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!