Saturday, April 28, 2012

Why Listen To Him?

Easter 4 B - Acts 4:5-12/Psalm 23/1John 3:16-24/John 10:11-18
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter's at Ellicott Mills
Why Listen to Him?
As is often the case, what is not included in our lessons may be of utmost importance in our hearing what is going on in these lessons. For instance, in Acts, a lame man has been healed, and Peter and John have been hauled before some sort of ecclesiastical court to explain why the lame man is not still lame. And our gospel narrative begins way back in chapter 8 where Jesus is accused of being possessed by a demon, and in chapter 9 when he heals the blind man by the Pool of Siloam.

Then comes one of the great “I AM” passages, “I am the good shepherd…” of which we have a portion this morning, and which ends, “There was again a great division among them because of these words. Many of them said, ‘He has a demon and is mad; why listen to him?’ Others said, ‘These are not the saying of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?’”(John 10:19-21) In this we hear what is perhaps the central question of faith, “Why listen to him?” Why listen to Jesus? Why do we listen to Jesus at all?

After all, there are so many other voices competing for our attention. Take, for instance, cable news networks, "reality shows", singing competitions,  dance competitions, Law and Order on three channels simultaneously, not to mention the commercial advertising that makes all this "Televison" possible in the first place! Then there are the politicians of all stripes: the President and his surrogates issuing "important announcements" and "speeches" almost daily; not to mention those on the Primary Circuit; Mayors and Governors all demanding we listen to them; their opponents on city councils and state legislators crying, "Don't listen to  him/her, listen to me!"; corporate interests like "Big Coal" and "Big Oil" insisting that the environment is just fine and would actually be improved if we could find a way to use more fossil fuels; investments schemes, weight reductions schemes, "this can only be purchased on TV" schemes, all the way down to the "Pocket Fisherman" scheme designed to take more money out of our already empty pockets. There are family members unhappy with the family, neighbors  unhappy with the neighborhood, immigrants seeking just some shred of dignity, talk show hosts who know it all, and of course every lay person, deacon, priest and bishop trying to convince us that they know what is best for the church!

Like those at the end of the story, and those in the Acts of the Apostles, who are offended by what Jesus says and does, there are all these competing interests and voices trying to get us to turn away from Jesus and turn our lives over to them instead.

Lord, You have spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me! Lord, I know you want me to listen to you! Lord, if you are listening for just one minute, just for one second of one minute, can you please shut out all the competing voices, interests, merchants, politicians and commentators for just a few minutes of silence? Lord, can you please still the waters, can you please make me lie down in green pastures, can your rod and your staff please, Lord, comfort me, touch me, protect me and heal me? Lord, please give me the time, the place and the space to listen to you!

When we look and listen to the shrill voices that surround us on all sides every day we begin to know the plight of the one who gave us the 23rd Psalm. And if we are paying attention at all, we will stop and listen for the Good Shepherd. We will stop and listen for Jesus. And what we will hear if we are listening closely is just two words: “I am…” For people of faith, for
people of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus, those are the only two words we need to hear: “I am….”

Jesus says, “I am…” The people of God have heard these words before. Standing barefoot, in front of a bush that burns and is not consumed, we hear a voice and we ask, like the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland, “Who are you?” The answer comes back, “I am who I am….I am what I will be….just tell them I AM sent you….” (Exodus 3:3:13-14) The one who says “I am” also says, “I know my own, and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for my sheep.” (John 10:14-15)

Let's hear what is being said: We are known. We all want nothing more than to be known. We spend a lifetime looking for relationships, reflecting on experiences, searching for someone who knows us, or even more fundamentally, to know ourselves. There is no doubt about it the most fundamental human condition: a desire to know and to be known. All these other voices competing for our attention do not really want to know us. Can’t possibly know us. But there is one who does. The one who says, “I am” wants to know us. In fact the one who says, “I am,” already knows us just as the Father knows him.

God knows us. And in that knowledge, we know God. If we really let ourselves hear what Jesus is saying, we can come to know God. Not a lot of propositions about God, not things about God, but we can experience the reality that is God. This naturally frightens us. But such fear is not mere sentiment. Rather it manifests itself in a way of life, as the First Letter of John speaks about it – a way of life that shows we respect the majesty and power of the God who says, “I am.”

