought to be surrounded by strangers - strangers who are poor, crippled, lame, blind, widows, orphans and resident aliens. That is, and the Pharisees are not alone in this whatsoever, "birds of a feather flock together" is not what the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus has in mind when commanding us to "remember the Sabbath."

Shabbat Shalom - two words we would do well to hold together. Shabbat Shalom - two words that in essence sum up what God means when commanding us that to Love God and Love Neighbor means to participate in God's reign today, here and now. Who we invite to sit at God's table defines who we are and whose we are.

Perhaps inviting Jesus to dinner and to our Sabbath Worship is just what we need to do - on a more regular basis! Shabbat Shalom!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Dog In The Manger!

15 August 2010/Proper 15 - Isaiah 5:1-7/Hebrews 11:(1-28),29-12:2/Luke 12:49-56
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, St. Peter's at Ellicott Mills, Maryland
The Dog In The Manger
The Bible can be said to be a record of God's creation and how God intends for this creation to be tended, cared for, kept in some sort of conformity with God's dream. Which, as Howard Thurman has observed, is a dream of "a friendly world of friendly folk beneath a friendly sky." The great surprise in the Biblical record is that God's primary strategy for carrying out this dream of his is us - that's right, we are created male and female in the image of God (imago Dei) to take care of creation the way God wants it to be.

Walter Rauschenbusch, in a little book titled The Social Principles of Jesus (1916) notes what he saw happening in the world of 1916, "The desire for private property has been the chief outlet for selfish impulses antagonistic to public welfare. To gain private wealth men have slaughtered the forests, contaminated the rivers, drained the fertility of the soil, monopolized the mineral wealth of the country, enslaved childhood, double-yoked motherhood, exhausted manhood, hog-tied community undertakings, and generally acted as the dog in the manger toward humanity." p. 192 This could have been written on this morning's OP-ED Page!

So does it surprise us that from time to time God is disappointed in our overall stewardship of creation? Today we get two examples of God's frustration with our care for the earth and care for one another - especially those "others" who are utterly unlike us, without resources (widows, orphans and resident aliens as the Bible describes them), and even our enemies - those who wish us harm and those whom we have injured or offended.

First, there is God in Isaiah, some eight hundred years or so before Jesus, who had chosen Israel to be a little demonstration community of how this all should work. The people of God are God's vineyard, a sort of model organic vineyard taking the most meticulous care of the vineyard as well as the people who worked it, visited it and lived around it. It takes no careful exegesis to hear the utter pathos in God's lament, "What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done it? ... I looked for justice but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!"

The last time God had heard such a cry they were slaves in Egypt. The Exodus, the Wilderness experience, the giving of the Land, the Law, and especially the law of the Sabbath, was to have resulted in a land of justice and peace among people and with the land - instead there was an increasing gap between the haves and have nots, and the Land was being wasted, and bloodshed was rampant.

Fast forward eight hundred years. God as Jesus comes to live among us once and for all to show us how to be the demonstration community he has always dreamed we would be. We should note these are hard times - life under Roman rule was a vast and harsh, culturally diverse set of societies, unrelated by languages, economics, religions and histories, all forced into political unity by a brutal military presence. The vast majority of those under Roman rule resented or hated the forced political unity, and experienced few, if any, benefits from its social and economic structures. It was a non-democratic, rigidly hierarchical, status-based world of haves and have nots - mostly have nots. Bass, Diana Butler, A People’s History of Christianity, p.27

Jesus came to change all of that - to draw to himself a community of people dedicated to living out God's dream. Suddenly he finds himself in Luke's gospel surrounded by people like his own disciples arguing over who will be the greatest when God's Kingdom supplants Rome, wanting to rain fire on their Samaritan enemies, and quibbling siblings, whom he has already labeled "fools," more interested in how much they can get out of their father's estate rather than how much they can contribute to the new community of Christ - a world which Luke displays later in the Book of Acts as a community that shares all resources so as to provide for "the least of our sisters and brothers."

So can we blame him if he appears to be out of sorts? Feeling much as he did eight hundred years earlier he must feel like saying all over again, What more can I do for you to show you how this all works? Love of God and Love of Neighbor - devotion and ethical behavior. Can I break it down any more simply than this? I am not here to validate the status quo - that is devotion and identity to family kinship groups is no longer going to work. Devotion to God and to loving others will. Does anyone hear me at all? Turns out God does care what we are or are not doing.

