Saturday, December 31, 2011

Breathing Lessons

1 January 2012 The Feast of the Holy Name
Or, The Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. You can look up its history in Wikipedia. You will find that it has been celebrated on many different dates. January 1 is quite possibly the most logical, since in the Jewish tradition of Jesus, baby boys are circumcised and name on the eighth day, and January 1 is the eighth day after Christmas.

Naming is important throughout the Bible. The opening acts of creation are the naming of things, beginning with, “Light!” That is what God says. The “Let there be….” is added to make it “sound better” in English.

Then in Deuteronomy, I believe, God orders the building of a more permanent domicile than the “tent of meeting” or “tabernacle” – a Temple is to be built to exacting specifications: “Then there shall be a place which the LORD your God shall choose to cause his name to dwell there; there shall you bring all that I command you; your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the heave offering of your hand, and all your choice offerings which you vow unto the LORD.” Deut 12:11

Note the important distinction here. Unlike other temples in the ancient world of the Hebrew people, God does not dwell in the Temple – only God’s name.

As to God’s name, Moses learns this at the burning bush: “4God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.” ’ 15God also said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you”: This is my name for ever, and this my title for all generations.” Exodus 3:15-16

That would seem to have settled it, but alas, we humans are not so easily convinced. We have a need to name things ourselves, no doubt a carry-over from our ancestor Adam who was given the task of naming all the creatures in God’s creation in hopes of finding a soul mate. We didn’t stop there, and have multiplied the names of God out toward infinity, which is in itself a rather amazing if not puzzling concept.

The tradition of Jesus has as the most formal name for the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus four naked consonants: roughly YHWH in our alphabet, yodh-he-vav-he in Biblical Hebrew. Biblical Hebrew had no vowel markings. Reading the text correctly depended on oral tradition passing on the pronunciation from one generation to another. Further complications include that when the Masoretic text was formalized with vowel markings (6th – 9th centures ce), those in charge intentionally put the wrong vowels with YHWH since it has long been forbidden by tradition to pronounce the divine name in public. The vowels assigned are for the word Adonai, which also roughly means God for our purposes, but just is not the proper name. And so that is what is read in synagogue when YHWH shows up in the Torah texts. (This was mistakenly corrupted into Jehovah several hundred years ago by gentiles who had no idea what they were doing – Jehovah not being a “real word” at all.) Whenever Jesus says, "I am," his first century constituents would associate him with the great "I Am" of the burning bush.

Why all this background on this Feast of the Holy Name? It is fascinating to note that in less than the first hundred years after Jesus rose from the dead, he was assigned no fewer than 200 different names in New Testament literature! The first, of course, is Jesus, the name told to Mary and the Shepherds by the angel. “The Word,” or in Greek “The Logos,” is perhaps the most mysterious, assigned by the author of the Fourth Gospel in its majestic opening verses.

Emmanuel, or Immanuel, however, stemming from an otherwise obscure verse in the writings of the prophet Isaiah (7:14), may very well be among the most important names given to the child circumcised eight days after his birth. It means quite simply, “God with us.” That, as it turns out, is the sense of the opening verses of John – the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. Jesus is God dwelling among us. This is the scandal of Christianity.

Now the Hindus and the Greeks were quite comfortable with the idea of manifestations of God living among humans, messing with us, cavorting with us and so on. The Hindus and Greeks were and are comfortable with “God” (eg Brahman) having many names, many manifestations. It turns out that when we look more carefully at our tradition, we share this same comfort. It is one of the curses of radical monotheism that we tend to convince ourselves that One God can only have One Name. Just google “Names for Jesus” and you will find over 200 options that accrued in the first century. The Quran lists no fewer than 99 names for the One God, Allah.

Among the names for Jesus is the idea advanced by Isaiah and John that Jesus, the Word, the Word that is with God and is God, is also Immanuel – God with us. Jesus is God. God is with us.

So the Holy Name we honor with this feast is nothing less than the Holy Name of God – Jesus, Immanuel, the Word, I am who I am, Yahweh. We throw “Jesus” around rather casually and indiscriminately. We pretend to know all about him, when in fact God is ultimately unknowable and yet knowable all at once.

I would like to end with this short chapter from Richard Rohr’s The Naked Now as it pertains to God’s Holy Name, YaHWeH, I am who I am, The Great Unspeakable Name:

"This unspeakability has long been recognized, but we now know it goes deeper: formally the word was not spoken at all, but breathed. Many are convinced that its correct pronunciation is an attempt to replicate and imitate the very sound of inhalation and exhalation. The one thing we do every moment of our lives is therefore to speak the name of God. This makes it our first and our last word as we enter and leave the world.
"For some years now, I have taught this to contemplative groups in many countries, and it changes people faith and prayer lives in substantial ways. I remind people that there is no Islamic, Christian or Jewish, way of breathing. There is no American, African, or Asian way of breathing. There is no rich or poor way of breathing. The playing field is leveled. . The air of the earth is one and the same air, and this divine wind "blows where it will (John 3:8) - which appears to be everywhere. No one and no religion can control this spirit.
"When considered in this way, God is suddenly as available and accessible as the very thing we all do constantly - breathe. Exactly as some teachers of prayer always said, 'Stay with the breath, attend to your breath': the same breath that was breathed into Adam's nostrils by this Yahweh (Genesis 2: 7); the very breath that Jesus hands over with trust on the cross (John 19:30) and then breathed on us as shalom, forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit all at once (John 20:21-23). And isn't it wonderful that breath, wind, spirit, and air are precisely nothing - and yet everything!
"Just keep breathing consciously in this way and you will know that you are connected to humanity from cavemen to cosmonauts, to the entire animal world, even to the trees and plants. And we are now told that the atoms we breathe are physically the same as the stardust from the original Big Bang. Oneness is no longer merely a vague mystical notion, but a scientific fact!"
- Richard Rohr, The Naked Now (Crossroad, New York: 2009) p. 25-26

So this is what The Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus offers us: the insight that every breath we take from first to last is “saying” the Holy Name of God. Be attentive to each breath. God is with you. The Word dwells in our very midst. This is not only good news, it is the best news! What more could we possibly want? Amen.
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek
Saint Peter's at Ellicott Mills

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Gaudete Sunday - Rejoice!

11 December 2011/Advent 3B –Magnificat/Psalm 126/1 Thessalonians 5:16-24/John 1:6-8,19-28
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland
Advent Wreath: Part 1
Advent means “coming.” What is coming is the coming of Christ – as in “Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again.” For four weeks before Christmas Christians reflect on this promised return of Christ as we prepare to celebrate the feast of his birth – the baby Jesus, Emmanuel – God with us.

Ancient Northern Europeans often made evergreen wreaths long before Christianity. According to Wikipedia: “The circle symbolized the eternal cycle of the seasons while the evergreens and lighted candles signified the persistence of life in the midst of winter. Some sources suggest the wreath—now reinterpreted as a Christian symbol—was in common use in the Middle Ages, others that it was established in Germany as a Christian custom only in the 16th century.” With some scholars insisting it was adapted in 19th Century Germany. All that is clear is that it was first a so-called pagan practice adopted by the church well into the Christian era.

One notes that as we light a new candle each week in Advent, the days are getting shorter and darker. Until that day when a new light shines in the darkness – Christmas – the birth of Jesus, of whom Saint John writes that he is the light that shines in the darkness, the darkness has not overcome the light, the light is the life of men.

There is a story about the evergreen trees and shrubs. When the great Creator Spirit was creating the world, he wished to give a gift to each creature. He set up a kind of a contest to determine just what gifts would be most fitting for which living things he had placed upon the earth. In the deep of winter he ordered all the trees of the forest to stay awake and keep watch over all creation for seven days and seven nights, and those that did would receive a special gift.

Well, the trees were all so excited to have been given such an important task that none of them could even think of sleeping the first night. Over the next few nights, however, one after another started falling asleep, until finally on the seventh day only the firs, balsams, spruces, hollies, junipers, and laurels were still awake and keeping watch. The great Creator Spirit proclaimed, “You have done well! I will give you the gift of being green year round so that in the dead of winter other creatures may find shelter and care among your branches!”

Advent means to remind Christians that we are those people called and chosen by God to be watching and waiting, keeping guard over all creation – for so God did create us, male and female, in God's own image, that we might rule and serve all God’s creatures and all of creation.

We are called to be an Evergreen People – others are meant to take refuge among our branches. We are to watch over and care for those in need. God came to us as Jesus to help us to remember who we are and whose we are – who we were created to be in the first place. We are to be the light shining in the darkest days, ever green in the most barren, cold and difficult times and places. Advent is a time for us to think on these things as we watch and wait for Christ to return to our lives, our hearts and souls. Prepare him a place in your heart and become an evergreen person of God. Amen.

Advent Wreath: Part 2
Although traditional Advent Wreathes have red or purple candles, and sometimes a white “Christ” candle in the center, the Sarum usage at Salisbury Cathedral in England calls for blue candles – symbolizing “hope” and “waiting.” Advent is a time of hope and waiting – hope and waiting for the coming of Christ.

No one knew this better than Mary – a mere teenage child by today’s standards. Traditionally the Third Sunday of Advent shifts our focus to Mary, and often a rose colored candle is used on this Third Sunday. Called Gaudete Sunday – Latin for “Rejoice,” a key word in all of our scripture for today. Though one well might ask just what a young, pregnant teenage girl has to rejoice about!