A life that ought to “lay down its life for another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuse help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” (1John 3:16ff). Not even just in what we do, but in who we are.

For all those who listen to Jesus, the shepherd who becomes the Paschal lamb slain on the feast of the Passover to save us from our sins, are the sheep of his pasture. We are poor sheep like those he tends and leads beside still waters. We become his people, his body and blood for the world. "His broken body is [our] broken body upon which others feed. His blood spilled is [our] blood shed to rejoice the hearts of all." (Aidan Kavanagh, Christ, Dying and Living Still) We are sheep turned to shepherds through the mystery of the breaking of the bread.

The one hope is that as folk come to know us that they find in fact another – not the sheep turned to shepherds, but in truth The Shepherd, The Good Shepherd. It will be so if we abide in Him and He in us. It will be so if we let him set our hearts on fire with the breath of his Holy Spirit. It will be so as he opens our hearts to the Word of God. The lame will walk, the blind will see, if when he calls us by name we will only listen.

There are many competing voices. Why listen to Jesus? Because only one voice calls us each by name. Only one voice knows us by name. Only one voice says, “I am….” That Voice is Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Jesus Is Hungry

Easter 3 B - Luke24:36b-48
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Timothy's School for Girls, Stevenson, MD
Jesus Is Hungry
Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
So there is Jesus standing among his closest friends, the disciples. He says, "Shalom!" Loosely translated that comes across as, "Peace be with you." This is unfortunately an inadequate attempt to put "Shalom" into English. Shalom means so much more than "peace." Or, "peace" means much more than what we think it means. Since "shalom" means to convey that all is well with the world, all is just, all is fair, all is the way God means it to be, it ultimately means something more like, "What are you doing to make the world look more like God's world than Caesar's World?" With Caesar as a stand in for whatever the principalities and powers look like in a given era - Empires, Rulers, Governments, Multi-National Corporations and the like.

Appropriately the disciples are startled - the dead one is on the loose - and terrified - because Holy Moley, here he is! And he still has Shalom on his mind. Always has, always will, always does!

Jesus then says to the disciples, Why are you frightened?

Well, could it be that the last time we saw you you were dead, hanging on a Roman cross, soldiers all around, angry people all around, and well, as far as we knew, dead is dead?

Well, he seems to say, that is true enough. Here, look at the wounds - see my hands, see my feet. See me, feel me, touch me, heal me!

So let's get this straight, upon examining his hands and feet, hands and feet that have had nails, spikes really, driven through them are now eliciting some joy mixed with disbelief. They still think it may be a ghost. But nevertheless, joy.

Then the real Jesus steps forward. "Have you anything to eat?" Didn't he always say you have to come to God's Kingdom like a child? And how many times a day do children look at their parents and say, "What's to eat?"

Apparently, as it is in real life, so it is in the resurrection of the dead: we need something to eat, something to sustain us, something to nourish us. So does Jesus. He wants us to feed him.

So how are we to respond to his simple yet direct request? The disciples offer some broiled fish. Thus providing further evidence that in the early church, as it was with the feeding of the 4,000 and the 5,000, there likely were bread and fish Eucharists. There are even illustrations of such on the walls of early catacombs. There are still places in Europe, I have been told, where the "Eucharist" is still a foot-washing ritual devoid of bread and wine as the fourth evangelist, John, depicts it. That is, things are not always as they seem.

Jesus is hungry. He wants something to eat. They give him fish. He eats the fish. But perhaps we need to pay attention to what happens next. He "opened their minds to understand the scriptures."

Suggesting to me that perhaps his hunger is not for fish, not for bread, not for wine. Jesus is still hungry post-resurrection. He was hungry before the resurrection as well. We would do well to consider the source of his hunger before we are so quick to offer him something to satisfy his hunger. An in-depth understanding of Torah and the Prophets is to be the starting place.

Jesus was vexed with his contemporary religionists. He felt that the application of Torah, application of the Law and the Prophets, had gone off in direction not of God's liking. Instead of bringing God's people, all people, together, the administration, the understanding, of God's 638 rules, beginning with the First Ten, was being used to separate people more than bring them together.

This vexation made Jesus hungry -hungry for freedom, shalom and justice for all people - not some people, not most people, not lots of people. All people.