Tucked neatly between these two episodes of Divine Frustration is the witness of someone who evidently does hear him and does get it - the mysterious and unknown author of the Letter to the Hebrews - curiously regarded these days as "not a letter" and "not to Hebrews at all," but a treatise to a group of early Christian who seem to have already lost their way prior to 70 CE.

It is by one who understands that Christianity at its outset was not a set of beliefs so much as a new way of life - a way utterly different than life in the Roman Empire. By enacting the teachings of Jesus, Christianity changed and improved the lives of people and served as a practical spiritual pathway. Why did Christianity succeed in the Roman Empire? Not because it offered “other worldly compensations for suffering in this life,” rather it was a faith that “delivered potent antidotes to life’s miseries here and now.” All grounded in a faith in which we are to Love God and Love our Neighbor. It was this faith that propelled them to do things in ways contrary to the Empire. Ibid, p.26

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen...By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear." That is how this eleventh chapter of Hebrews begins - and it catalogs, beginning with Abel, Abraham, Noah, Rahab and others, just what people who have grasped God's dream have done, not knowing how things would eventually work out!

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of God.Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted." Hebrews 12: 1-2

Back in 1916 Rauschenbusch cites this passage from Hebrews when he writes, "The man who wrote the little treatise from which this is quoted saw the history of humanity summed up in the life spirits who had the power of projection into the future. Faith is the quality of mind which sees things before they are visible, which acts on ideals before they are realities, and which feels the distant city of God to be more dear, substantial, and attractive than the edible and profitable present. Read Hebrews 11. So he calls on Christians to take up the same manner of life, and compares them with [people] running a race in an amphitheatre packed with all the generations of the past who are watching them make their record. But he bids them to keep their eye on Jesus who starts them at the line and will meet them at the goal, and who has set the pace for good and fleet persons of all time." ibid p.189

There are those who have gone before. There are those who see the dream now. There are those who will be greeted by Jesus at the goal. The good news is that because we look to Jesus to perfect our faith, we can be like them. The only question is, will we? Amen.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Give, Forgive, Lead, Deliver

25 July 2010 – Hosea 1:2-10//Luke 11:1-13
Give, Forgive, Lead, Deliver/Ask, Seek, Knock
God’s strategy ratchets up – instead of Amos’ looking at a bowl of fruit or a plumb line as a metaphor for what message the prophet is to carry to a people who have lost their focus on God and neighbor, now in Hosea the Prophet must become the metaphor and marry a whore. That is right. Hosea is the metaphor of adultery and infidelity to demonstrate our need to repent.

Note that the land is distressed. We read elsewhere in Hosea that “Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish, and also the beasts of the field, and the birds of the air; end even the fish of the sea are taken away.” (4:3) Look at how we have failed to care for God’s creation. Whole species disappear daily. The land and bays polluted with petro-fertilizers. Hosea could have been written today!

All because the people had made military alliances with foreigners, wasted resources on defense, turned back to worshipping idols (“My people inquire of a thing of wood, and their staff gives them oracles – For a spirit of harlotry has led them away; they have left their God to play the harlot.” 4:12)

Hosea re-visions a new Israel – a new people of God. After marrying Gomer the harlot, after she bears children with other men, Hosea welcomes her home and forgives her as a sign of God’s love for those who repent and return to the Lord! Hosea acts out God’s mercy.

Just as Jesus does - only God’s strategy pushes even further than with Hosea – Jesus is [not was] the word of God that speaks of a new creation. Creation – the very thing we attempt to dominate, manipulate and manage as resource for our own idolatrous addictions!

Even when we create a department like the EPA to restore and care for creation we corrupt it into an institution that serves corporate greed in the name of the gods of Profit and Comfort! Idolatry. Agencies tasked to protect the seas from underwater drilling turn their heads while we drill, baby, drill. Idolatry. We allow mining interests to blow off the tops of mountains, filling in valleys, destroying streams and rivers. Idolatry.

Prophets demand action – and then offer a new vision to lead us into an unknown and unknowable future with God, rather than the all too knowable future of our own making.