The clues lie in our scriptures that reveal the history of our people, the people of God. Writes St. Paul to the Church in Thessalonika, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing....for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." For years I have found this to be the most mysterious and probably most important task we are given - to pray without ceasing! Pray always. May all of your life be a prayer. All that we do and all that we say is meant to be a prayer. How does one do this?

Mary knows. When all is said and done, the babe is born, the shepherds have shared the news with anyone who will listen, we are told that Mary ponders these things in her heart. I suspect she began her pondering back with the angel Gabriel announcing that she, a young girl, unmarried at that, would bear a child - and not just any child, but God's child. It is the kind of news that is likely to set you to ponder many things.

I have come to think that this pondering, or prayer without ceasing, finds its origins in something like centering prayer. And that once one has entered the realm of oneness with God and with others, all kinds of prayers begin to manifest themselves. Look at Mary. The Magnificat, The Song of Mary, bursts forth from her pondering heart.

Like Paul, she too speaks of Rejoicing "in God my Savior." All this pondering has helped her to feel blessed. And then she has a vision - the proud shall be scattered, the mighty cast down, the lowly lifted up and the rich sent empty away! It is an animating vision. One that were I to hazard a guess still animates people all around the world, from Occupy Wall Street, Main Street, Whatever Street, to the streets of places as far away as Russia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen.
For those of us who do not spend much time pondering, do we even recognize that what Mary sings about, what Mary's poetry proclaims, amidst a climate of military occupations, mortgage foreclosures, monstrous indebtedness and the like - do we even recognize that what she imagines the Lord can do is happening before our very eyes?

Gaudete Sunday is a time to Rejoice with Mary, with the Psalmist in Psalm 126, with Paul, and even with John the Baptizer who is pictured going to great pains to point out that he is not the one they are looking for, but The One is here. The Advent Wreath means to draw our attention to all this on this Third Sunday of Advent as we find ourselves once again sitting and standing before what is perhaps one of the strangest and yet most wonderful images of Christ's real presence - Jesus hanging in the palm trees.

Not so strange, however, in the middle east, in Israel, where date palm trees are the coin of the realm. The date palm is thought to be The Original Tree - the one "in the Garden of Eden." (Or, "Inagodadavida"...for those of a certain age)

When one is in Israel one notices that every olive wood crèche, large or small, has a palm tree in front of the shed. And that might not be something you notice all that much until you learn that 1) all the olive wood crèches are made by Muslim artisans in Bethlehem, and 2) the palm tree plays a key role in the Koran's portrayal of the birth of Jesus.

It may come as a surprise that Mary is venerated as a woman among women in Islam, and that as she is in labor she grabs onto a palm tree. A voice, thought by some to some from the child in her womb, tells her that there is a river flowing beneath the tree, and to shake the palm tree so dates will pour down to nourish and relieve the pains of childbirth. The tree shakes, the dates rain down, a child is born. The same story appears in an apocryphal gospel of Matthew as well!

So whether it is the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, or the tree that mid-wifed the virgin birth, Jesus is surely at home in those trees - perhaps even crucified on a date palm where he hands over his spirit, his breath, his life to any of us who will receive it.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Have a blessed Gaudete Sunday as we watch and wait for our Lord to enter into our lives. Let every heart, prepare him room so we are ready to receive him as he hands his Spirit over to us. Amen.

Friday, December 9, 2011

In Memoriam Myra Maureen Frazier

In Memoriam
Myra Maureen Frazier 1968-2011

Martha and Mary were sisters. Their brother Lazarus had been sick. They had called for their dear friend Jesus, knowing that He was of God. The text is clear, it says “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” He delays going, and when he does go his disciples try to talk him out of going because the region around Bethany was too dangerous with people trying to stone him and others already conspiring to have him arrested. As further sign of his deep love, Jesus replies, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.”
Meanwhile, Martha and Mary are at home sitting shiva, the Jewish custom of mourning. Friends and neighbors surround them, much as we come to be with Myra's family and one another as we seek comfort and consolation at having lost “our friend,” Myra. Word comes to the sisters that Jesus has approached the outskirts of Bethany. Always the practical one, always the one seeing to it that others needs are met, Martha goes to meet Jesus before he gets to the house. She has some business with him that is better kept at a distance from the house and those who are comforting the family – she seems to want to spare them hearing what she has to say.
And what she has to say is what we all want to say at a time like this: Lord, if you had been here, Lord if you had heard our prayers, Lord if you had done something, come sooner, our brother Lazarus would not have had to die! Martha is not a shy one. She may appear so while taking care of others, busy behind the scenes, but when the times demanded it she could stand up to anyone, including Jesus.
Jesus tells her that Lazarus will rise again. Martha, believing he is talking about some hypothetical future when all the dead shall rise again says in effect, “Sure, sure, we all know that, but I am talking about now.” Jesus responds, “I am now. I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Martha immediately knows he is right. Martha immediately sees Jesus as if for the first time – He is of God, He is resurrection, He is life. And speaking on behalf of all of us here this morning, and for all people who mourn at all times and in all places, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” When she had said this, the text continues, she went and told Mary who got up and left the house to go see Jesus, and everyone in the house followed. Jesus saw Mary and everyone with her weeping and was “deeply moved.” They go to the tomb, Jesus calls Lazarus out, and orders everyone, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
This is the hard part. This is the hard part for all of us: letting go. We are here because we love Myra and all that she was, is and continues to be: daughter, sister, cousin, aunt, friend, and someone who reached out to help those in deep need, the underserved, and this earth, our fragile island home. It is doubly hard for everyone here, since it is likely to be some time before we have any idea exactly how she died, how it is that she has been taken away from us.
What we can be certain of, however, is that Myra had courage and desire like Martha to tackle two of the most important problems facing the world today: the ecology/environmental problem and the economic problem. Myra was out in front, like Martha, alerting us to what can be done in both arenas, and doing something about it. Lives have been changed, and the very structure of the earth has been changed and preserved as a result of her dedication, knowledge and will.
As we come to mourn and comfort one another, we also come to remember and celebrate the life of this remarkable woman.
Myra received her law degree from Duke University
She began her nearly 15 years of experience in the energy and environmental fields as a Fulbright Fellow in Libreville, Gabon, Africa.
She later worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency implementing technical cooperation between the US and South African Governments, focused on energy plicy planning, air quality management and climate mitigation strategies.
Myra also worked on the litigation team that negotiated the Consent Agreement Final Order with the Concentrated Animal Feedlot industry - an agreement accepted by over 8,000 farms in 37 states.
Recently she has been a contract attorney for a variety of energy and technology companies,
And perhaps her greatest passion has been working to help families in Maryland avoid foreclosure on their homes.
And here at St. Peter's she has been an extraordinary advisor to our Green Team, and has served on the Bishop of Maryland's Task Force On The Environment for the past few years.

Several people have submitted Tributes to Myra which we would like to share with you now....


The most basic truth of the Judeo-Christian religion is that we come from Love, we return to Love and Love is all around. God is Love. Myra now knows this. Just as Martha goes before everyone else to greet Jesus at the edge of town, so Myra has gone ahead of us to meet and be greeted by her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Myra has been and will continue to be so much a part of God’s love surrounding us on all sides – she brought us all closer to God, closer to each other and closer to ourselves. What a wonderful life’s work!
How fitting that the church is decorated for Easter – The Feast of the Resurrection. The Paschal Candle, first lit on Easter Eve in the darkness shines brightly - the light that shines in the Darkness, the light of Christ. The Light that John says the Darkness has not and cannot overcome. It stands near the Baptismal Font, marking that place where we enter into the fellowship of Christ’s Body, the Church, The entry point into eternal life.
For we are those people who believe that life is changed, not ended, at death. And when our mortal body lies in death, there is prepared for us a dwelling place eternal in the heavens.
Once baptized into the body of Christ, St. Paul asserts "neither death, nor life, nor angels , nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Myra knows this to be true. She has been unbound. She is set free. She now joins with Martha and all those who throughout the ages proclaim, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
So we come to mourn. We come to comfort one another. We come to remember and celebrate and give thanks for a life faithfully lived and more faithfully set free. And we come to affirm our faith, Myra's faith, and the faith of the Church.
A Catholic priest and monk, Henri Nouwen, observed on the death of his mother: In those confusing weeks after my mother’s death I said to myself, “This is a time of waiting for the Spirit of truth to come, and woe unto me, if by forgetting her, I prevent her from doing God’s work in me.” I sensed that something much more than a filial act of remembering was at stake, much more than an honoring of my dead mother, much more than holding on to her beautiful example. Very specifically, what was at stake was the life of the Spirit in me. To remember her does not mean telling her story over and over again to my friends, nor does it mean pictures on the wall or a stone at her grave; it does not even mean constantly thinking about her. No. It means making her an active participant of God’s ongoing work of redemption by allowing her to dispel in me a little more of my darkness and lead me a little closer to the light. In these weeks of mourning she died in me more and more every day, making it impossible for me to cling to her as my mother. Yet by letting her go I did not lose her. Rather, I found that she is closer to me than ever. In and through the Spirit of Christ, she indeed, is becoming a part of my very being.
[In Memoriam, p. 60]

Myra is now at one with God's light, the Light of Christ. She came to this church week after week and affirmed this. She stood in this church week after week the past few years to affirm her faith in Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Let us stand, turning to page 496 in the Red Book of Common Prayer, and In the assurance of eternal life given at Baptism, let us proclaim our faith:

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Apocalypse Now

27 November 2011/Advent 1B - Isaiah 64:1-9/1 Corinthians 1:3-9/Mark 13:24-37
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter's at Ellicott Mills, Maryland
Keep Awake: Turn Back
It has been observed that we sleepwalk through much of life. The ritual and busyness of the familiar, the routine, carries us forward like an ever flowing stream. School started in August. Halloween and Thanksgiving have come and gone. The ritual observances of Christmas have begun with the consumer driven madness of Black Friday, now become Black Thursday and Small Business Saturday!