Had he not made it clear that the  hungry were to be fed? The naked clothed? The prisoner visited? The sick made well? The stranger, the resident alien as the Bible calls them, welcomed? The thirsty given something to assuage their thirst? Had he not self-identified with all these people, including lepers, women, orphans, children, servants, gentiles and Jews?

In a church that is increasingly consumed with power struggles within and without, a church looking for the next great Public Relations scheme to attract people, a church consumed with creating dividing lines between correct and incorrect "belief," a church consumed with parking within the lines, a church consumed with chastising nuns who are devoting "too much time" to issues of social justice, a church that in 1215 under Pope Innocent III decreed that all Jews should wear a yellow patch of cloth sewn to their coats,  a church consumed with just about anything but Shalom, is it too difficult to see that Jesus, who promises to be present in the bread and the wine, Jesus who promises that he is the stranger, he is the prisoner, he is the leper, he is the beggar on the street, he is the prostitute, sinner, the woman who is bleeding to death, the mother or father begging for their child's life, and a tax collector; a Jesus who endlessly teaches about our relationship to the land, the earth, in countless agricultural stories, parables and analogies; a Jesus who challenges every sovereign temporal and religious Power - is it too difficult to see that having been raised from being three days dead and gone and now returned and back with us for all eternity, that this Jesus whom we are to proclaim in all that we do and all that we say wants something more than a piece of broiled fish when he asks, "Have you anything to eat?"

"Repentance, " says Jesus, "and forgiveness of sins is to be all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things."

Are we? Are we really witnesses of all this?" Jesus, says Luke, is hungry. The Risen Lord, blessed be his Name, is hungry? What in the world are we prepared to offer him? What in the world are we willing to give to him? How shall our witness satisfy his hunger?

Is it possible that his "Shalom" is not a greeting at all?" Is this what he wants from us? Is he asking for Shalom? Are we prepared to give  him this Shalom he speaks of and died for? Or, are we still satisfied to just offer him a piece of broiled fish? Jesus is hungry. He wants us to be hungry too. How do we respond to Him in his need? Amen.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Liturgy of the Word for Yom HaShoah

Yom HaShoah
Holocaust Remembrance Day
Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church
April 15, 2012
Yom HaShoah Guest Speakers at Saint Peter’s Ellicott City

1996 Henry Finklestein, Survivor
1997 The Rev. Robert Patterson, Commission on Christian-Jewish Relations
1998 Rachel Bodner, Survivor
1999 Edith Cord, Survivor
2000 Fred Katz, Survivor
2001 Bluma Shapiro, Survivor
2002 Steven Saltzberg, Son of Survivor Lewis Saltzberg
2003 George Rabinek, Survivor
2004 Leo Bretholtz, Survivor
2005 Sol Goldstein, Liberator
2006 Trudy Turkel, One Thousand Children survivor
2007 Rubin Sztajer, Survivor
2008 Edith Cord, Survivor
2009 Morris Rosen, Survivor
2010 Golda Kalib, Survivor
2011 Rachel Bodner, Survivor
2012 Dr. Werner Cohen, Survivor


Enter in Silence

Narrator: (standing at the reading table)
We are a group of Christians who are moved to make a public witness, in sorrow and soul-searching, in memory of the six million Jewish people whose lives were extinguished during the Holocaust. While this act was carried out by a neo-pagan regime, we believe it was not unrelated to historic Christian attitudes toward Judaism and the Jews. We believe these attitudes have not reflected, but rather have distorted, the spirit and intent of Christ.
We seek to understand better and help in some part to heal the tragic rupture, nearly two millennia ago, between the parent experience of Judaism and the separated career of its giant child, Christianity. We believe that as Christians, we should remember that, not long after its beginning, the Christian church assumed that it was the successor to and displacer of the Jewish faith, and hence could see little reason for the continued existence of Jews except as candidates for conversion to Christianity; that, in alliance with military states, it often sought to coerce such conversions; that, in the same alliance, it segregated Jews, limited their civil rights, and from time to time condoned their persecution; in short, made them a pariah people in Western civilization. Were they not thus ready-made as scapegoats in the design of a desperate dictator?
In allowing and often sanctioning an idolatrous nationalism in their respective countries and many blood wars, Christians had a part in bringing about Naziism itself. While there was still opportunity, this same selfish nationalism, in many countries including our own United States, refused to open its door to the possible rescue of Jews from their fate under their Nazi oppressors until it was too late for six million.
In addition to the six million Jewish men, women and children who were murdered, at least five million non-Jews were victims of the Nazi regime. These victims included Poles, Slavs, Serbs, Czechs, Gypsies, Greeks, Italians, Russians, Spaniards, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and physically and mentally handicapped people.
Happily, especially since the conciliar statement of Vatican II, Christian views of Judaism are being revised. A new dialogue is opening up between Christians and Jews that today also includes that other people of the book, Islam. Today we ask ourselves as Christians to ponder this whole matter in the spirit of Christ. We seek forgiveness for the transgressions which led, with other evils, to the Holocaust. We strive for justice, reconciliation and peace among all peoples.