Idolatry and its twin, self-serving and self-deceiving Ideology, always want to absolutize some arrangement of power and knowledge, so that we may bow down to the work of our hands. We never seem to get past the Golden Calf! [Brueggemann, Texts That Linger, Words That Explode, p 38]

Prophetic speech and action always exposes, critiques and assaults every phony absolute, for all such absolutes of nation, race, party, consumption, corporate greed or sex will end in death.

Hosea critiqued the twin powers of the monarchy, idolatry, and rapacious destruction of the land. Jesus faced a similar situation – the Imperial Power of Rome which was in the process of setting the template for all such imperialistic empires to acquire more and more territories from which to extract resources to feed the endless appetites of those who manage and manipulate the political and social arenas – which in turn rapes the land. Hosea’s metaphor of whoredom and infidelity is more apt today than ever.

Jesus knows this – and so do his followers who are seeking an avenue by which to address the God of the Exodus/Passover – the God of deliverance, mercy, forgiveness. How shall we pray, they ask? It has been said by Anne Lamott that there really are only two prayers: Thank You, and Help Me! Jesus puts them together. One notes it does not closely resemble our liturgical Lord’s Prayer – that is, the tradition has managed to update, expand and change it as each unfolding era demands a new telling of it.

After acknowledging God as “hallowed,” a way of saying “thank you,” it moves on into what can only be described as rather impetuous and demanding “help me” language: give, forgive, lead and deliver us. Acknowledging we are incapable of giving, forgiving, leading and delivering ourselves. Do we get this when we pray? Jesus’ parable that follows is just as demanding, asserting that the life of prayer is grounded in asking, seeking and knocking until we can awaken God from slumber. It is a lesson in assertiveness training!

This, by the way, is how the story begins way back in Exodus – under devastating oppression in the empire of Egypt, the people wail and moan until God finally hears their cry and delivers them.

Blinded by a political and economic system that demands conspicuous consumption, grounded in covetousness – the perceived “need” for the newest, greatest, biggest innovation of the moment – we find ourselves all the way back in the landscape of Hosea – the empire has gone ideologically idolatrous, and creation is disappearing and falling apart at an alarming rate. Who shall advocate for the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and the very land itself? In Hosea, God plans to make a covenant with creation instead of us!

One wonders what sort of new “strategy” and prophetic voice might have a chance of waking us out of our obvious slumber – for it is now we who have been asleep, unable to see the ways in which we sow the signs of our own, and creation’s, destruction? Would that we could look at a plumb line, or look at a basket of fruit and be inspired to repent and re-vision what it means to live in this world of God’s making. Or, learn the lesson of Hosea.

Will a simple re-telling of the Hosea prophecy lead us to see that we are the whoring people? That we are the adulterous generation Hosea and Jesus speak of? That we have simply gone off the rails and are living about as far away from “your kingdom come” as a people can get? Can we see how we are meant to be wedded to creation in a marriage of nature and grace?

It is one thing to give thanks for the bounteous gifts we have been given – Thank you. Yes. But are we capable of crying out, “Help me!” with any sense that what we are really asking is for God to help us from ourselves?

Despite knowing that use of the Internet now eclipses all commercial air travel in use of energy resources, I still use the Internet to research portions of this sermon and feed my need to consume more products more efficiently. Despite knowing that air conditioning accounts for one-fifth of all of our nation’s energy consumption, it took me until two days ago to put our thermostat up two more degrees from 78 to 80.

We desperately want to pray to be forgiven, but do we sincerely pray to be lead and delivered from temptation and evil?

After thirteen chapters of what may be the most harsh condemnation in all of prophetic literature, in the final and fourteenth chapter we hear, “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take with you words and return to the Lord…I will heal their unfaithfulness, I will love them freely….I will be as dew to Israel; he shall blossom as a lily…” (14:1-2a, 4-5)

There is hope on the unknown horizon of the future – if only we will do as we pray and allow God to lead and deliver us. Even though God is weary of a people who have turned their backs on him and his creation, he stands ready to take us back. If only we will return. Amen.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


11 July 2010/Proper 10C - Psalm 82: 3-4 Luke 10:25-37

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

The Standards

The Reverend Robert Bonner was a mentor of mine - taught me much of what I know about Stewardship and Parish Ministry. He often told a story about his son Bruce. Bruce was a football player in Texas where they take football mighty seriously. In the off-season the coach required his players to be on the track team for conditioning. Bruce's high school was not all that big, and as they were handing out track team roles, they got to High Jump and Bruce was the one boy left - so High Jump it was! Now as a football player Bruce was not exactly built like a high jumper - long and lean - but was rather shorter and stout. Nevertheless, every night when Bob came home, there was Bruce in the backyard with a broom handle suspended between two jury-rigged poles. They call those poles "standards" - two standards hold the high jump bar. Bob would ask Bruce at dinner every night, "How high can you jump, son?" And Bruce would hold his hand just below his shoulders and say, "This high!"

