Saturday, January 23, 2010


24 January 2010/Epiphany 3 – Nehemiah 8:1-3,5-6,8-10/Luke 4:14-21
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills
It is perhaps every person’s dream come true. After the reading of scripture the time for comment arrives. The preacher utters one slightly enigmatic phrase. Sermon over.

In the religion of Jesus, Judaism, this is in fact not unheard of. In eighteenth century Eastern Europe a movement promoting spirituality and joy known as Hasidism was sweeping through Jewish communities. It was a Jewish mystic movement founded by the Baal Shem Tov that reacted against Talmudic learning and maintained that God's presence was in all of one's surroundings and that one should serve God in one's every deed and word.

Disciples of the Baal Shem Tov proliferated, and stories of their teaching and good deeds have been preserved. One such story tells of a town waiting to hear one particular Hasidic Master preach. The village synagogue was filled with people from all over. It was crowded. The Master was in his study preparing himself. His disciples urged him to head into the synagogue as the people were getting restless, so anxious were they to hear the Master preach. He was not ready. The longer he delayed, more people arrived. Word was spreading throughout the village that there was still time to get there to hear the great Master speak. Finally, as it was nearing midnight, the people expecting a brilliant and fiery rhetorical event, the Master slowly made his way through the crowd, up to the reading table, where he paused and silently gazed upon the standing-room only crowd.

Then he spoke. “Nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” After which he slowly stepped down from the reading table and made his way through the crowd, out the door and back home.

It must have been something like that in Nazareth that Sabbath day long ago. Jesus returns from forty days and forty nights in the wilderness contemplating just what it means to be God’s Beloved. Jesus goes to the synagogue, “as was his custom.” Then Jesus reads what are perhaps the most pivotal two or three verses from the Prophet Isaiah, then sits down, the people looking to him with fervent expectation for what he would make of Isaiah’s ancient declaration for a Jubilee year – a year to free captives, a year to release persons from debt, a year in which those who have lost their property and their homes due to foreclosures and credit arrangements would have their property and homes restored to them. It was a time much like our own – whether you are looking at the economic damage sweeping across the landscape of our country, or the devastation that continues to unfold in Haiti.

Make no mistake about it, everyone in that synagogue knew what Isaiah was talking about – Isaiah, the great Op-Ed Poet and Social Critic in Israel some seven hundred years before Jesus. Isaiah, who recalls the instructions from Deuteronomy and Leviticus, the commandments, of the Lord God of Israel, that it is necessary to periodically, every seven years and in a more thorough manner every fifty years, restructure and redistribute the wealth and the land of the people of God.

So try to imagine the response in your own heart, mind and soul as you sit before Jesus and he utters his one sentence commentary and response: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” That’s it – that’s his whole sermon.

It is almost a sort of Zen Koan!

Next week we will be allowed to delve deeper into the people’s response. For now we might do well to consider three words: today, fulfilled, hearing.

We gather week by week for corporate worship. We sit here as the scriptures are read. But do we “hear” them? Hearing depends on listening, and listening depends on suspending all thought, all that crowds our busy minds, hearts and souls. Without listening there can be no hearing.

There is a word I have learned, shoshin, that means “beginner’s mind.” It means listening with an open, eager mind, with no preconceptions, and resisting all temptations to formulate a response. Beginner’s Mind is empty, free of the habits of the expert, ready to accept, to doubt, and open to all the possibilities. “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”- Shunryu Suzuki

Unless we listen with “beginner’s mind,” there can be no fulfillment of the scripture. Fulfillment carries with it connotations of completion, implementation, satisfaction, joy, pleasure and gratification. A kind of Hasid’s dream come true – the spark is set, the flames of fulfillment begin to roar, God’s dream for human kind begins to actually take shape – God’s dream for God’s Beloved, that we love God and love neighbor, actively comes alive as more than an idea, a philosophy or religious ideal – which on that day was to be the beginning of the Jubilee year as Isaiah, Deuteronomy and Leviticus understood it to be.

And when we listen with Beginner’s Mind, this fulfillment of God’s word enters the realm of Now, Today, this very Moment in Time. It is no longer a lesson from the past, it is no longer a goal – it is. It just is.

As it happens, Jesus’ expectations are far greater than our own, far greater than those in that crowded synagogue 2000 years ago. We are meant to see that “Today” means that he is here, now, in this place, where two or three are gathered in His Name. So that when he says “Today” it really really means today. He is here. His “today” is now. Are we here? Are we listening? Are we allowing God’s word to become fulfilled in our hearing today?

Will we ever become like the people gathered before the Water Gate in Nehemiah – whose ears were attentive to the book of God’s law? When the book is opened do we stand up, bow our heads and worship the Lord? Do we weep like they do as they hear the words of the law? Do we allow the joy of the Lord to be our strength? Now. Today.

No doubt I have said too much when all that needs to be said has been said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Light of Christ

10 January 2008 - Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord
Isaiah 43: 1-7/Acts 8: 14-17/Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

You Are My Beloved

Baptism and Eucharist are sacraments - that is they are signs of God’s Grace and God’s Presence among us.

Signs point the way for us. A sign on the road can tell us where we are going or where we are, or just how we are to get there, how fast or how slow our journey may be.

In Baptism and Eucharist simple elements like water, oil and light, bread and wine, point the way toward a life lived with God.

Look at the Baptismal Font. There it stands as the gateway to a new life. It is the doorway to the church. It has eight sides, reminding us that Jesus was named on the eighth day, one day more than seven, also symbolizing a new week, a new time, a new life.