Let us Pray:
O God, at this hour of memorial, we recall with loving reverence all of your children who perished through the cruelty of the Holocaust. We pray, Merciful God, that your law, to which your children have borne witness in life and death, shed now a renewed light in our hearts, and that all these martyrs, nameless to us but known to you, shall not have suffered in vain. May their memory be an enduring blessing to all your children. They lie in nameless graves. Their resting places in far-off forests and lonely fields are lost to the eyes of revering kin. Yet, they shall not be forgotten. We take them into our hearts and give them a place beside the cherished memories of our beloved. They are now ours. Amen.

1st reader (standing in place)
“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in the camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.
Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to life as long as God himself. Never. - Elie Wiesel, Night
Over one and one-half million Jewish children under the age of twelve lost their lives in the Holocaust. Each one represents a poem not written, a problem not solved, a symphony never composed, laughter never heard, a painting never painted, a book never written, a dream never dreamed, a hope never hoped. . The following poem, “The Butterfly,” was written by Pavel Friedmann, age eleven, while interned in the Terezin Camp.

2nd Reader: (standing in place)
The last, the very last
So richly, brightly, dazzling yellow.
Perhaps if the sun’s tears would sing
Against a white stone …

Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly ‘way up high
It went away I’m sure because it wished to kiss the world goodbye.

For seven weeks I’ve lived in here
Penned up inside this ghetto
But I have found my people here,
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut candles in the court,
Only I never saw another butterfly.
That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don’t live in here,
In the ghetto.

3rd Reader (standing in place)
Written in Pencil in a Sealed Railway Car
here in this carload
i am eve
with abel my son
if you see my other son
cain son of man
tell him i

Narrator: Bernard Lichtenberg was a priest at the Saint Hedwig Cathedral Church in Berlin. In August 1941, he declared in a sermon that he would include Jews in his daily prayers because “synagogues have been set afire and Jewish businesses have been destroyed.” One evening Monsignor Lichtenberg did not appear at his church. A brief announcement in the newspapers informed his followers that he had been arrested for “subversive activities.” He was sent to prison, and after serving his term, sent to a concentration camp for “reeducation.” A poor student, so far as the Nazis were concerned, the ailing old priest asked to be deported to the Jewish ghetto in Lodz. His plea was ignored. He died November 3, 1943, on the way to Dachau.

4th Reader: (standing in place)
The Reverend Martin Niemoeller, a pastor in the German Confessing Church, spent seven years in a concentration camp. He wrote the following words:
First they came for the communists,
And I did not speak out because I was not a communist.
Then they came for the socialists,
And I did not speak out because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
And I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
And I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me –
And there was no one left
To speak out for me.

Psalm 130 (read in unison)
1 Out of the depths have I called to you, O LORD;
LORD, hear my voice; *
let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.
2 If you, LORD, were to note what is done amiss, *
O Lord, who could stand?
3 For there is forgiveness with you; *
therefore you shall be feared.
4 I wait for the LORD; my soul waits for him; *
in his word is my hope.
5 My soul waits for the LORD,
more than watchmen for the morning, *
more than watchmen for the morning.
6 O Israel, wait for the LORD, *
for with the LORD there is mercy;
7 With him there is plenteous redemption, *
and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.

The Holy Gospel: 20:19-31
Then, all standing, the Deacon or a Priest reads the Gospel, first saying
The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John.
People Glory to you, Lord Christ.
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

TheThe Gospel of the Lord.
People Praise to you, Lord Christ.