Each of these "end-times" has a procedural set of expectations, rituals, traditions which we can predictably sleepwalk our way through year after year after year - business as usual.

Then in the midst of our ritual march toward Christmas intrudes this odd bit of scripture from Mark - Mark, who has no birth story of Jesus and for that matter no resurrection appearance either. It is called the Little Apocalypse. Jewish Apocalyptic literature plays a key role in hard times. Scenes like this one are meant to buck up a people weary of having the goodness of God's creation disrupted by the vagaries of occupation, exile, social and economic chaos and disintegration, militaristic solutions and the like.

Throughout the history of Israel, the need for apocalyptic was a regular occurrence. At the time of Jesus the country was under the military occupation of Rome, and the rigid demands of the aristocratic religious leadership of the Temple. Not long after Jesus the people attempted two unsuccessful revolts. By the time Mark's gospel had taken shape in the form we have it now, the Temple had already been destroyed by Rome's scorched earth response to the first revolt.

Jewish Apocalyptic was meant to encourage the faithful who now suffer the evils of the present age, and to offer assurance that a moment of judgment and reckoning will soon arrive. Those listening to Mark for the first time are encouraged to maintain hope despite the seeming delay of the Son of Man, but be assured that come he will, and not only will he bring deliverance, but he will also be the One to whom an account must be given. So stay awake, keep alert, be vigilant and watchful in how you pattern your life. Which for Jesus means a life of repentance. Repentance is to be a way of life, not a one-time event.

Jesus' call for repentance is consistent with a biblical tradition's demand for change - change that arises from compassion, not contempt. The words used in the Bible for repentance mean to "turn around." The assumption is that something important and precious has been left behind and needs to be reclaimed. This Jesus calls the Kingdom of God, what some have termed The Great Economy, since God's vision for God's people has always concerned itself with the economy. "It's the economy, stupid," very well can be understood as a biblical imperative. So that repentance is an invitation to deconstruct what is wrong about our way of life and reconstruct a life characterized by the kind of justice and dignity God calls for repeatedly throughout the long history of the biblical narrative.

It is all too easy to see that the world which God created and declared as "good," even "very good," is now running off the rails - and that when this happens, people, who were created in God's image, suffer many indignities and depredations. As the gap between the haves and the have nots continues to grow, as the elected representatives tasked to make corrections deadlock even further, and as we seem to be escalating a militaristic stance toward the rest of the world, it seems clear that the call from Mark's Jesus for repentance is just as germane today as it was nearly 2,000 year ago. It is time once again to turn around and recall, remember, what we have left behind of God's vision for mankind.

It will be seen, years from now, that one of the great ironies of our time saw endless kiosks of books in what was called the Left Behind series of so-called modern day Christian apocalyptic which had little or no connection to the kind of apocalyptic vision Jesus spins out in the thirteenth chapter of Mark. Most especially since the series was born of a theology, Millerism,
which has claimed to know when the end of days will come and the Son of Man appear. Since October 22, 1844 until recently the day has been calculated and recalculated, set and re-set. One has to wonder how such devout and faithful people, and they certainly are, ignore our Lord's own words, "But about that day no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."

So what has this to do with Advent and Christmas? Advent, adventus, means "coming." Advent is a time to re-set our sights, to turn back once again, to attempt to recover what has truly been left behind - which is not unbelievers as the popular imagination would have it. What has been left behind is our Lord's vision of the Kingdom of God, a vision based on nearly 3,000 years of biblical imagination - a vision based in justice and dignity - a vision that rejects the notion that power is truth, that violence of any kind can bring about righteousness.

Advent has also been characterized as a time of waiting - waiting for our Lord's return to set things right - to justify our attitude of Hope and our assurance that the day is near. But this is no waiting that connotes a sitting around resting on whatever laurels may be left. It is a waiting that is actively engaged in lives of justice and dignity for all people - not some people, not most people, but all people. When this truly breaks in on us it will no longer be business as usual!

Which means that our compassion ought to lead us to moral outrage at the ways in which the consumer driven culture of acquisition, and militaristic culture of violence work against all that God came to us as a baby in a manger to wake us up to the futility of these modes of so-called civilization.

Which means not just staying awake, but waking up! Waking up to our peculiar history, as a church, as a nation, as mankind. Much of what we hail as progress has come at the expense of grinding one people or another into dust.

Waking up out of our sleepwalking state of being is an invitation to turn back and look at our history to uncover the massive efforts of denial that have left us addicted to acquisition and violence. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Look at the signs of the times. See how we repeat over and over again the biblical sins of blindness, deafness and hardness of heart.

Then once we are awake, once we begin to turn back, see if in this waiting time we might actually hear what Mark's Jesus is really saying - what the call to discipleship truly entails. Only then will we be ready for the coming Day of the Lord. Only then will be truly know not only who we are, but whose we are: disciples of the Son of Man and the people of his Kingdom of shalom, justice and dignity for all people. If ever there was a time for Jewish Apocalyptic it is now. Thank God for opening our hearts to its vision this First Sunday of Advent. Amen.

In Memoriam - Brent Peddicord

In Memoriam
E. Brent Peddicord
Ecclesiastes 3:1-11/The Revelation to John 21:3b-5/John 14:1-3

Death, the most assured human attribute, remains the most mysterious. So it is that humans for countless millennia have stopped all activity to ponder the life and death of a loved one as a way of delving into the very mysteries of life and death.

The loss of someone we know and love and cherish takes us away from the busyness of our day- to-day existence so that in a sense time stops. We stop. And traditionally we gather as a community to stop whatever we are doing and to simply be with one another for a brief time away from all other time.

Ecclesiastes, frequently translated as The Preacher, knows about time. There is a time for everything under the sun. This is one of those times.

And in the Revelation to John, the mysterious eternal quality of time is referenced as Alpha and Omega, the totality of all that is, seen and unseen, quite literally everything from A to Z in our alphabet – that which can be perceived, and that which must be taken on faith. All that is emanates from a single point, a single person identified as God in our text. We are his people, he is our God – a God like no other, a God whose very essence, whose very quality is to be with us at moments like this when time seems to stop, to wipe away our tears and to make all things new.

Jesus, speaking to his closest friends the night before he is to die, gathers them to prepare them for the inevitable.
Like most of us here, they protest, “How can this be? Where are you going? We will come with you!”

Note how Jesus, the one who is about to die a cruel death is the one comforting them. Jesus replies in metaphor – in my father’s house are many mansions. The Greek text translates more like way stations – a stopping place on one’s journey, one's way from point A to point B. A resting place. Only these way stations are of God and with God – the God who himself is with us, wiping away our tears, has prepared a particular place for each and every one of us.

Jesus’ assertion is unequivocal – there are no requirements, no conditions, no need for beliefs, faith or any other prerequisites. A place has been prepared, and God himself, Jesus, promises to come again and receive us so that where he is, we too shall be.

As a dear friend and former Jesuit has put it, “We come from Love, we return to Love, and Love is all around.” The heart of God is Love. And as Jesus constantly tries to remind us, the time is now. Time is the temple of eternity. We say, “Time is of the essence,” and perhaps we are not conscious of just how true that really is - for time is the essence of God, of God's son, and God's Love.

Brent had a special relationship with time. As most of you know, he had a lifelong interest in clocks and became a serious collector and historian in his later years. While he appreciated the clocks for their mechanical intricacies, the woodworking of their cases, his focus as a collector was on preservation, not simply acquisition. He saw himself not so much as an owner or as an investor, but as a steward. He enjoyed spending time doing research and traveling to auctions, but it was his steady devotion to clocks – the regular winding and dusting, the timely oiling or repair – that marked him as a collector. His interest was in caring for them while they were in his possession so they could be appreciated by future generations. His hope was that each clock would one day leave his custody in working order and in better shape than when he acquired it.

His steady, reliable caretaking habits also marked him as a son, a husband, a father, a brother, and an employee. He was someone who could be counted on to take care of things. Brent knew how to look to the past for guidance and how to look at the future so he could plan for it, but he lived his life in the present and understood how the accumulation of small, daily acts added up to a life that mattered.

It is a life that has called us to stop and allow ourselves simply to be in this present moment – to remember Brent, to remember his continual acts of stewardship, and perhaps to become aware that there is a larger presence in the here and now of time that we rarely take time to acknowledge.

We come from Love, we return to Love and Love is all around. Brent has made the round-trip journey from and to Love. Brent was very much a tangible and palpable expression of that Love being all around. He could sense it in the very pulse of time, with each tick and each tock. He preserved the eternal presence in time so that we might come to appreciate it and know it ourselves.

We have only this brief time together to contemplate these things, and yet that shall be more than enough time to bring us closer to God, closer to one another and closer to our selves.

