Saturday, April 30, 2011

Credo Sunday

1 May 2010 - Easter 2-B / John 20: 19-31
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Mount Calvary Episcopal, Baltimore, MD
Credo Sunday

This Gospel in John is what is traditionally read every year the Sunday after Easter. For reasons that become less and less clear to me, we somewhat smugly refer to this as “Doubting Thomas Sunday.” Which is too bad.

It is too bad because such a designation reinforces a number of misunderstandings and wrong assumptions about the heart of the Christian Faith. Beginning with a decidedly negative connotation to the word “doubt.” We assume doubt to be bad, or even the opposite of faith, we tend to think of Thomas as something less than a faithful disciple of Jesus.

Whereas, doubt has been seen by many, such as the great twentieth century theologian Paul Tillich, not as the opposite of faith, but as an element of faith itself. Or, as Frederich Beuchner has put it, “Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.” (Wishful Thinking, [Harper, San Francisco: 1973] p.20)

“Faith,” as described in the Letter to the Hebrews, “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”(Heb 11:1) An example given in that epistle is Abraham taking off on a journey with no maps. Faith is not knowing where you are going, but going anyway. I have faith that my friend is my friend. I cannot prove that friendship. And when I experience that friendship I have no need to prove it. And were I to try and prove it through some sort of testing, the friendship goes bad and becomes no friendship at all. So it is with God in Christ.

I have faith or even believe that a certain piece of music is beautiful, but I cannot even begin to prove its beauty. I experience it as beautiful, but cannot necessarily demonstrate its beauty. So it is with God in Christ.

So we have the disciples, minus Thomas the Twin, who have an experience of the Risen Lord. We should note, however, that they do not say they believe Jesus has risen. They do not say they have faith in the risen Lord. They only say, “We have seen the Lord.”
They have experienced Jesus again after the crucifixion.

Thomas wants to have a similar experience. Thomas wants evidence. You might say he is an early scientist - at least an empiricist. We could say whatever doubt Thomas may have harbored moved him to want to share in their experience. And in all honesty, at the end of the day, we are here because we want to share in their experience as well.

What is interesting, is what Thomas says when he does share the experience:
“My Lord and my God!” Even more interesting is Jesus' response. He does not chastise Thomas. He simply says, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe." That would be us. And anyone listening to or reading John's gospel, written at least 70 years or more after the resurrection.

Thomas says, "My Lord and my God." Remembering that John's gospel begins with the claim that Jesus, the Word, the logos, is God. So Thomas's declaration stands as an early, if not the earliest creedal statement, alongside Martha’s, “I believe that you are the Anointed One who is coming into the world.”

I suggest creedal because the very first word of both the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds is the word credo. This Latin word is commonly translated as, “I believe.” And because we are modern people we tend to understand belief in its post-enlightenment, post-scientific sense as assent to statements that are verifiable and true. This has the effect of making Christian Faith a matter of the head, implying that the important thing is to believe the right set of claims.

Credo, however, in its Latin roots means literally, “I give my heart to.” Which has the sense of saying, I commit my loyalty to, I commit my allegiance to, this is how I see the world in my heart.

In the world of the Bible, and in the world of Jesus and Thomas, the heart represents a deeper place of the self, a deeper dimension of belief than thinking, willing, and feeling; deeper than our intellect, emotions and volition. The heart is deeper than the head and any ideas we might have. In fact, prior to the 17th century, the word “believe” did not mean believing a set of statements or propositions.

The object of believing expressed in the creeds was not statements, but a person. That person is God, Son and Holy Spirit. So when Thomas and John the evangelist speak of belief, it is credo, it is giving one’s heart to Jesus as God. That is, to believe means to love. What we believe is what we “belove.” Faith is about “beloving” God in Christ. It is about being in relationship with God.

So that when Jesus says the great commandment is to Love God and Love neighbor, he is talking about relationships. He concludes, “Upon these two relationships hang all the law and the prophets.”