A Litany of Remembrance
v. O God, Creator, Redeemer and Teacher; Source of Life and Truth and Love and Power; In whom we live and move and have our being,
r. Blessed be your Holy Name.

v. Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, whose designs are beyond understanding, whose glory is without blemish, whose compassion for the sin of humanity is inexhaustible,
r. Have Mercy On Us.

v. We affirm that Judaism is a continuing bulwark of faith, that it has not been
superseded by Christianity, that God has not rejected the Jewish people, that the Jewish people have never lost their covenant with God, that salvation is available to the Jews as a covenant people, that the Jews as an historic nation are not responsible for, and therefore not to be blamed for, the death of Jesus, and that Jews should not be pressured to convert to Christianity.
r. May We Remember, Lord, and Never Forget.

v. We state that anti-Judaism in all forms should be universally condemned. We ask forgiveness for past sins and persecutions against the Jewish people. We pray that old barriers to communication and understanding will be removed and that the relationships of the church with the local and worldwide Jewish community will be enhanced.
r. May We Remember, Lord, and Never Forget.

v. O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, we pray that the broken fragments of our world may be restored to wholeness and that the vision of your heavenly city of love, peace and unity may become a reality on earth. And finally we pray for the martyred ones, that their memories may be to us a challenge and an inspiration.
r. Lord, Hear Our Prayer.

v. Exalted, compassionate God, grant perfect peace in your sheltering presence, among the holy and the pure, to the souls of our six million sisters and brothers, men, women and children of the House of Israel who along with five million others were consumed in the Holocaust. May their memory endure, inspiring truth and loyalty in our lives. May their souls and the souls of all the departed rest in peace and be bound up in the bond and covenant of our life with you.
r. May They Rest In Peace.

Narrator: (Returns to reading table)

French author Francois Mauriac offers these reflections upon meeting Eli Wiesel for the first time, just a few years after Wiesel’s liberation from the Auschwitz camps:

“And I, who believe that God is love, what answer could I give my young questioner …What did I say to him? Did I speak of that other Israeli, his brother, who may have resembled him – the Crucified, whose cross has conquered the world? Did I affirm that the stumbling block to his faith was the cornerstone of mine, and that the conformity between the cross and the suffering of men was in my eyes the key to that impenetrable mystery whereon the faith of his childhood had perished? Zion, however has risen up again from the crematories and the charnel houses. The Jewish nation has been resurrected from among its thousands of dead. It is through them that it lives again. We do not know the worth of a single drop of blood, one single tear. All is grace. If the eternal is the Eternal, the last word for each one of us belongs to him. This is what I should have told this Jewish child. But I could only embrace him, weeping.”

5th Reader: (standing in place)
On April 12, 1945, General Dwight David Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, wrote the following words in a letter to George Marshall, his Chief of Staff – describing his first visit to one of the camps liberated by U.S. Forces:

“The things I saw beggared description … The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering as to leave me a bit sick. In one room, where there were piled up twenty or thirty naked men killed by starvation, George Patton would not even enter. He said he would get sick if he did so. I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to ‘propaganda.’”

Narrator: We light eleven candles in memory of the six million Jewish people killed in the Holocaust and the five million other victims of the Nazi regime. We light candles in memory of all the men, young and old, who perished in the camps – the elderly and infirm who were immediately sent to their death, the young and healthy who were worked to their deaths, to all those who were executed.
We light candles in memory of all the women, young and old, who perished in the camps – mothers who witnessed the deaths of their children, women who risked all to bring new life into the death camps, mothers who had to choose the life of one child over another, or their life over their child’s.
We light candles in memory of the children – of young lives snuffed out before they had a chance to live, dreams never fully dreamt, let alone realized, childhoods cut short.
We light candles in honor and memory of those who survived, who lived through the nightmare and began life anew, those who had the strength to reopen their wounds to share stories with later generations, and those for whom the memory was too painful to bear.
We light candles to honor those who brought the only light to a gloomy world, who brought hope when all was dark. Those who risked their own lives to save a family, a child, one person. Those righteous gentiles, who stood as flickering flames of humanity in the darkest of times. Those who liberated the camps and brought the light of hope and freedom back into the lives of those who survived.
When the candles are lit, the overhead lights will be dimmed for two minutes while we each offer our own prayers in silence.