The late Henri Nouwen, renowned priest, teacher and writer, in reflecting on his mother’s death, writes the following:
"There is a time of waiting for the Spirit of truth to come, and woe unto me if, by forgetting her, I prevent her from doing God’s work in me. I sensed that something much more than a filial act of remembering was at stake, much more than an honoring of my dead mother, much more than a holding on to her beautiful example. Very specifically, what was at stake was the life of the Spirit in me.
To remember her does not mean telling her story over and over again to my friends, nor does it mean pictures on the wall or a stone on her grave; it does not even mean constantly thinking about her. No. It means making her a participant in God’s ongoing work of redemption by allowing her to dispel in me a little more of my darkness and lead me a little closer to the light. In these weeks of mourning she died in me more and more every day, making it impossible for me to cling to her as my mother. Yet, by letting her go I did not lose her. Rather, I found that she is closer to me than ever. In and through the Spirit of Christ, she indeed is becoming a part of my very being." p.60 In Memoriam, Henri Nouwen

The light Nouwen speaks of shines on Brent – the light of the Paschal Candle, first lit in the darkness of Easter Eve, the Light of Christ. Saint John says that His light is the life of all men, and that no darkness has overcome it. Brent has become a part of the essence of this light.

As the Preacher known to us as Ecclesiastes makes certain, none of us can possibly know very much of what lies between Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. But we can be those people who are assured that now Brent knows in ways that he could only have imagined for the brief time he lived among us. What that mansion, that way station, that has been prepared for his arrival looks like we can only imagine – but it seems almost certain that there will be at least one clock for him to ponder, to care for, to preserve and to repair as we continue our journey to Love ourselves.

Even now, Brent is becoming a part of our very being in new and important ways. We are promised that in death life is changed, not ended. And sooner than we think, wherever he is, we too shall be, united in time eternal – each and every tick of the clock brings us closer and closer still. For that, and for a life faithfully lived as a steward of things and relationships precious in this world, we give thanks. Amen.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sabbath Economics 101

13 November 2011/Proper 28A – Matthew 25:14-30
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, St. Peter’s at Ellicott Mills

Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven will be as when a man, going on a journey,
summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them….”

Not exactly. We have long been mislead about this parable. It has been misconstrued as teaching a lesson about the coming reign of God, as praising venturous investment and diligent labor, and encouraging rapacious taking of that which is not ours and reaping that which we did not sow! Please note, at the beginning of this parable, Jesus does not say, “The kingdom of heaven will be as when a man, going on a journey….etc.” The lectionary crowd borrowed this from a place much earlier in chapter 25 of Matthew. You can look it up yourselves. (p.860 in our pew Bibles)He is describing the sad and shameful reality of life in this world as it was and is.

The sequence in chapter 25 is the parable of the ten maidens which ends with the imperative: “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Then follows our story, often called The Parable of the Talents, when it should be called The Parable of the faithful servant who woke up! The kingdom of heaven will be like those who wake up to what is dreadfully wrong with the dominant economy.

Well, you might say, that has become rather obvious as we continue to witness the disintegration of the world economy, to say nothing of our own, at the hands of a few “masters” of wealth like the one depicted in our parable.

We just cannot get it unless we understand the magnitude of what is being handed out. A talent was somewhere between 54 and 75 pounds of silver, sterling! One talent was 6,000 denarii, or 6,000 days wages for one laborer (16 years per talent, 128 years wages handed out to the three slaves!). This has been conservatively valued at approximately Two and One-Half Million Dollars in today’s dollars! And the master does not deny that he did not earn or in any way merit this wealth. He took it from others through a series of credit arrangements, mortgage foreclosures, and land-grabs (since wealth was measured in land at the time).

Further, in Mediterranean society then and now, anything over a 12% return on your wealth was considered rapacious, obscene, and immoral. To double your investment is to participate in patently unfair economic warfare on the working and middle classes.

If in fact the kingdom of heaven demands that we wake up, the hero of the story is the slave who buries the talent as a non-violent protest: “I refuse to participate any longer in your unfair system of economic warfare on the poor! Take your talent and shove it!” he seems to say.

Now the Biblical literate among us will have read, marked and inwardly digested the scriptures, as our collect for the day urges us to do. Having done so, any number of other scriptures come to mind offering an alternative view of what some have called God’s Sabbath Economics. In Exodus Chapter 16, the story of Manna, the basic economic view of the God of the Exodus is laid out: everyone is to get enough, no one gets too much, and if you store it up it sours – it goes bad, it will be crawling with worms, maggots, and vermin. In Leviticus 25 is the prohibition against usury and profiteering off the poor. In Isaiah chapter 5 those who participate in unfair real estate dealings are condemned. Jesus recalls the Manna Season principles when he urges us to pray for bread that is given daily. And in the very next story in Matthew Chapter 25 we get the story of the sheep being separated from the goats in which it is made clear that when you serve those who are hungry, thirsty, in jail, naked, sick and strangers, you are serving the Lord Jesus himself. When you do not serve the poor and disadvantaged, you have aligned yourself with “master going on a journey” and his toady-slaves who prop up his wealth at their own expense.

Not being agrarians, evidenced by our corporate lack of concern for the earth, the land, from which our food comes, we miss the punch line of a hilariously funny joke here: the protesting slave buries the 70 some pounds of silver in the ground. There, see if it can grow anything meaningful there! The peasants listening to Jesus and who work the land all know that all true wealth comes from God, the source of rain, sunshine, seed and soil. Like those in the wilderness who build a golden calf and worship money cast as religion, the taunting cry is, “Go ahead, pray to all the money you want, plant all the talents you have in the ground, multiply your gold and silver ten times over, and it will never get you out of the system of economic slavery to which you devote your every waking hour!”

It is a clash of world-views like that which we witness on Wall Street and in cities all around the world today: the traditional agrarian notion of “use-value” and the elite’s currency-based system of “exchange-value.” Money can grow naturally like seed, but only unnaturally through usury and swindling. This symbolic act of planting the talent is a case of prophetic tricksterism to reveal that money is not fertile.

And like all the prophets before him, our hero-slave, what some have called a “whistle-blower,” having unmasked the master’s wealth as entirely derived from the toil of others, is cast out. Much as when Jesus unmasks the unholy powers in Jerusalem is cast outside the city walls and crucified. Our hero-slave keeps good and honest and faithful company. What has long been presumed being sent to “hell” turns out to be his exodus out of the hell of the rich man’s system and closer to the true Lord who dwells among the poor. It is the same Lord who teaches us to pray for daily bread (manna), and to forgive debts (n.b., sin and debt are the same word in Jesus’ native Aramaic) – that is, Jesus teaches us to pray for a return to Sabbath Economics.

What an extraordinary parable to get as the world’s economy appears to be melting before our very eyes, while those who pretend to manage it have run out of ideas on what to do next. The pundits will mock the Occupy Wall Street crowd as offering no new ideas, but this charge rings hollow as those same pundits, experts and elite money managers appear to have no coherent strategy themselves.

The late Bishop Bennett Sims once said, “The only thing that can save us from a culture of increasing violence, greed and rapacious consumption will be an increase in Christian Giving.” Which brings us to Christ's altar today, where we are invited to place our sacrificial pledge right beside his sacrificial body and blood. Christ gives it all for the salvation of the world. He invites us to join in the Sabbath Economics of his Father’s dream of shalom for all mankind. May the Lord bless us this day as we seek to be as faithful as the hero-slave in today’s parable. Amen.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Instructions For True and Laudable Service

30 October 2011/Proper 26A- Joshua 3:7-17, Matthew 23:1-12
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland
You Have One Instructor
From our collect for today: “It is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service…” We are those people called to true and laudable service. And today we find Jesus once again giving some shape to just what that means. He says, “You have one instructor.” Guess who? Surprise! It's the Pharisees!

Jesus is usually arguing with the Pharisees. Here Jesus surprises us when he says to do what the Pharisees say and teach. Just don’t follow their example! One of the things they teach, of course, is tithing - and not just 10% of your wages, but of every little thing: crops, herds, dill, mint, mustard seeds, you name it. He also speaks of them laying heavy burdens on others without lifting a finger themselves to help those others. Jesus is into helping others. Just what might tithing and helping others have to do with each other?

Elsewhere he speaks of his burdens being light. Make no mistake about it, however, his burdens in and of themselves are heavier than anything the Pharisees ever thought of or conceived. For starters, Jesus says those who believe in him will do the things he does, “and greater things than these will you do.” John 14:12

He says we are to include all people in the life of His community, especially sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, sinners, widows, orphans and illegal aliens, i.e., people not at all like ourselves. Oh yes, and we are to love our enemies.

We are to turn the other cheek, which, by the way, does not mean becoming a kind of “doormat” rolling over in the face of oppression. In the Roman culture of Jesus’ day, a superior could slap an inferior person in the face with the back of the hand. When one turns the cheek, however, it forces the person to slap with the palm of the hand. To slap with the palm of the hand was to acknowledge the other as an equal. To turn the other cheek is to challenge all false authority.

Therefore it was an act of defiance or civil disobedience, much like Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus. That was what Jesus meant about turning the other cheek: asserting righteousness; defiantly not letting others determine your worth or value in the eyes of God.

One can easily see that Jesus calls us to a much higher, and potentially “heavier,” standard. The difference is that he not only lifts a finger to help us, but is in it with us wherever we are, even allowing himself to be lifted high upon a Roman cross to suffer capital punishment as a way of making our burdens light.

The problem of the Pharisees, which is a long time historic problem for the church, is doing things to be recognized as religious, or pious, or a good person, or a superior person, or Number One, or worst of all, The Only One. John Chrysostom in the early church put it best, “Not only does he forbid setting the heart on first place, but he requires following after the last.”

And as another wag has put it, “Many want to be pious, but few want to be humble.”

The church with its titles, its vestments, its pomp and its ceremony, all mimicking something more like the processions of Emperor Caesar or Constantine than the servant of God entering Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, needs to be careful.

This problem stretches way back to Joshua and then the period of Judges when the people demand that God give them a king like all the other countries. God says, “This is not a good idea.” But the people persist, they get a king, and then the troubles begin.