The law and the prophets are the first two parts of the Hebrew Bible, the whole Bible of Jesus. So that he says all of scripture depends on these two relationships: loving God and loving neighbor. Or, we are to love God and that which God loves. Which is all creation and everything and everyone threin.

When Thomas says, “My Lord and my God,” I believe it is his way of saying, “I give my heart to God and all that God loves.” This is the heart of the Christian Faith, which is itself a way of the heart. This is why we might do well to call this Credo Sunday instead of “Doubting Thomas Sunday”: Credo, a day to give our hearts to God and all that God loves. Amen.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Warm, Happy Fruit Are We!

Easter 2011 – The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills
I believe it is important to see the events from Palm Sunday to Easter Morning not as a series of separate events, but as one continuous act by God for our salvation. So, beginning with Good Friday, the sequence goes something like this in Matthew's telling of the story. On the cross, with a loud voice, Jesus gives up his Spirit. At once, just up the road at the Temple, the curtain before the Holy of Holies is torn from top to bottom, the earth shakes, tombs spilled open and the bodies of many who had "fallen asleep" came out of the tombs and went through the holy city, appearing to many.

I try to imagine being a Roman centurion on the ramparts of the city watching this scene unfold. I am thinking perhaps it is time to find another job!
Alleluia Christ is Risen. The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Joseph of Arimathea gives Jesus his own tomb, hewn out of rock, rolling a great stone over the opening of the tomb while several of the women look on. The men have taken off long ago, such is the power of crucifixion. The next day, as we heard Saturday morning, some officials ask Pilate to secure the tomb "lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, 'He has risen from the dead...'" Pilate, seemingly unconcerned, tells them to do it themselves, which they do. They seal the tomb and post a guard. Can you lock God out? Can you lock God in?

Mary Magdalene and "the other Mary" return the next morning. Another earthquake, this time a "great earthquake", an angel of the Lord arrives, his appearance like "lightening, and his raiment white as snow." Think, South Beach, mid-seventies, Stayin' Alive! The guards tremble and fall like "dead men." The angel, having rolled back the stone is sitting on it instructing the women, "Do not be afraid!" Do not be afraid! That’s how the story began. The miracle, apparently, is that they are not afraid. The angel shows them the empty tomb and instructs them to meet the risen Jesus back in Galilee. They go to tell the disciples. What would you do? What would I do?
Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Matthis Grunewald's depiction of this scene from the sixteenth century Isenheim Altarpiece (1510-1516) is more surreal than Salvador Dali could ever imagine! The guards are scattered like so many bowling pins, sprawled every which way. Grunewald shows us what no one reportedly saw - there is Christ, heading upwards into the Sun, his white linen shroud trailing and changing colors, turning royal red and finally gold! Rays of golden light emitting from his wounds! His likeness transmuted into golden light, like the transfiguration all over again, but even more intense. A large rock appears to be floating in the background. Breathtaking is the only word that approximates Grunewald's imagining of "the" moment.

It is this Jesus the two Mary's encounter on the road, calling to them with an almost casual, “Greetings!” Greetings? It is his voice, his "Greetings", but wow! The Marys had never seen him quite like this before.
Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

They respond by grabbing on to him. Like a two year-old grabbing on to your ankles kind of holding on for dear life. Imagine, holding tight, holding fast – “so hold, hold, me tight, me tight, tonight, tonight” kind of tight!

Says Matthew, “They worshipped him.” Which is what brings us to his table. Which is what brings us here today. To tell the story, to take the bread, to bless the bread, to break the bread, to share the bread and the cup – drawing him into our selves and us closer to him. All of us closer to one another. All of us closer to the whole world in which, for which and to which God shows no partiality. We worship Him!
Alleluia Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

They are holding onto Jesus who tells them to let go. He tells them to get the brothers and meet him back in Galilee. He wants to bring us all together again. And again and again and again.

Whatever else resurrection means, we may say that the relationships Jesus establishes are not severed by what happens to him. Death has not won in this regard. The relationships he establishes here in this font, at this table, ‘neath the light of this Paschal Candle, cannot and will not be undone by crucifixion, by betrayal, by denial, by our failures to understand what he was about. Like the women, like the disciples, his love for us continues so that we may love one another.

