Saturday, May 22, 2010

Just Beginning!

Pentecost 2010
23 May 2010
Acts 2: 1-21
John 14: 8-17, 25-27 (RCL)
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek
Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church, Ellicott City, Maryland

“But I will always be with you….”

Charles Lloyd, the world renowned tenor sax, flute and virtually anything like a woodwind virtuoso, who gave us Forest Flower at Monterey Pop, and Billy Higgins, the quintessential west coast jazz drummer and sideman for literally hundreds of recordings the past fifty years or so, worked on an extended suite in the months leading up to Higgins’ death in 2001. It is a varied and extraordinary musical meditation titled Which Way Is East (EMC recording, 1878/79). Both musicians play an array of instruments and sing.

The music is written and played from the perspective that Billy Higgins is leaving this world. In the booklet that accompanies the two-CD set, there is a conversation between Lloyd and Higgins as Higgins lies in bed. The end of this conversation about their musical collaboration goes like this:

Higgins: With my instrument (the drums) it’s like I have to support so many people, so the creator keeps me around here longer, just because he know I got a lot of stuff to do. And with the drums being the whole bottom, I got to do what I got to do, so I don’t even question it….

Lloyd: We come through here, we sing our song, nobody knows us, and we’re gone.

Higgins: Anything you do, if it is in the spirit, it’s going to be right. So you submit to the point where it’s not coming from me, it’s going through me… Hey, man! I’m tellin’ you, that’s a whole suite right there! That’s two guys, just two guys sittin’ on top of the mountain. You talkin’ about the journey’s end – the journey’s just beginning.

Lloyd: Can I say something to you in all sincerity? This is one of the greatest joys of my life – because what we have been able to do, to share it with you – and for you to peep that it’s real and that it’s blessed … I mean, it just encourages us.

Higgins: Let me tell you something, please…let’s please…this might be the last time we do this. It made me understand a lot of what I’m trying to do…but for us to be able to do it at the right time, in the right space…What we doin’ is getting our fire power to be able to do this on any level. We got to keep workin’ on this music….

Lloyd: Do you mean to tell me you’re going to get up off the bed and come back to work on this with me?

Higgins: I didn’t say I would be there, but I will always be with you.

This sums up the major themes of Pentecost. Pentecost, like jazz for musicians, represents collaboration between God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the rest of us.

And as Billy Higgins says, “Anything you do, if it is in the spirit, it’s going to be right. So you submit to the point where it’s not coming from me, it’s going through me.”

This is the essence of the Christian life. This is life lived in the Spirit. We submit to God’s spirit to the point that it is not coming from us, it is going through us.

And here they are, Charles Lloyd and Billy Higgins, like Jesus and the disciples, coming to the end of years of collaborating in the life of the Spirit and the life of Truth, whether expressed in ministry or in music, reflecting on what the end of the journey is like.

And Higgins, like Jesus, says this end of the journey is in truth just the beginning of the journey. This may be the end of this form of the journey, but “what we doin’ is getting our fire power to be able to do this on any level… we got to keep workin’…”

Fire power! If that isn’t Pentecost Acts Chapter Two talk I don’t know what is! We keep on working on this thing we call faith and discipleship, kingdom living and life in the Spirit, so we can get our Fire Power together to be able to do this on any level.

So it is with Jesus and us, his disciples, his Pentecostal companions.

Jesus says that he and the Father are sending us the Holy Spirit to continue the work that he does.

So on Pentecost we would do well to remember just what it is Jesus does: teaching people, feeding people, healing people, raising people from the dead, blessing people, gathering people together (especially sinners, outcasts, the lame, the sick, the blind, prostitutes, tax collectors, children, women, fishermen, shepherds, all kinds of people), challenging people, encouraging people, and generally finding new ways to reach out to new kinds of people.

Notice the common denominator: People. All his work involves people.

So to continue the work that he does, we need to reach out and involve ourselves with people, all kinds of people. As we say in our Baptismal Covenant, we need to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves. Even as we have first been loved by God in Christ.

This love will be hard work and requires all the Fire Power we can muster. For it also means striving for Justice and Peace for all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being. Not some people, not a lot of people, not most people, but every human being.

Jesus says we can do this.