All because they would not trust God to raise up the leadership they would need at any given time. God must often wonder just when we might be willing to listen to him?

Today’s lessons call us to a good degree of self-evaluation and rededication to the kind of life Jesus calls us to live. One good place to look would be our catechism. Please turn to page 855 in the Book of Common Prayer and read along together:

Q. Through whom does the Church carry out its mission?
A. The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.

Q. Who are the ministers of the Church?
A. The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests and deacons.

Q. What is the ministry of the laity?
A. The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church;
to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship and governance of the Church.

Q. What is the duty of all Christians?
A. The duty of all Christians is to follow Christ; to come together week by week for corporate worship; and to work, pray and give for the spread of the kingdom of God.

Jesus calls us to be the least and to be humble. Being least and being humble does not limit our generosity, nor stop us from doing greater things than Jesus does, or living to lighten the burden of others. The Pharisees teach tithing, giving 10%. Jesus says do what they teach. Jesus gave more than 10% - he gave it all for you and for me.

As to burdens, we have a heavy load. We have been carrying a significant deficit budget since 2005. And we can anticipate a significant deficit in our budget for 2012 unless we all look into our hearts and consider what it is we can give in 2012 to fund the kind of “true and laudable service…” we pray for today. The duty of all Christians is to work, pray and give for the spread of the kingdom of God.

We have a heavy load. But if we let Jesus into our lives and into our midst, we will remember that he lifts more than a finger to help us live into the kind of life he calls us to live. Amen.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Always We Begin Again

23 October 2011/Proper 25A – 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8/Matthew 22:34-46
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Mount Calvary Episcopal Church, Baltimore
As You Know
Paul’s First letter to the church in Thessalonica is the earliest of all New Testament writings – perhaps in the early 50’s of the first century.

One commentary writes, “The letter reflects the life of a congregation that was devoted to its faith and strongly aware of its separation from the society in which its members had until recently found their standards and values. At the same time it was also a community that was threatened by social pressures and at times outright persecution to turn back to the life from which they had come. Paul wrote to encourage the church, stressing that opposition is simply something to be expected.” (Oxford Annotated NRSV, p.291NT)

We have known such separation. And we have known similar social pressures. Outright persecution may be too strong a word, but opposition and conflict have surely characterized life in this place since the Parish Meeting one year ago this weekend. We can safely say that in some very real sense, Paul is writing to us.

I have always felt a particular kinship with this letter. As it begins, I could very well begin our time together on this day.

I give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in my prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

When Bishop Sutton asked me to shepherd this continuing congregation of Mount Calvary Episcopalians, we had not met. Although you no doubt saw me and heard me speak at the meeting the week before when as a member of the Standing Committee I accompanied the Bishop as he addressed the assembled congregation. I spoke of the kinship I felt for Mount Calvary, having served a church that was founded the same year (1842)by Bishop Wittingham for the same reason: to establish an Anglo-Catholic sensibility in the Diocese of Maryland as a way of enriching and diversifying this corner of God's vineyard.

I was uncertain as to what I might do, how I might serve those of you who courageously have withstood the social pressure to follow those who were choosing to abandon our communion and go to Rome. Still, separation was not and can never be easy. But you knew both who you are and whose you are - and knowing that you sought sacramental and pastoral care.

It is, for me, quite fitting that for our last Sunday together in this chapel as this congregation, that this portion of Paul's letter to the Thessalonians is the appointed reading. From the very first days of my ordained ministry I have held the vision of ministry Paul describes as that for which I would always strive - "As you know, and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us." I Thess 2:5-8

When asked to describe my ministry, this is always the scripture I have in mind. You have given me the gift of serving you as Paul suggests, gently, with no pretext, tenderly, determined to proclaim the Gospel of God in Christ, but also to offer you my own self. These past months together have been a gift to me. Your perseverance has both inspired me and brought me closer to God, closer to others and closer to my true self.

I have also come to appreciate more fully those who share this building with us. Despite what can be described as an awkward situation, the hospitality and courtesy extended to me has been genuine. As I have tried to represent Christ and this diocese in this place, I have felt accepted by nearly all those who worship here. I cannot begin to understand the journey upon which they have embarked, but as I have learned from the Hindus, there are many paths that lead to the summit - all streams lead to the sea. Perhaps one day the meaning of this difficult separation will become clear to us. In the meantime, we have had each other, and more importantly we have had Christ Jesus by our side every step of the way.

Believe me when I say, I do not want to leave any more than you do. I will miss each one of you more than I can express. I am so grateful for the opportunity to have served you this past year, and to hold you in my prayers every day.

As Paul writes in that very first document of Christian witness. "Now may God our Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way...and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all persons, as we do to you, so that he may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints." I Thess 3:11-13

I frequently turn to a little book - a reinterpretation of that cornerstone of Anglican Spiritual Formation, the Rule of Saint Benedict - called Always We Begin Again (John McQuiston II, Morehouse Publishing, New York:1996,2011). Benedict, like many spiritual leaders throughout the history of mankind, recognized that each day, each moment of each day, is an opportunity to begin anew. This book has sustained me, and I hope it will sustain you as you move forward with Christ into a new chapter in your Journey with Jesus. Each time you open it, let it speak to you. Each time you open it, know that I will continue to hold you in my prayers. Each time you open it may it bring you closer to God, closer to others, and closer to yourself. As you know, and as God is my witness, you are God's beloved. God is well pleased with you and will continue to guide you every step of the way. Amen.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Everything Sad Will Come Untrue

9 October 2011/Proper 23A - Philippians 4: 1-9/Matthew 22:1-14
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Mt. Calvary Episcopal Church, Baltimore
Are We Ready To Choose
The gospel for today begs allegory and analogy leading inevitably to dividing people into groups of good and bad. It is an invitation to play the Blame Game. Coupled with our innate curiosity, like Pandora, we cannot help but want to know just who is going to be bound hand and foot and cast into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth! I suspect that as we hear this read, we all have candidates that leap to mind. It is the rare person who may reflect on why he or she might be that unlucky soul whose only sin appears to be not making the acceptable fashion statement for the occasion.

No matter how one parses this particular parable in Matthew, the results are baffling at best. Particularly in light of fact that at the end of the day it simply means to express how passionately our God wants us to come to his banquet - how passionately our God wants us to come home - how passionately our God loves us - all of us - all of the time. Many are called, says our Lord, but few are chosen. What remains mysteriously hidden and unsaid here is that it is we who do the choosing. Few choose to return to God, too busy are they wasting time on inconsequential disputes over what is right and what is wrong.

Which message is also at the heart of Paul's correspondence with the Christ followers in Philippi. He returns to the theme with which he began: there is no time for bickering, and no time to contemplate retribution against those who imprison me and those who hate us. There is simply no time for anything but the Love of God in Christ Jesus crucified and raised from the dead.

So please, get these two magnificent women, women who have struggled with me to proclaim the good news, get them back together again. Once you reconcile them you can rejoice! "And again I will say, Rejoice! The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything. Then you can get on with the business at hand: spreading the Good News of Christ Crucified and raised from the dead."

Paul is in prison and he believes this is the only way to be: joyful in the Lord. Be joyful in the Lord all you lands! Jubilate Deo! "And the Peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus....Keep doing the things that you have learned and received....and the God of Peace will be with you."

Just what "things" have the Philippians learned? When Paul left Macedonia he issued an invitation to the churches he knew to enter into partnership with him - a partnership of money and ministry. It was to be a partnership of giving and receiving. It is in giving with Christ that we receive, it is in dying with Christ that we live. Christ who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, emptied himself, and invites us to do the same. Of all the churches with which Paul was associated - Rome, Corinth, Thessalonica, Colossae, Galatia, Ephesus, and Philippi - it was only the Philippians who responded to his invitation. It was only the Philippians who sent Paul help, sending one of their own, Epaphroditus, who nearly died in serving Paul in prison.

Paul is the first pastoral counselor. He reminds the Philippians that they know what do to and how to do it. He has personally benefitted from their faithfulness in Christ Jesus. They have sacrificed money and gifts and nearly one of their own to further the spread of the good news of Jesus Christ - that God is at home and it is we who need to return to his banquet hall, fully prepared to do the work God calls us to do in Christ Jesus.

Paul's gift to us is the realization that the Church of Jesus Christ goes way beyond any single person or congregation. It is a vast network of congregations and peoples working together, sacrificing for one another, supporting one another.

But it is we who want to be left alone by the God who has made the most inconvenient men and women our neighbors - and instructed us to love them as much as we love God and love ourselves!

Against this backdrop, writes Paul, there is simply no time for division and argument. And there is no way to go it alone. Stop the dissension and disagreement right now. Disengage from worldly concerns and engage yourselves in God's work - "And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches."

In J.R.R. Tolkien's final book of the Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee, an uncommonly courageous little Hobbit, wakes up after the climactic battle. Thinking everything is lost, he discovers all his friends are around him. He cries out to Gandalf the great wizard, "I thought you were dead. But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue?"

Is everything sad going to come untrue? And for those of us who believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God's answer is a resounding, "Yes!"

Many are called, says our Lord Jesus, but few are chosen. It is we who do the choosing. Are we ready to choose? Are we ready to choose to keep doing the things that we have learned and received? Are we ready to move on and leave controversy behind us?

For if we are, the God of Peace shall be with us wherever we are, wherever we go. And everything sad will come untrue. Because our God passionately wants us to come to his banquet. And our God passionately wants us to come home. And our God will passionately supply every need, including finding us a new home in Christ Jesus. Our God will make sure that everything sad will come untrue.

