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