And then Jesus says something even more remarkable. He says this Holy Spirit we receive in our Baptism, this Fire Power, will enable us, empower us, lead us to do even greater works than he does, “greater works than these.”

People will know we know the Risen Lord Jesus if we do the work he does and greater works than these. What an amazing promise! What an awesome responsibility!

Now Jesus is saying all of this because the disciples are hoping he won’t be leaving them. Or, like the tradition that grew up around all that Jesus said and did, they were hoping at the least he would come back and show them how to keep doing this on any level.

So he replies, “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of what I have said to you. Peace, shalom, I leave with you; my Peace, my shalom, I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

The hearts of the disciples must have leapt at these words. Our hearts leap even now.

Does this mean he will get back down here with us and keep on doing these things with us?

“I didn’t say I would be there, but I will always be with you.”

Always, until the end of time. Which because God is eternal, is all of eternity for those who live their lives with God.

We are here today to get our Fire Power together so we can continue to do the things that he does and greater things than these on any level. At any time. At any place.

It is an endless, timeless, eternal collaboration. To be able to do this at all, let alone at the right time and in the right space, is our greatest joy! On Pentecost the journey’s end is the journey’s beginning.

“Anything you do, if it is in the spirit, it’s going to be right. So you submit to the point where it’s not coming from me, it’s going through me.”

It’s going through us. Jesus’ Fire Power is going through us. In His Name. With His Spirit. Today we begin getting our Fire Power so we can do this on any level!

We can do this, and more, because in Pentecost, in Baptism and in the Holy Eucharist Jesus says to us, “I didn’t say I would be there, but I will always be with you…You may think we’re talking about the journey’s end – the journey’s just beginning!”


Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Eighteenth Letter of the Alphabet

9 May 2010/Easter 6C - Revelation 21:10, 22-2:5/John 14:23-29
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter's at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

"...the word you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me...Peace I leave with you; my Peace I give to you." John 14
"On either side of the River [of Life] is the Tree of Life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations." Revelation 22

In his book, Living Toward a Vision: Biblical Reflections on Shalom [United Church Press, 1982], Walter Brueggemann asserts that the central vision of world history in the Bible is that all of Creation is One, every creature in community with every other, living in harmony and security toward the joy and well-being of every other creature; or as the African-American mystic and theologian Howard Thurman expresses it, "a friendly world of friendly folk beneath a friendly sky." And further, this vision is that all persons are children of a single family, members of a single tribe, heirs of a single hope, and bearers of a single destiny, namely, the care and management of all of God's creation.

And if one were to choose a single word out of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures to sum up this vision of love, loyalty, grace, justice, blessing, fruitfulness, righteousness, salvation and stewardship, that word would be shalom. Which is the very word Jesus gives us - shalom, peace, "Shalom I leave with you; my Shalom I give to you." This, he says, is not his word, but is from "the Father who sent me." Shalom, concludes Brueggemann, is "the substance of the biblical vision of one community embracing all creation. It refers to all those resources which make communal harmony joyous, effective and fruitful." (p.15-16)

Indeed, that other John, John the Revelator, re-calls our attention to the trees in the Garden of God's creation - the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We are free to partake of the Tree of Life endlessly and forever, and the leaves of this tree "are for the healing of the nations." No doubt we could use a steady diet of these leaves about right now!

Yet, from the very beginning we appear to have believed The Big Lie: if you eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, says the tempter, "you will be like God." Genesis 3:5 The problem here is two-fold, 1) we were already created in the image of God, imago Dei, and so were already "like God," and 2) rather than eating the healing and nourishing fruit of the Tree of Life, we have increasingly convinced ourselves that more and more Knowledge holds the promise or our salvation.

Note that this tree offers either/or, binary or dualistic choices, which have served such lofty worlds as science, mathematics, logic, mechanics and technology fairly well, but already we have begun to see the limitations of such knowledge - just ask the folks off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico who are watching an ecological disaster float towards their homes and livelihoods at this very moment; and which knowledge has given us such paradoxical capacities so as to harness the power of the atom while at the same time unleashing the atom's total potential to destroy all life as we know it.