What the women see and are holding onto is his steadfast love which endures. Indeed, it endures to this day. Hold on for dear life! Hold on for life that is real life!
Alleluia Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Yesterday morning we read a marvelous text by Rainer Maria Rilke. "I cannot conceive that the cross should remain, which was, after all, only a crossroads. It certainly should not be stamped on us on all occasions like a brand-mark. For is the situation not this: he intended simply to provide the loftier tree, on which we could ripen better. He, on the cross, is this new tree in God, and we were to be warm, happy fruit, at the top of it.

"We should not always talk of what was formerly, but the afterwards should have begun. This tree, it seems to me, should have become so one with us, or we with it, and be it, that we should not need to occupy ourselves continually with it, but simply and quietly with God, for his aim was to lift us up into God more purely."

We are the afterwards! We need not be preoccupied with the cross, but to center ourselves simply and quietly with God. Allow ourselves to be lifted up into God more purely! And that way become, warm, happy fruit!
Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Warm, happy fruit indeed! Whatever resurrection is, it is a relationship, a covenantal relationship that does not happen just to Jesus, but to all who share this covenantal relationship with him at all times and in all places. Here, now, today, this happy morning. Age to age shall sing, “Welcome happy morning!" Welcome all you who eat with him and drink with him! Welcome all you who are tired and heavy laden! Welcome to you who have just a mustard seed’s worth of faith! Welcome to you stranger, resident alien, widows and orphans! Jesus loves you!

Let me give you rest. Let me give you daily bread. Let me give you something to drink that will quench all your thirst. Let me dry your eyes so you can see further. Let me carry you when tired. Let me hold your hand as we cross into the promised land.

He is here. He is risen. He wants you. He needs you. He needs your heart and your love. The world needs your heart and your love. God needs your heart and your love.

Hold onto him and he will set you free. Hold on to him and he will send you to bring the news to others. Hold on to him and he will never let you go.
Alleluia Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Moment in Time

Good Friday Reflections 2011
Saint Timothy's School
Chaplain Kirk Kubicek

The earliest Christian traditions, predating the writing of what we now call the New Testament or Christian Scriptures, was some version of the narrative just read. We have early accounts of early followers of Jesus gathering in Jerusalem each year to commemorate the last events of our Lord's life, his death and his resurrection. These were and are to be seen all as one event, not separate events - one continuous divine intervention on the part of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus. We must leave it to those in the physical sciences to resolve the question of time - is it continuous, is it a single moment. I have come to think we do a great disservice to have all these separate worship traditions during Holy Week, carving it up into small bites, constituent parts, since perhaps we lose our focus on the main result of it all - Christ is risen! This was an early Christian greeting: Christ is risen! To which one would reply, He is risen indeed.

But here we are on what has long been called Good Friday. Since the earliest days of the Christian Community people of faith have pondered several questions about this day we call Good Friday. They all tend to fall into three areas: Why did Jesus die? What does his death mean? Why do we call it Good Friday? There are no clear or single answers to any of these, despite two millennia of attempts - just a lot of ponderings, theories, ideas grounded in people's experiences.

Why Jesus died is perhaps the easiest question to answer. He had become a great nuisance to a lot of people who had positions of power and authority. Add to the fact that he was causing the great throngs of crowds gathered in Jerusalem for Passover to become overly excited that perhaps the end of the Roman occupation was near. Perhaps this young man from Galilee would lead the revolt. Pilate, the bureaucrat appointed by Caesar to keep things calm in Jerusalem, was persuaded that something had to be done to settle things down. Rome, like the Babylonians before them, and other ancient empires, made examples to citizens and non-citizens alike by executing people by the side of the roads or just outside a city - the message: this could happen to you if you do not obey our laws.