So it is that even from a prison cell, Saint Paul and urge us to Rejoice!
And again I will say, Rejoice!
The Lord is near.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus every step of the way!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Other Tenants

2 October 2011/Proper 22A – Exodus 20:1-20/Philippians 3:4b-14/Matthew 21:33-46
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, MD
Do Not Let God Speak To Us!
This is what the people say to Moses after delivery of the 10 Commandments. It is pretty much what the chief priests and Pharisees are saying to one another after Jesus announces that the vineyard of the Lord will be let out to “other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” Do not let God speak to us. After which we say, “The word of the Lord,” “Thanks be to God.”

It gets kind of familiar, our response to this stuff. Almost glib. “Thanks be to God.” Are we all that thankful to hear this parable? To be reminded that we are to have no idols, that we are not to covet, that we are to give God the produce at the harvest time. After all, we are the “other tenants.” Just how eager are we to give God “the produce at the harvest”? In the matter of six or seven weeks we will find out.

In the meantime, there is Paul who continues to describe for us, week after week, what it means to be a tenant in God’s vineyard. And as George Harrison put it so well, “You know it don’t come easy!” (It Don’t Come Easy)

Paul writes to the Philippians as a prisoner of Rome, his previous employer, as he points out, while he was still a “persecutor of the church.” He is a prisoner because of his complete turn-around as an apostle of Jesus Christ – that is, one who is sent to spread the Good News – which would be, or to wit, that even one who was as far gone as Paul, one who stood by and watched as other Christ followers were stoned and otherwise put to death at his command, even Paul discovered that he was loved by God despite all that he was and all that he had done.

Now for those of us who, as one observer has put it, want our spiritual journey to more closely resemble a trip to the corner store than an epic journey or a lifetime spent in and out of jail on account of our zeal for Jesus, this all comes as a bit of a shock. Becoming a Christ follower like Paul comes at great expense – and yet Paul makes it abundantly clear, it is all more than worth it once we are able to put all the covetousness and idolatry behind us, just as God had asked us to do all the way back at the very beginning of our story (Exodus 20).

Philippians is perhaps the most sublime of all Christian texts, and one with which we are perhaps the least familiar. Last week it included what many consider the oldest Christian Hymn:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ
Who, though he was in the form of God
Did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped
But emptied himself
Taking the form of a servant
Being born in human likeness
And being found in human form
He humbled himself and became obedient unto death
Even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8)

As always, I find myself intrigued by what is not in our portion for today – for after giving us deep insight into the mind of Christ in chapter 2, the very next verse after our portion begins, “Let those of us who are mature be of the same mind…” (Philippians 3:15a) What falls in between, the balance of chapters 2 and 3, are some examples of what it means to have the mind of Christ, and a constant refrain, “ Rejoice with me(2:18)…Rejoice in the Lord(3:1)…Rejoice in the Lord, always; and again I say, Rejoice!(4:4)” Strange imperative from one who is imprisoned, is it not?

So we have God’s ten principles we are to obey. We have the example of God in Christ humbly being obedient. We have Paul humbled, blinded, brought to his knees to learn just what being obedient really looks like. In the missing verses (2:25-30) there is an example of just how the Philippians have embodied the Good News by sending one of their own to be with Paul in prison, Epaphroditus, to bring Paul nourishment and companionship. If someone did not visit you in Roman prisons, even under house arrest, little was provided for you by the Romans themselves. Evidently Epaphroditus became ill and nearly died serving Paul. So Paul, once Epaphroditus is feeling well enough to travel, sends him back to Philippi, perhaps to carry this letter, and the news that Paul was still alive, well, filled with joy and purpose!

The takeaway from all of this: Christ Followers live for others because an Other lived and died for us. But it gets better – Paul writes, “For his [Christ’s] sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him….I want to know Christ and the power of his Resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in death, if somehow I may attain the Resurrection of the dead…I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ.” Rubbish! How much are we willing to consign to rubbish!

At the heart of Paul’s appeal is letting go of everything – emptying himself, resulting in a sense of hope and joy that cannot be equaled. Evidently adopting the humility of Christ results in a joy and hope more abundant than all our idols and covetousness can promise.

So here we are – the “other tenants” of God’s vineyard. The Philippians heard God’s word and life changed completely. The contrast is clear: Rejoice like Paul, or shout out, “Do not let God speak to us!” when we hear the expectations for life lived with God.

The harvest time is upon us. Have we become those “other tenants” who give God the produce?
Or are we still like the old tenants keeping it all for ourselves? Only time will tell. Amen.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Be Of The Same Mind

25 September 2011/Proper 21A- Exodus 17:1-7/Philippians 2: 1-13/Matthew 21:23-32
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Mount Calvary Episcopal Church, Baltimore, MD
The Mind of Christ
In Exodus we hear a continuation of grumbling in the wilderness. If it is not food it is water. How patient is our God? As it turns out, very patient indeed, even when we are at our least attractive and least grateful.

In Matthew Jesus is sparring with the "chief priests and elders" over issues of authority: by what authority is Jesus doing "these things"? These things include most recently berating and withering a fig tree for bearing no figs. After forcing his questioners to question themselves, Jesus concludes with a story that sounds all too familiar to those who have children: Ask them to help out, and one says "No way!" The other says, "OK!" And of course the one who says "No way" ends up being the one who helps out, while the one who says "OK" is still in bed! Which is Jesus' way of saying, "Either you are on the bus or off of the bus. But take careful note, tax collectors and sinners are filling up the seats on the bus as we are about to leave the terminal."

Which may be another way of making Paul's argument in his letter to the church in Philippi: there is no time for bickering, and no time to contemplate retribution against those who imprison me and those who hate us. There is simply no time for anything but the Love of God in Christ Jesus crucified and raised from the dead.

"Be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped or exploited.

This is a lot more difficult than it sounds. This incredibly touching plea from Paul is urging the Philippians not to strike back at his captors, not to retaliate with force against force, but rather to empty ourselves as Christ emptied himself, taking the form of a servant – a servant of God.

This is Paul at his most sublime and most powerfully beautiful:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ
Who, though he was in the form of God
Did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped
But emptied himself
Taking the form of a servant
Being born in human likeness
And being found in human form
He humbled himself and became obedient unto death
Even death on a cross.

This is perhaps the very heart of life’s greatest mystery. The mind of God, the mind of Christ, is self-emptying. The word for this is kenosis. That is God willingly limits God’s power in order to become engaged in life on earth.

God is willing to limit God’s power to undergo the ultimate powerlessness, crucifixion, so that the power and glory of God can enter the world. To effect this, Jesus and Paul gave up security, status, dominance and reputation. God, writes Paul, is a work in us, enabling us both to will and to work for God's good pleasure.

These days, and honestly throughout the nearly 2,000 year history of the Church, Christ followers bicker and divide over issues that pale in comparison to the opportunity of proclaiming Christ amid an unbelieving world. And when we are most likely to see Christians addressing our culture of what someone has called "a culture of aggressive indifference," it tends to be from a stance of aggressive ambition, pride and arrogance - not out of the sort of self-emptying humility that Paul encourages. It is no wonder that our proclamation falls on deaf ears - even ears that consciously have tuned us out - because we have ceased to "regard others as better than ourselves.

We would rather bicker and divide like the chief priests and elders than adopt the kind of self-emptying humility that allows Jesus to wash the feet of those who do not understand.

A generation ago, Carl Jung told the story of a man who asked a rabbi why, in the time of the Bible, God would reveal himself to many people, but recently no one ever sees him. Why is this? The rabbi answered, "Because nowadays no one bows low enough."

How true it is. Why I have even had people in church refuse to say The Prayer of Humble Access because it feels too demeaning, not affirming enough of our presumed inherent "goodness."

Even the Church is prone to forget its first love - Jesus Christ - and put all manner of other things in its place: rite, ritual, times, places, convenience, tradition, familiarity, all in the name of some kind of purity of religion that somewhere deep inside ourselves we must know can only be of God, not of man. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. If that is not enough to humble us, nothing is.

We are called to imitate the Servant-God, dispensing Good News with humility and grace, and living the Good News with love. This often means abandoning the familiar. This often means abandoning the conventional. This often means that there is no time to be wasted over issues of power and authority - no time to assert that we are right and you are wrong. Leaving that all behind is the first step toward having the mind that was in Christ Jesus.

Taking the first step is life. Taking the first step gives life and energy to our tired hearts, minds and souls. Leaving it all behind is the first step toward being in full accord and of one mind.

Taking that first step is the only way to leave a lifetime of grumbling, bickering and division behind. The world is now too small for anything but truth, and too dangerous for anything but love - the love of Christ Jesus who humbled himself taking the form of a servant, welcoming tax collectors and prostitutes into the kingdom of his Father, our Father, who art in heaven.


Saturday, September 17, 2011


18 September 2011/Proper 20 rcl -Ex 16:2-15/Phil 1:21-30/Matt 20: 1-6
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter's at Ellicott Mills, Maryland
Dying Is Gain
The Duke of Richmond, as a distant relation to the Royal Family, felt that whenever he was in London he would worship at St. Paul's Cathedral. And that when he was at St. Paul's he could worship in the royal box. And if he was in the Royal Box he felt he could worship as he pleased, so that when the priests would say, "Let us pray," the Duke would cry out, "Yes, let's, let's...!"

And when the priest read that the laborers hired at the end of the day received a full days wages, like the grumblers in the parable, the Duke cried out, "Too much, too much!"