All who wish to enter the life of Christ, all who wish to be made a part of the Body of Christ, His Church, must enter through the waters in this font. As we look into the waters of Baptism, what do we see?

The wind, the breath of God, the Spirit of God, blowing over the face of wild, untamed, boundless waves of creation, calling all things into being, setting every thing and every one in its rightful place. There is God himself, picking up a handful of moistened soil, breathing into it until there we are, created in the image of God, imago Dei, men and women created in God’s image.

Look again, and we will see the Hebrew people passing through the Red Sea on dry land, fleeing a land of slavery and endless labor for a land of promise: a promise of peace, justice and dignity for all people, at all times in every place.

Close our eyes and look one more time, and there we are on the banks of the River Jordan, where all the people of Judea and all the people of Jerusalem are waiting in expectation for a savior, an anointed one, a Christ. There is John, and there is Jesus, praying.

Suddenly, the heaven is opened, and the Holy Spirit that breathed over the waters of creation now descends like a dove, landing upon Jesus, while a voice from heaven proclaims, “You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.”

The water in the font tells us these stories - stories that must never be forgotten. To forget these stories is to forget who we are. Look into the water and see all these things.

Above this water burns the Light of Christ, that marvelous and Holy Flame.

It shines continually to drive away all darkness. This light is the life of men and women everywhere, at all times in all places. All things and all people come into being through this light that is the eternal Word of God. The darkness has never overcome this light.

The light calls us to this font of blessing, this font of new life. All who enter by this water and in this light are to be changed forever. Through this water one is turned – one turns away from sin and turns toward Christ. We not only turn to Christ we turn with Christ and in Christ – Christ who on the banks of the River Jordan turns his life toward God and the announcing of God’s kingdom. We come to turn in the direction he chose to turn.

We no longer live alone. The person baptized is brought into a community, a new community, a community always being made new! This person’s life is now lived in the community of Christ’s Body – the Church.

Everyone who comes to this font is changed. And as they are changed, so is that sacred mystery the Church, the Body of Christ. We are changed as a community.

Once each new person enters this water, the Church, the Body of Christ, can never be the same as it once was. This is our promise. This is our pledge.

To do all in our power, not what we feel like doing, not what we want to do, not what we feel we can afford to do, but all that is in our power to support each person who enters these waters in their life in Christ.

As they enter these waters they enter these stories.

And as they enter these stories they too become a sign for others. All that we say and all that we do will proclaim the Good News of God in Christ.

We are to become the light, the light of Christ, for the world. The whole world and everything therein. From the water comes light. We are to let this light shine in and through all that we do, now and forever. This light means to shine in our hearts.

And as it was for Jesus, there is a voice that says to us, “You are my Beloved; I am well pleased with you!” Baptism incorporates us into the body of Christ. We are God’s Beloved. Claim your Belovedness. Look in the water. Look at this light.

May Christ, the morning star who knows no setting, find it ever burning – he who gives his light to all creation, and who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

As Isaiah tells it, “I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Wise Man

Epiphany 2010
Saint Timothy’s/Saint Peter’s
I live on the mountain
No one knows.
Among white clouds
Eternal perfect silence. – Han Shan

“Beware of beautiful strangers and on Friday avoid travel by water. The sun is moving into the house of Venus so affairs of the heart will prosper!” That’s what we told old Herod, “the King of the Jews”. Or, something along these lines. We made it up. It meant next to nothing. To tell him anything of real value would have taken weeks of calculations of the conjunction of the planets at the precise moment of his birth, and of his parents and parent’s parents back to the fourth generation.

Herod knew nothing of this and jumped at the bone we threw his way, and hungry like a dog he thanked us for it. Then, his hands trembling so that the rings on his fingers rattled like dry bones, he said, “Find me the baby born to be king so that I may go worship him!” When he had said this his hands were still as death.

I ask you, does a man need to look to the stars to tell him that no king has ever bowed down to another king? He took us for fools and so like fools we answered him, “Yes, yes, of course,” and went on our way never to return to him again.

Why did we travel so far to be there when it happened? Was it not enough just to know the secret without having to be there to behold it? To this not even the stars had an answer. The stars simply said he would born. It was another voice altogether that told us to go – a voice deep within ourselves as deep as the stars are deep in the sky.

Why did we go? I cannot tell you now and could not tell you then. We who had venerated Krishna and studied the sutras of Gautama had not one motive but rather so many! Curiosity I suppose: to be curious is to be wise, and we were very wise. We wanted to see for ourselves this One before even the stars are said to bow down – and to see if it was really true since the wise always have their doubts. Doubt, they say, is the ants in the pants of faith.

And longing. Longing. Why will a man struggle and save his whole life long so that in the end he has something to give to the one he loves?

We finally arrived at the place to which the star had pointed us. It was night. It was cold. The innkeeper showed us the way that we did not need to be shown. The odor of the hay was sweet, and the cattle’s breath came out in little puffs of mist. The man, the woman, between them the King. We did not stay long. Only a few minutes as the clock goes, ten thousand, thousand years the same. We set our foolish gifts down and left.

I will tell you two terrible things. What we saw on the face of that new-born child was his death. A fool could have seen it as well. The wood of the manger was the hard wood of the cross.

And we saw, as sure as the earth beneath our feet, that to stay with him would be to share that death, and that is why we left – giving only our gifts, withholding the rest, withholding our very lives.

And now, sisters and brothers, I will ask you a terrible question, and God knows I ask it of myself. Is the truth beyond all truths, beyond the stars, just this: that to live without him is the real death, and that to die with him is the only true life?
- After Frederick Beuchner, The Magnificent Defeat: The Wise Man, p.68