(Narrator sits down)

Lighting of the Candles
Eleven Candles are lit: six representing the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust, and five for the five million others who were lost: the handicapped, gypsies, homosexuals, mentally ill, “minorities” and those few who dared to speak out against or resist the National Socialist Final Solution.

Silence for two minutes

Closing Litany (All Stand)
Celebrant Now in the presence of loved ones and friends
People Before us the symbols and memories of loved ones

Celebrant For the sake of those who died
People We are linking and bonding the past with the future

Celebrant In coming together to remember the victims of the Holocaust we say that all life is sacred
People In lighting candles for six million Jews and five million others we preserve their memory

Celebrant With every light we kindle this morning we pledge ourselves to remember, not once to forget
People And we commit the victims and martyrs to your eternal care, O Lord

Unison Remembering that whether we take the wings of the morning, or dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there, Your hand will hold us, and your right hand will guide us.

6th Reader: (Standing inPlace)

"It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet, I keep them because in spite of everything I still believe people are good at heart. I simply can't build my hopes on a foundation of confusion, misery and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness. I hear the approaching thunder, I can feel the suffering of millions, and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right one of these days, that this cruelty will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again. In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals for perhaps the day will come when I shall be able to carry them out."
- Anne Frank

Celebrant The Peace of the Lord be always with you
People And also with you.

Then the Ministers and People may greet one another in the name of the Lord.

Offertory Hymn 696 By Gracious Powers Le Cenacle

Saturday, April 14, 2012

For Fear of the Jews

15 April 2012 - Yom HaShoah - John 20:19-23
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek

This is my seventeenth Yom HaShoah service at St. Peter’s. I have been asked, since the beginning, Why do we interrupt our regular service schedule? Why do we interrupt Easter Season, to hold an observance that remembers the Holocaust? My answer has always been simple: The Holocaust itself was a major interruption of Western Civilization, an interruption that could not have happened without a long history anti-Semitism supported by the Church.

I grew up in a pluralistic suburb of Chicago in the 1950’s and ‘60’s. My father had spent time after World War II rounding up Nazi war criminals. I can remember seeing pictures of the concentrations camps, pogroms, Nazi rallies and so forth in paperback books as early as elementary school. Many of my friends growing up were Jewish, and I attended several bar and bat mitzvah parties. The most memorable took place at the local YMCA. I won a dance contest at that party, and the prize was a then popular record by the Singing Nun. Talk about religious pluralism! Although the Holocaust as such was never discussed in those days, I can remember knowing at a young age that the magnitude of suffering was greater than anything I could possibly imagine.

When I went away to college I decided I wanted to know more about Jesus. I chose what was to be an important path for seeking that knowledge. I figured that Jesus was Jewish, so it made the most sense to register for the Introduction to Judaism course being taught at our college by a local Rabbi, Stanley Kessler.

The first assignment for Rabbi Kessler was to read Elie Wiesel’s slim personal account of life in the concentration camps, Night. It should be observed that it took Wiesel eleven years after Auschwitz to even begin to write this book. He wrote over 800 pages of manuscript and distilled it to 124 pages. It is now standard reading in High Schools across the country. In the fall of 1968 few people had heard of this book, in fact few of our Religion Department faculty had even heard of Wiesel, and even fewer had read it.

To say that it changed my life is not enough. To say that it changed my faith is only the beginning. It caused me to reexamine from the ground up how Christianity had allowed itself to stray so far from the humble origins of its founder, a young Israeli Jew, and to have fostered in the name of Christ an anti-Semitism that transformed a Christian and highly cultured country like Germany into a seething caldron of hate, violence and destruction against the very people to whom, as Paul says, we gentiles have been grafted.

The anonymous author(s) of John, however, write from a much later date when both Jews and Christians are under persecution by Rome. It was an atmosphere of fear in which this gospel was written. As such, Jews and Christians in first century Israel were in hiding for their lives. We had a shared history at the point in time. Our memory of that, however, is lacking. This has caused problems.

A second thing we might notice is that the text is usually translated “for fear of the Jews.” Now on the surface of it this should cause us to wonder. For all the followers in that room were Jews. What the Greek text of the New Testament says is “for fear of the Judeans.”