It isn't fair! we cry! Yet, what is fair about the kingdom of heaven? Is there anything we can do, any one thing any individual can do, to deserve anything at all, let alone deserve more than any other single person on earth?

After all the Lord of the harvest is the same Lord Yahweh who all the way back in Exodus faced the same grumblers and whiners and sent them manna - loosely translated as, "Whatizit?" For they did not know what it was. We still don't. By which I mean, we still cannot get our heads around this most foundational and simple story of Biblical faith: each day there is to be enough bread for everyone, no one gets too much, and if you try to store it up, it sours.

After what has been called the single largest transfer of wealth in the history of mankind over the past 10 to 20 years, the results of "storing it up" are still coming in. Full economies of nation after nation in Western civilization are collapsing, drowning in debt, gasping for air, seeking a solution to the fruits of our own hubris. And yet, when our Lord Jesus, the Christ, the one whose name we take as our own, offers this parable depicting an unimaginable captain of agricultural industry making sure that each and every worker has enough bread, the same amount of bread, to take home to feed his family, our immediate impulse is to side with the grumblers and say it is not fair.

All the while, Paul still sits in a prison in Philippi reflecting on what it means to believe in the resurrection - how does the joy and agape love of resurrection look, taste and feel when one is in chains?

Simply put, "To me, living is Christ and dying is gain." As long as I live, says Paul, I can labor in the fields and bring in the sheaves. I am, however, hard pressed: to depart and be with Christ is far better, but to be here in the flesh is necessary for me and for you - "only live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ."

He was in jail for proclaiming Christ crucified and Christ raised from the dead. He was in jail for not refusing to bear witness, for refusing to cave in and adapt to the dominant culture. And by all accounts throughout this letter from a Philippian jail, he seems to be enjoying every minute of it.

Make no mistake - the citizens of Philippi were no different from any of us - they all wanted more. But along comes Paul who says, Jesus taught us to pray, and when we pray we are to pray to be satisfied with whatizit - manna - bread that is given daily. We are to find a daily portion of bread, His body, and wine, His blood, to be sufficient to labor in God's vineyard another day.

Paul urges us to "share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus." I will never forget the day I suggested to a congregation I was serving that we ought to be out in the world boasting in Christ Jesus, and the woman who on the way out of church said to me, "Our mother taught us not to speak to others about religion, money or politics." To which I could only reply, "I guess that means we cannot talk about the gospel of Jesus Christ."

Jesus and Paul are talking about religion - producing a harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God (Phil 1:11); money - making sure every worker gets "the usual daily wage" (Matthew 20:1-16); and politics - "so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most to the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear." (Phil 1:13-14)

"To me, living is Christ and dying is gain." How odd that sounds to modern ears. Yet, last evening the Baltimore Symphony played the Mahler Second Symphony - Resurrection. It includes this text by Freidrich Gottlieb Klopstock sung boldly by the mezzo-soprano, "You are sown so that you may bloom again! The Lord of the Harvest goes and gathers sheaves - us, who died!"

Thus casting a very different meaning out of our gospel for today. For we are the harvest. We are to be the grapes or grain that die in the field of God's mission to this world. We, who do good works not for the merit, for what can we merit? We are indebted to God for all the good works we do, and not he to us, since it is he who Paul says "works in us both to will and do according to his good pleasure." (Phil 2:13)

We are all called to live in Christ - the Christ who advocates a living wage for all workers no matter how long they work in the field - and we will all one day die in Christ - to whom be glory forever and ever. In God's kingdom, is there anything we can do, any one thing any individual can do, to deserve anything at all, let alone deserve more than any other single person on earth?

May our prayer be: Please, dear Lord, hire enough laborers as late in the day as possible that I too may be harvested into your kingdom. That I too may be one of the sheaves born into your storehouse. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out more and more laborers into the field that we may all be gathered into one storehouse, one harvest, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism. May each laborer be given the usual daily wage. May we pray for daily bread and mean it. Dear God, give us a little light that will lead the way to eternal blessed life. Amen.

Can't you hear my Savior callin'
Sayin' who will come and work today
The fields are ripe and the harvest waitin'
Who will bear the sheaves away

Here I am , O Lord send me (4X)

If you cannot sing like angels
If you cannot preach like Paul
Tell everyone of the love of Jesus
You can say that he died for us all

For an alternate take see Sermons That Work

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Forgive Them For They Know Not What They Do

11 September 2011 - Proper 19A * Matthew 18: 21-35
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Mount Calvary Episcopal Church, Baltimore

The Parable of The Forgiving God
This parable is called the Parable of the Wicked Servant. This title is not helpful to our knowing what this story is really all about. It is the story of an extravagantly generous and forgiving God. It is about our ability to accept God’s mercy, and accepting that God’s mercy always means being able to extend it to others. After all, we are imago Dei, made in the image of God.

If we examine the details of the story it becomes overwhelming. It was the custom to forgive someone three times in those days. Peter has correctly deduced that Jesus is looking for more than that from his disciples. So Peter suggests seven times as a generous improvement on custom.

Jesus blows that away with the formula seven times seventy! You may as well say infinity! More times than you can count would be an adequate translation. Or, you will forgive and forgive and forgive until you forget what you are forgiving.

Then the servant in the story is forgiven $10,000 talents. That figures out to be 150,000 years wages for the average worker in that day and age! Makes seventy times seven look pretty puny by comparison.

The offer of the servant to pay off the debt over time is of course ridiculous, suggesting the kind of unrealistic boldness that comes of human desperation. Most of us have been there before. Just look at our national debt, or the problems related to the recent and ongoing mortgage crisis. We can relate. Undoubtedly those listening to Jesus could relate. To be forgiven all that debt with no conditions, no strings attached, is beyond belief.

Here we are all meant to pause. For the repentant among us, even the desperate and unrealistic among us, God wants to love us that much and to forgive us that much. It has been suggested by many more insightful than I that what is at stake here are not huge, gigantic, overwhelming sins on our part. It is all the little things that add up.

As a friend has observed upon taking a sweater out of storage, when we see one or two holes in the sweater we think, “This can be repaired.” But when we discover the moths have literally eaten dozen of holes out of the sweater, we consign it to the trash.

Lots of little holes make the garment appear worthless. Lots of little sins make repentance look impossible. Evidently God does not see it that way. Evidently God does not mean to consign us to the trash.

We say this forgiveness is without condition, but by the end of the story we learn there are in fact two conditions. For those of us who accept such an overflowing measure of God’s mercy, the condition is that we extend an equal measure of forgiveness to others. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,” Jesus teaches us to pray.

There is a video that shows a woman alone in church saying the Lord’s Prayer. Each time she says a line, God speaks to her. When she gets to, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,” she tries to sneak out. God stops her, and asks, “What about your brother?” “I knew you were going to say that,” she blurts out! “How can I forget what he has done to me?” “I don’t know,” asks God. “How do you want your forgiveness: with or without forgetting?” Long Pause. “How about you just begin to think about forgiving your brother, and I’ll do my best to forget all the times you have forgotten about me?” “You got me again,” she says, and the dialogue continues.

The second condition is that this forgiveness we extend to others must come from the heart. That is not out of duty or from some reasoned argument. If accepting such generous and extravagant forgiveness is difficult, extending it to others is even more so at times. Having it come from the heart is often beyond the pale. Yet, as Christians, this is our calling.

To wrap our metaphorical heads around all of this is challenging. Add to that the very challenging and complex times in which we live.

This week collectively we remembered 9/11. We are quick to want to pass judgement on those who have afflicted our nation with immeasurable hurt. Yet, we have been slow to even begin to examine all the tiny moth holes in our own garments of policy and life- style, not to mention our disregard for the global ecology. There is much for which we can all ask for forgiveness, as individuals, as a church, and as a nation. “Forgive us our sins,” teaches Jesus.

It is as difficult to grasp the measure of mercy God willingly extends to us. It is even more difficult to imagine just how we might extend the same measure of mercy to others.

Yet, our individual and collective health and security depends on gaining some understanding of this and acting on this. Holding onto all the hurt, anger, and judgment of ourselves and others just gets exhausting as time goes on. Letting go and letting God hold onto it and take care of it all in the end may be the only thing that makes any sense at all.

This will be equally challenging as we begin to move beyond our present circumstances meeting in this chapel and begin to look for a new parish home or homes. It will be all too easy to focus on the circumstances that bring us to this moment rather than letting the past go, living in the present, and moving forward to wherever it is that God in Christ is leading us. Make no mistake, God is with us. I trust we will have a better understanding as to what forgiving seventy times seven looks and feels like when this chapter of our corporate life together ends and our new adventure with God begins to take shape.

Turns out God does not wish to toss us into the trash bin of moth eaten sweaters after all!
The Parable of the Incredible Amazing Forgiving God! God will not toss us into the trash bin of moth eaten sweaters, but instead will provide a new home and new congregation for each and every one of us.
Let us bless the Lord!
Thanks be to God! Amen.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

To Be, Or Not To Be

4 September 2011/Proper 18 - Matthew 18:15-20 The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland
Take Arms Against A Sea of Troubles
In the end, it seems that Jesus wants our prayers to be answered. Jesus promises to be in our midst when we pray together. Just what does he mean? Because right now we have a lot for which we might pray: an earthquake and a hurricane all in one week. Add to that three funerals, power outages, building inspectors, school openings (or Not!), street closings and a partridge in a pear tree! It all reminds me of this prayer from Stanley Hauerwas following Hurricane Hugo in 1996:

OK God, Job-like we feel enough is enough. Is a hurricane a Behmoth? What are we to say to you: Are you in a hurricane? We fear acknowledging that you may be. We want to protect you. We want to think you and your creation are benign. The result, of course, is to rob you of your creation. The hurricane becomes “just nature,’ but “just nature” cannot be your creation. Do we dare believe that Christ could still the winds? We want our world regular, predictable, not subject to disorder or chaos. So if you are in the hurricane, please just butt out. We confess that we have lost the skill to see you in your creation. We pray to you to care for the injured, those in shock, those without housing, those in despair, but how can you do so if you are not in the hurricane? We confess we do not know how to put this together. We want you to heal our hurts, but we really do not want to think you can. We want to think you make it possible for us to help one another, but it is not clear why we think we need your help. Help us to call for help. Amen. (Stanley Hauerwas,Prayers Plainly Spoken (Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL:1999)

We might notice that Jesus speaks about prayer while talking about something with which we are all too familiar: conflict in the church, conflict in the community of faith. He lists what we might call Category 1, 2 ,3 and 4 disputes - each causing greater and greater destruction within the community.