So we need to re-turn, repent, turn back to the Tree of Life which some like Richard Rohr see rooted in the non-dual life of contemplative prayer, and a life of Shalom, a life of "resources which make communal harmony joyous, effective and fruitful," rather than anxious, ineffective and wasteful. Curiously, "resources" begins with "r", the eighteenth letter of the alphabet - a letter that gives us three other "r's" that may be just the resources we need to re-turn to the Tree of Life, moving away from our addiction to the Tree of Knowledge: reduce, reuse and recycle. Thanks to Bob Dorough (of Miles Davis and School House Rock fame) and Jack Johnson we can re-member how we can live a life of shalom with our planet [try here -]:

Three it's a magic number
Yes it is, it's a magic number
Somewhere in ancient mystic trinity
You get three as a magic number
The Past, the Present and the Future,
Faith Hope and Charity
The heart, the brain and the body
Give you three as a magic number

Because two times three is six
And three times six is eighteen
And the eighteenth letter
in the alphabet is R
We've got three R's
we're going to talk about today
We've got to learn to
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Well, if you're going to the market
to buy some juice
You've got to bring your own bags
and you learn to Reduce your waste,
we've got to learn to Reduce

And if your brother or your sister's
got some cool clothes
You could try them on
before you buy some more of those
Reuse, we've got to learn to Reuse

And if the first two R's don't work out
and if you've got to make some trash
Don't throw it out, Recycle,
we've got to learn to recycle,

We've got to learn to
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (4X)
Because three it's a magic number
Yes it is, it's a magic number

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Yom HaShoah

26 April 2010 - Yom HaShoah – John 20:19-23
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek

It is important that we are here this morning. For me, this is one of the most important observances of the year. The Holocaust remains one of the most devastating events in human history. It also remains a source of tremendous self-reflection for Christians as well as Jews. For we live in a time when there are those who deny the Holocaust ever happened, and those who promulgate a new and vicious anti-Semitism in the name of the Church in Palestine and elsewhere throughout the world.

For much of our nearly two thousand year history, the Church accused the Jewish people in general of Deicide (God/Christ Killers), thus unleashing an ugly anti-Semitism resulting in pograms, expulsions, ghettos, the Inquistition, the Crusades, and relentless violence against the dispersed Jewish population in diaspora. It would not be until 1963, The Second Vatican Council, that the charge of Deicide was finally dropped, and Christians were urged to forge new bonds of affection and dialogue with our spiritual sisters and brothers of the Jewish faith.

The Episcopal Church in General Convention 1987 ratified a set of Recommendations for Christian-Jewish Dialogue, specifically instructing congregations to develop a Yom HaShoah observance each year. I am gratified that Saint Peter's is in its fifteenth year of doing so.

When I went away to college I decided I wanted to know more about Jesus Christ. I chose what was to be an important path for seeking that knowledge. I figured that Jesus was Jewish, so it made the most sense to register for the Introduction to Judaism course being taught at our college by a local Rabbi, Stanley Kessler.

To say that it changed my life is not enough. To say that it changed my faith is only the beginning. It caused me to reexamine from the ground up how Christianity had allowed itself to stray so far from the humble origins of its founder, a young Israeli Jew, and to have fostered in the name of Christ an anti-Semitism that transformed a Christian and highly cultured country like Germany into a seething caldron of hate, violence and destruction against the very people to whom, as St. Paul says, we gentiles have been grafted.

The first and most important thing one might observe about this account of Jesus appearing to the disciples (an account often read twice a year in many congregations) is that these disciples of Jesus appear to be living on the wrong side of the Resurrection. Although Mary Magdalene, Peter and the disciple Jesus loved have all been to the tomb, and Mary has seen the risen Lord, they are all still living out of fear. Upon reflection, that is not so odd, since they no doubt fear that what happened to Jesus on Good Friday could easily happen to anyone who professes to be a follower of his. Yet, this fear is ironic as Jesus is there to give them his “Peace,” or his Shalom – a word that in Hebrew and Aramaic connotes far more than peacefulness, but includes a sense of social justice for all people, care for the entire creation, and making the world a place that reflects God’s love, mercy and compassion.