The odd thing is that after much research and scholarship on all of this, no one has found a law Jesus had broken, either by Jewish law or Roman law. It appears that he was just on the verge of causing too much trouble - perhaps an insurrection, which is strange for one who taught the kind of pacifism that has inspired the likes of Ghandi, Martin King Jr, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu to use nonviolent means to bring about change.

As to what it means, the standard answer is that Jesus, who we believe to be God incarnate, that is God come to us as a man, was lifting a debt from all the rest of us - the rest of us being understood as people who had fallen into so much sin that there would be no way to "pay the debt" by ourselves - so God graciously, charitably settles the debt giving us a chance to begin again - to start over - to go and sin no more. This we refer to theologically as atonement - our at-one-ment with God. Fortunately for us and for the whole world quite a few people have responded positively to this offer to begin again and dedicated their lives to making the world a better place. We call them saints, although not one of them ever thought of themselves as such. They were just ordinary people like you and me who see in Jesus a better way to honor God and honor one another.

As we heard him say on Wednesday, we are to love one another as he loves us. Then he dies. But we are those people who know the rest of the story. And we know that he did not stay dead for very long. We say three days, but from noon Friday to dawn Sunday is a very short three days! He was ready to get back to work - his work being to show us the Way - the Way of Love for the whole world- to love God and love neighbor as He loves us.

Which is why Good Friday is Good. We are not meant to focus much on the pain, the agony and the shame of it all - and believe me, for his earliest friends it was a shameful scandal to see their Lord and Master hanging on a Roman cross.

We are meant to see that no greater love has any one man had than to lay down his life for his friends - and, as we heard Wednesday, we are his friends if we love one another.

I will close with a poem that sort of sums this all up: It is by Scott Cairns, a Professor of English and Director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Missouri - titled
Blood Atonement:

This much we might say with some assurance:
a crucifixion occurred, apparently
gratuitous, but a harsh intersection -
tree and flesh and some iron. We might add
that sufficient blood resulted to bring about
a death, the nature of which we still puzzle.

As to why? Why the blood? Why the puzzle?
It seems that no one who knows is saying,
which is not to say we lack opinion.

Still, while we suffer no shortage of dire
speculation, hardly any of it
has given us anything like a clue.

All we dare is that it was necessary,
that we have somehow become both culprit
and beneficiary, and that we

are left to something quite like a response
to that still lost blood, to the blameless world.

from Scott Cairns, Compass of Affection, (Paraclete Press, Brewster, MA: 2006) p.72

We are here now to ponder the events of this day - and then to resolve: just how ought we respond? Amen.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Incarnation

The Passion According to Matthew - A few thoughts...
Philippians 2:5-11/Matthew 27:1-54

"Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus," prays St. Paul. Phil 2:5"

Palm Sunday has become The Sunday of the Passion. Why? The practical reason appears to be that fewer and fewer Christians these days take part in all dimensions of Holy Week so that fewer and fewer are in Church on Good Friday to hear the story read. Yet, it is long understood that at one time and for decades if not longer, the Passion Narratives were all we had - that and Paul's letters. We often forget that Paul is our earliest witness in the New Testament. More on that in a moment.

But more to the point, once Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday the trouble begins. He and his followers do not have the luxury of enjoying those few moments of excitement, hosannas, palms and an expectant and jubilant crowd of all manner of poor, lame, and otherwise destitute outsiders of life in the Empire of Rome and the Temple precincts of Jerusalem. Once inside the gates of the City of Peace Jesus is causing all sorts of trouble - overturning the tables of those who provided the necessary commerce for offering the appointed sacrifices. It is difficult to imagine a secular analog in our world today: Destroying the ticket booths, souvenir stands and food and drink concessions at the Super Bowl? Indeed, in Matthew's account, we have the Temple incident and Jesus immediately leaves town to hideout in Bethany. The next time he enters the city it is one argumentative scene and parable after another until his arrest. So the simple fact appears to be that the moment of Palm Sunday was just that - a brief momentary high that devolved into chaos and danger almost immediately. Many scholars agree, the Temple Incident was cause enough for his arrest. And reason enough for Pilate to make an example to the Passover crowds of just what lies in store for those who dare to challenge the Pax Romana.