For Category 4 – the offender refuses to listen to anyone – he seems to commend shunning or excommunication. That’s how one would treat Gentiles and tax collectors.

Is this the same Jesus who was rendered repentant by the Canaanite woman? Is this the Jesus who stands accused of sharing meals with Gentiles, tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners? Is Jesus advocating shunning and excommunication? Or shared meals with our adversaries? How do we know? Can he mean both?

Then comes all this binding and loosing business again. This was a system whereby the rabbis would look at each case individually and render a verdict. How do we apply a Torah law – the Bible – to a particular case? When do we enforce the rules? When do we suspend them? Can you harvest wheat on the Sabbath? If people are hungry? Just for fun? Just for profit?

Once upon a time in the 1970’s an Episcopal Priest, Joseph Fletcher, tried to introduce this binding and loosing as a way to do Christian moral ethics and decision making. He called it Situation Ethics. This seems to be what Jesus was talking about. Fletcher, however, was treated like a Gentile and a tax collector. He was vilified. Mocked. Derided. Shunned. Not invited to the dinner table.

Jesus says where two or three are gathered in his name, he is there. So go ahead and ask whatever you want. Note, however, the caveat: at least two people on earth must agree on something – the same something! Anything! Ah, there’s the rub, reminds the Bard of Avon!

Now this phrase, “two or three” had meaning back then. This meant you were gathered with others to study Torah and later Talmud so you could discuss when to enforce and when to suspend certain rules. If one were to look at a page from Talmud, it is like peeling an onion: layer upon layer of meaning, interpretation and debate. Who is right? Is anyone wrong? It generally goes, “Rabbi X said this, Rabbi Y said this, Rabbi Z said this and then they all had dinner and went home!” We pause to consider: must there be winners and losers to be faithful to Jesus?

He seems to be saying, the community that pays due diligence to scripture, prayer, study, Sabbath time, tithing and regular worship has its prayers answered. Because God in Christ is there, God is engaged in our struggle to find meaning in moments like this. God is in the midst of the hurricane AND the earthquake much the same way we are – as a companion on the way, even in the midst of our suffering. Remember, Jesus has just told the disciples what will happen in Jerusalem, and invited them to pick up their crosses and follow him! The question is not, “Is God in the hurricane?” The question is, “Are we with God in the hurricane?” Are we gathered, in twos and threes, with God at moments like those we faced last week? Are we gathered in twos and threes with God in the midst of every moment?

We need to be prepared, however, for the answers to our prayers to surprise us – shock us really – stretch us to new ways of knowing, meaning, seeing and being. The past two weeks have already resulted in conflict, disagreement, frustration, and great sadness – lives were lost, towns destroyed, was there too much hype, did the hype save lives, is the power being restored quickly enough? Oh, not to mention the debt ceiling debacle, and can the President address a joint session of Congress when he wishes to do so?

Some tell us that God sends us hurricanes and earthquakes to punish us or get our attention. I don’t think so. It is more likely that when we are already paying attention to God – together in prayer and study and worship - a crisis like this takes on meaning, and we begin to see where God is in it, and where we should be with God and with others.

Perhaps we begin to see that out of our time together in study and prayer emerges a time for action – being precedes doing – prayer is action, action is prayer. We might even see that there really is no time for conflict stages one, two, three and four in the community if we were to be about doing the things God is calling us to do. To be, or not to be. Begging the questions: Where are we? Where are we in the kind of life Jesus calls us to live?

A rabbi who lived at the time of Jesus, Rabbi Hillel, said the following:
If I am not for myself, then who is for me? If I am for myself alone, who am I?
If not now when?
When, indeed? Ah, that is the question! Be all our sins remembered!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Take Off, Take Off Your Shoes

28 August 2011/Proper 17A – Exodus 3:1-15/Romans 12:9-21/Matthew 16:21-28
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills
Take Off, Take Off Your Shoes
Moses and the burning bush. Moses is a fugitive on the run. He is tending his father-in-law’s flock. A bush is burning but is not consumed. A voice speaks to him from the burning bush. Moses approaches the bush but the voice says, “Stop and come no closer. Remove your sandals from your feet for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Moses, the fugitive from the law, is then called to lead a mission – to lead God’s people out of slavery in Egypt into new life in a new land. Moses wants to know to whom he is speaking. Wouldn’t we all?

In perhaps the single most iconic moment in the Bible the bush replies, “I am who I am….tell them ‘I am’ has sent me to you.” This is key to understanding the entire New Testament.

Jesus repeatedly says to people, “I am….” “I am the true vine,” “I am the true bread that comes down from heaven,” “I am the way….”

Remembering all this gives this episode with Jesus and Peter make sense. Jesus tells everyone willing to listen that he must go to Jerusalem, suffer, be killed and on the third day rise again from the dead. Peter says, in effect, “No way! God forbid! I just identified you as the Christ, God’s anointed one, God’s messiah, and now you are saying this? This must never happen!”

Do we see what happens in that moment? Peter forgets to take off his shoes. Peter forgets he is standing on Holy Ground? For you see, Peter is talking to “I am.”

This is the great scandal of Christianity – Jesus and the voice in the bush are one and the same. This has been a scandal from the very beginning. Peter is not alone. Well meaning Christians, bishops even, are writing books right now saying, “God forbid! This cannot be! Jesus was just a man like you and me. Nothing more, nothing less.”

If those who deny our Lord is Lord of all are right we might as well sleep in on Sunday morning. The only sin greater than idolatry would be the sin of hubris – excessive pride or arrogance. Peter has it. Those abandoning our experience of Jesus as God AND Man have it. The Church often has it. Our nation often has it. And the moment that I identify someone else as having it, I am in danger of having it. That’s just how pervasive and tricky hubris is.

Listening to Naomi Tutu addressing the Opening Convocation at Saint Timothy’s School for Girls on Saturday, her main point was that a good education should help you to see and to learn those things about which you are wrong, but usually feel that you are so right. Like Peter, we really don’t like that. We never want to learn that we are wrong about anything – and that is when hubris gets in our way.

Look at the Church’s history. A long history of Anti-Semitism, the Inquisition, the Crusades, complicity with slavery, racism….the list goes on and on. Our country, arguably the best nation on earth, frequently suffers from the sort hubris that believes that the entire world would be better off if every country and everyone were just like us. Not to mention just how we have utterly ignored the urgings of Saint Paul to leave vengeance to the Lord, to feed our enemies if hungry, and give them something to drink if they are thirsty. Jesus himself urges us to love our enemies. How often do these words appear in our public rhetoric? There are all kinds of assertions that ours is a “Christian” nation. Just where do humility and love of enemies play a role in our nation’s common life? Whether those enemies are on the other side of the world or just on the other side of the aisle?

I believe we are meant to see that the antidote to hubris is taking off our shoes. We are to honor others, not vilify them. We are to remember we are standing on Holy Ground. Shoes are a sign of affluence, bare feet are a sign of humility and solidarity with those Jesus loves, the poor, the disadvantaged, those who are lonely and isolated due to bigotry and discrimination of all kinds.

Taking off our shoes begins with believing that this is God’s world, God’s creation, the earth and everything therein (Psalm 124). It begins with an attitude of gratitude, of thanksgiving for all that this good earth has to provide for us. Taking off our shoes means recognizing that we stand on Holy Ground on this earth, before God and before one another.

Some years ago, at least 60 or more, Woody Guthrie wrote this song – a modern-day psalm, really. Singing it may help to bring us back to an understanding of where we are, which may help us remember who we are and whose we are. Peter, like Moses before him, eventually took off his shoes and listened to the Lord. With any luck we may, like Peter, get back to our rightful places behind Jesus and let him lead us the way to life in its fullest. Or, like Moses, against all odds, strive for justice and peace for all people, leading people out of bondage into freedom – helping the world to be a place where all people are recognized as God’s people.

Holy Ground
Take off, take off your shoes
This place you’re standing, it’s holy ground
Take off, take off your shoes
The spot you’re standing, its holy ground

These words I heard in my burning bush
This place you’re standing, it’s holy ground
I heard my fiery voice speak to me
This spot you’re standing, it’s holy ground

That spot is holy holy ground
That place you stand it’s holy ground
This place you tread, it’s holy ground
God made this place his holy ground

Take off your shoes and pray
The ground you walk it’s holy ground
Every spot on earth I trapse around
Every spot I walk it’s holy ground

Every spot it’s holy ground
Every little inch it’s holy ground
Every grain of dirt it’s holy ground
Every spot I walk it’s holy ground

Words –Woody Guthrie, copyright Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc 2001

Hear Holy Ground: