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!