All that aside, much has been written and said in an attempt to understand why Jesus died? Just what does it all mean? Curiously, Paul, our earliest witness, does not seem to be concerned with such questions at all. Paul is not at all concerned about why wicked men would do such an evil thing - after all it is the very machinery of those who desire to wield power in every age - but rather, to focus our attention on a good and loving God who has done a gracious, generous and charitable thing - forgive us our sins.

Time does not allow for any serious examination of how this is accomplished. There is in fact no such thing as a doctrine of atonement, but rather many varied and competing theories. Again, it is Paul in his letter to the Romans who states that "God shows his own love for us in that Christ died for us while we were still sinners." Romans 8:5 More to the point, in our snippet from Philippians we learn that although "he was in the form of God, [he]did not regard equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness." Phil 2:5ff

That is, as Luther observed, Good Friday/Passion Sunday and Christmas celebrate the same truth - that of the Incarnation, that God becomes man for our sake because God loves us that much. Any understanding of atonement needs to begin with Incarnation. No less than Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, observes that this story is not about appeasing a God offended by our sin - the cross is not part of a mechanism of injured right, but rather quite the reverse. "... it is the expression of the radical nature of the love that gives itself completely, of the process in which one is what one does and does what one is; it is the expression of a life that is completely being for others." God is Love. Jesus is God. Jesus shows us how to live a life that is "being for others."

That is, all this is not meant for us to focus on suffering and punishment. Punishment is suffering the just consequences for one's sins. That does not pertain to Christ. And astonishingly enough, the text barely gives six words to the crucifixion in Matthew! Rather, we are to consider Christ's work as charity, as a voluntary satisfaction and recompense for our wrong doing.

It is this satisfaction and act of loving charity that is "completely being for others" that we memorialize in the Eucharist - the one sacrifice once offered on our behalf is still being offered on our behalf today.

As Saint Anselm has put it: "Just as there is one Christ who has sacrificed himself for us, so there is one offering and one sacrifice that we offer in the bread and wine...[it is Christ the Redeemer himself who] every day without interruption...sacrifices the burnt offering of his body and blood for us."

As we remember one more time the events of that Friday so many many years ago, may we remember Paul’s prayer for us. May we remember that there are those whose lives are lived on the cross with Christ day in and day out. May we remember that Political and Religious leaders continue to be blinded by the myopia of experience and impatience with complexity, misusing and misdirecting the power and possibility of their respective positions of public trust.

As we listen to this story, and each time we come to this altar for refreshment, may we remember we come to receive the body and blood of Christ, not take the elements, so that in receiving them we might know ourselves even now to be living members of his Body, the Church. That it is to this we say Amen before we receive what we have become by baptism..

To let the mind of Christ become the same mind that is in us means to become cooperators in him with respect to everyone and everything else – to seek and serve Christ in all persons; to strive for justice and peace for all persons; to respect the dignity of every human being. With God’s help and an attitude of receiving and self-giving, with no eye on reward nor claim to return, we may yet hear the good news in this ancient story so that we may indeed let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus.

The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, According to Saint Matthew….

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Be Light In The Darkness

3 April 2011/Lent 4A - John 9:1-41
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter's at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

It struck me the other day that the gospels need to be approached as a sort of unfolding - the unfolding of who Jesus is and what that can mean about who we are called to be. So perhaps it helps to think of a time-lapse video of a flower opening, one petal at a time until the entire flower is open and we can see every detail down to the tiniest specks of pollen on the stamen and anthers. The difference being that the gospels begin by saying just who Jesus is.

John's gospel begins with the most astonishing claim: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."

There are all kinds of things that can be said about this story of The Man Who Was Born Blind: things about sin, about blindness both literal and metaphorical, about miracles, about how societies divide themselves, the barriers we erect for those not just like us and so on.