Along came the day for the first track meet. Bruce was anxious about the high jump. Bob said, "Bruce, just do your best. That's all any of us can do." Off Bruce went. Bob had to do some work for the church that day and so could not attend the track meet. When he came home he asked," Bruce, how did the High Jump go today?"

"Well," said Bruce, "remember I told you I could jump this high?" pointing to just below his shoulders. "Yes," said this Father. "Well, today they started with the bar this high," he said, pointing just below his chin." "That's OK, son, all that matters is you tried your best....I am proud of you just the same." God is like that - sets the bar high and forgives us the difference.

A lawyer comes to Jesus and asks, "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" That is, what are the standards - what does God expect from us? Jesus says, "There are two standards," just like the high jump. " You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself." In fact those two standards are so basic to following Jesus that the Church used to begin the Eucharist every week with just those words of Jesus: you shall love God and love your neighbor. We call this The Great Commandment, the cornerstone of Great Command Christianity.

When asked, "And who is my neighbor?" and just what does this love look like? Jesus answers with a story. It is about a man who is mugged on the side of the road. A priest and a Levite, we are told, pass him by without offering any assistance. This suggests to me that whoever compiled Luke was not all that familiar with life in Israel since the priests are Levites, but that is for another day. As we all know, a Samaritan comes by and helps the man - thus the expression, Good Samaritan. Not only does he help the man, but provides money for extended care. For the lawyer, probably a Pharisee, to say the Samaritan was the only one who showed mercy is quite surprising - since Samaritans were considered unclean, unspiritual enemies of Israel because they refused to worship in Jerusalem with everyone else.

The point of the story, of course, is that the person you least likely expect to be your neighbor is your neighbor and you are meant to love them just the same as Aunt Sally and Grandpa Joe.

That is, Jesus sets the bar pretty high. Not at the height we are used to living at, but always just a little bit higher. This is where God's mercy, or forgiveness comes in. Later Jesus says, "I want you to be perfect just like God is perfect." Whoa, Nelly! That is setting the bar pretty high! But along with that comes a promise - for those who try to jump over the bar but miss, I will forgive them the difference, as long as they love God and love their neighbor - all neighbors, always and everywhere. I am proud of you just the same.

Back around 1993 my friend and mentor Bob developed a malignant brain tumor. It was a difficult time for Bob and his family. One Saturday as I was rattling about the parish office, the phone rang. I confess I don't always answer the phone on Saturday, but this time something within me said to answer that call. It was Bob. I was shocked. He said most days he could not really talk much, but on good days he liked to call his friends and was thinking of me. I was truly humbled. Then he said, "Do you want to hear the rest of the story about Bruce?" "Of course! I said.

Well, says Bob, Bruce is dyslexic, so he was in high school an extra year and was ineligible to play football, but come fall Bob saw Bruce going to practices every day. He asked him why? Bruce said, "Well, I know that if I don't do something with discipline I'm going to get myself in trouble, so I do it for myself. But also, I am bigger and stronger than most of the team, so I figure if I go out there and push them around it is better for the team as well."

I do it for myself, and I do it for the team. That is what the Big Command Christianity is all about: doing something that is good for yourself and good for the team - God's team that is.

Standards. They hold the bar high inviting us, challenging us, to do better than we think we can. Mercy. God in Christ stands ready to forgive us if only we will try our best to love God and love neighbor. Do it for yourself, and do it for the team. You will be glad you did.

Thank you Bob, and keep jumping Bruce, now a priest in the Episcopal Church. Amen.

Love the Lord with all your heart

With all your Soul

And all your mind

Love your neighbor as yourself

Every one

All of the time

Jump as high

As you can jump

Look as far

As you can see

Don't give up

And you will find

You are the person

God wants you to be

> Copyright Sounds Divine