The anonymous author(s) of John, however, write from a much later date when both Jews and Christians are under persecution by Rome: the Temple has been destroyed and it is estimated that the Roman legions killed one and one-half million Jews while quelling an attempted rebellion against the Empire. It was an atmosphere of fear in which this gospel was written. As such, Jews and Christians in first century Israel were in hiding for their lives. We had a shared history at the point in time. Our memory of that, however, is lacking. This has caused problems.

A second thing we might notice is that the text is usually translated “for fear of the Jews.” Right away this should cause us to wonder. For all the followers in that room were Jews. Why would they be fearful of other Jews. What the Greek text of the New Testament says, however, is “for fear of the Judeans.”

It is up to the reader to remember that all the Jews in the room behind locked doors were Galileans, not Judeans. Galileans were considered somewhat like country bumpkins – not sophisticated, socially inferior, from the wrong side of the tracks, and they talked “funny”. Their accent was such that anyone in Jerusalem for Passover would recognize them as being from Gallilee. Way back in chapter 1 of John, Nathaniel asks Philip who is telling him about Jesus, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” which is in Galilee? It was just as true back in the first century as it is today, not all Jews are alike, come from the same background, or think the same things.

The third thing, and the most tragic thing, is that it is all too easy to see how a text like this could be used to support anti-Semitism. “Well, if the disciples feared the Jews, how much more should we fear the Jews?” the argument might go. Whereas if you are talking about Judeans, a pluralistic culture even way back in the time of Jesus, one would be strained to make a similar argument.

Perhaps most perplexing to me, however, is the simple fact that many of the guards and others who staffed the death camps went home at night, said grace at the dinner table, listened to Bach and Beethoven, read Goethe, said prayers at bedtime with their children, went to church on Sunday, and then on Monday morning punched in at the camp for another eight hour day.

We must also never forget that for years in the 1930’s and 40’s thousands of European Jews attempting to escape the coming Holocaust were refused entry into the United States, giving Hitler the propaganda boost of being able to say in all truth, “See, even the United States does not want the Jews.” This was in part due to immigration quotas, but also in part due to State Department policies that were in fact anti-Semitic, reflecting the anti-Semitic attitudes of State Department officals. On the plus side, throughout Europe there were Christians, Righteous Gentiles, who risked everything to hide and assist Jews to escape the Holocaust, and students in Munich, like The White Rose, who risked their lives attempting to inform their fellow citizens as to what was really happening with Hitler's Final Solution.

Lest we think this all happened far away from here, in the mid-1980’s my then parish, Good Shepherd, was in dialogue with Chizuk Amuno Congregation in Baltimore, where I met a man who had grown up near Philadelphia. Every year during Holy Week and Easter, local “Christian” boys would chase him down, beat him up, calling him “Christ Killer” all the while.

Years of treacherous teachings by the church contributed to making all of this possible. Years of teachings by the church obscured the fact that the cornerstone of my faith was a young Israeli Jew. Reading Night, studying alongside my Jewish classmates for three years in college, reminded me of this, and eventually brought me closer to Jesus than I had been before studying Judaism. I eventually wrote my Religion Department thesis on the work and witness of Elie Wiesel. At the time (1967-68) no one in the department really knew Wiesel and his work, so a woman who was doing graduate work, Bernice Saltzman was appointed to supervise my thesis work. Her invaluable support and direction further deepened my appreciation for Judaism as a foundation for my faith in Jesus. I concluded my paper, “Wiesel’s tale is also important for people today. Wake up, people, see what you have done, see what you can do. The civilization that created Mozart, Votaire, Beethoven – this is the same civilization that also created Auschwitz and Hiroshima. It is our turn to choose between beauty and ugliness, life and death. Wiesel’s tale is important for religion – be it Christian or Jew. Wiesel has said on several occasions, ‘For either God is God, and I do not do enough to serve God, or God is not God, and it is my fault. We must not think it is our fault. It is our privilege.’” [Elie Wiesel, from a Lecture in Worcester, MA – 1972]

It is a difficult task, Yom HaShoah. We must face into the shame of our Church’s past, and at the same time lift up the lives of those who shined with the Paschal Light of Christ in humanity’s darkest hour: those who survived and those Righteous Gentiles who worked to help people escape the Holocaust. We must remember who we are and whose we are, and let the Light of Christ shine on the truth of our shared heritage with the Jewish people, and give us the courage to bear witness to this most important truth. Amen.