Yet, the most fundamental purpose of the story as it works in John's gospel is to illuminate, if you will, the essence of who Jesus is. The revelation comes from his own mouth: "I Am the light of the world." John has already told us this "in the beginning." And we need always to remind ourselves that whenever Jesus utters the words, "I Am," we are meant to recall that sacred moment of self revelation at the Burning Bush when Moses is being given a task and asks, "Who shall I say sent me?" The voice from the bush replies, "I Am who I shall say...I Am sent me to you."(Ex 3:14)

The very first word God utters in creation is, "Light!" Jesus says, "I am the light of the world." This story sheds light on just what that means. And what it means is justice for all people and the need to respect the dignity of every human being.

In Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, the protagonist is Jean Valjean - who is forever called by his prison number, 24601. A person reduced to a number. The stage version of the story depicts prisoner 24601 as a complex character. Is he just a thief, plain and simple? Is he a victim of an unfair system of justice? Is he a compassionate businessman and mayor? A benevolent step-father? A valiant revolutionary of the Paris Uprising of 1832? A compassionate liberator of his most persistent enemy, Inspector Javert? Or, in his own words, is he "no better and no worse than any other man"?

Just as Hugo attempts to shed light on the complexities of post-Revolutionary France, so the Jesus in John seeks to shed light on all sorts and conditions of humankind - and the artificial and often arbitrary ways in which we treat others - especially others who are not at all like ourselves.

The Man Born Blind is a figure not unlike 24601. That is, like prisoner 24601, the man is cast into a lifetime of darkness - he must be a beggar on the streets. What he says carries no weight.
Even Jesus' own disciples believe he is blind because of his own or his parents' sin. Note that the man does not seek to be healed. Jesus states that he is the light of the world, and as long as he is in the world there is work to do. After Jesus restores the man's sight, he seeks to shed light on what real sin exists in the world.

For the man is not a victim of his own sin or that of his parents. Rather he is the victim of an entrenched system of fear that declares some people unclean - rather like the untouchables in India. We watch and we listen as all those people and societal institutions expected to support the Man Born Blind just step away - they recoil, even though now he can see! His parents disown him. The Pharisees chastise him. The neighbors pretend he is not the same man. All those societal systems meant to be a support just collapse, until in a most astonishing moment, the Man Born Blind becomes not only his own advocate, but he defends Jesus against all criticism as now he is lecturing the Pharisees, the doctors of the law of Moses.

He whose being has had no standing whatsoever in the community is now the one who is exhorting them, the arbiters of society and religious authority, to "see." To see the Light of the World. The Word that was with God and is God. Egads, he seems to say, this can be no other than the will and work of God!

Leave it to people to look at the wrong end of a miracle every time. The miracle is not that the man can see. The scandal is not that the Sabbath has been broken. The miracle in one part is the fact that Jesus is the Light of the World that can turn the darkness of blindness and the darkness of the world into light.

But more than that, this story is meant to demonstrate that we can be the light. We can turn darkness into light. Just as Jesus changed the life of the Samaritan woman at the well last Sunday by giving her purpose, by giving her a new identity, by asking her to do something for him - give him a drink - so the Man Born Blind is given a new lease on life.

Well anyone, the neighbors, his parents, the Pharisees, whomever, could have granted The Man Born Blind more purpose in life, made him a more integral part of the community, rather than writing him off as an outcast. Jesus says, "There is something you can do for me." The woman becomes the first evangelist. The Man Born Blind (notice how he, like her, is so marginalized that he has no name!) becomes a vocal advocate for God and The Light of the World! He has dared to step beyond the barriers the others created for him.

There is something you can do for Jesus. Whatever it is, it will heal you and heal the world. Prisoner 24601 became a person who compassionately cares for others all the while accepting and acknowledging the wrongs he has done.

If the Samaritan Woman at the Well, The Man Born Blind and 24601 can do God's work so effectively, what are we being called to do? What barriers are we willing to break down so that people like the woman, the man and 24601 can be granted personhood? Looking at the world in which we live, there is not much time given to us to ask such questions. Lent means to be such a time. Amen.