It is up to the reader to remember that all the Jews in the room behind locked doors were Galileans, not Judeans. Galileans were considered somewhat like country bumpkins – not sophisticated, socially inferior, from the wrong side of the tracks. Way back in chapter 1 of John, Nathaniel asks Philip who is telling him about Jesus, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” which is in Galilee? It was just as true back in the first century as it is today, not all Jews are alike, come from the same background, or think the same things.

The third thing, and the most tragic thing, is that it is all too easy to see how a text like this could be used to support anti-Semitism. “Well, if the disciples feared the Jews, how much more should we fear the Jews?” the argument might go. Whereas if you are talking about Judeans, a pluralistic culture even way back in the time of Jesus, one would be strained to make a similar argument.

We are called to be witnesses of these things. There are those in the world who deny that the
Holocaust ever happened. There are those who make it out to be a hoax, a plot, an effort to curry world opinion, a public relations stunt. Even worse, there are racist and anti-Semitic video games on the market including one called Ethnic Cleansing. On its website it states with pride, “The most politically incorrect video game ever made. Run through the ghetto blasting away various blacks and spics in an attempt to gain entrance to the subway system, where the jews have hidden to avoid the carnage. Then, if YOU'RE lucky.... you can blow away jews as they scream "Oy Vey!", on your way to their command center.” Since this game’s release in 2003, several others have hit the market, marketed by White Supremacy groups. We can never forget that such groups have only grown stronger and become better organized since the dawn of the internet.

We must also never forget that for years in the 1930’s and 40’s thousands of European Jews attempting to escape the coming Holocaust were refused entry into the United States, giving Hitler the propaganda boost of being able to say in all truth, “See, even the United States does not want the Jews.” This was in part due to immigration quotas, but also in part due to State Department policies that were in fact anti-Semitic.

Years of treacherous teachings by the church contributed to making all of this possible. Years of teachings by the church obscured the fact that the cornerstone of my faith was a young Israeli Jew. Reading Night, studying alongside my Jewish classmates for three years in college, made me aware of all this, and eventually brought me closer to Jesus than I had been before studying Judaism.

I went on in college to read every book he had written, and to write my Religion Department thesis on the work and witness of Elie Wiesel. I concluded my paper, “Wiesel’s tale is also important for people today. Wake up, people, see what you have done, see what you can do. The civilization that created Mozart, Voltaire, Beethoven – this is the same civilization that also created Dachau, Auschwitz and Hiroshima. It is our turn to choose between beauty and ugliness. Wiesel’s tale is important for religion – be it Christian or Jew. Wiesel has said on several occasions, ‘For either God is God, and I do not do enough to serve God, or God is not God, and it is my fault. We must not think it is our fault. It is our privilege.’” [Elie Wiesel, from a Lecture in Worcester, MA – 1972]

It is a difficult task, Yom HaShoah. It is an interruption. We must face into the truth of our past and at the same time lift up the lives of those who shined with the Paschal Light of Christ in humanity’s darkest hour. We must be witnesses of these things. Christians and Jews must come together to shine God’s light into the dark corners of the world today - the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

See For Yourself!

Easter Vigil 2012 – Mark 16:1-8
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills
We Awaken In Christ’s Body

The text of the Hebrew Exodus has been read and the words of the mystery have been explained. How the Sheep was sacrificed for the salvation of the people.

Now grasp this, dearly beloved: How it is new and old, eternal and transient, corruptible and incorruptible, mortal and immortal, the mystery of the Pasch.

It is old according to the law, but new according to the Logos/The Word. It is transient in terms of figure, but eternal in terms of grace. It is corruptible because of the death of the sheep, but incorruptible because of the life of the Lord. It is mortal because of the burial in the earth, but immortal because of the resurrection from the dead.

The law is old, the Logos new. The figure is transient, grace is eternal. The sheep is corruptible, the Lord is incorruptible, who was immolated as a lamb, but resurrected as God!

For as a sheep he was led to the slaughter, but a sheep he was not; and as a mute lamb, but a lamb he was not. The figure is past and the truth has been revealed: in place of a lamb it is God who has come, and in place of a sheep, man. And in man, Christ, who contains all.

Thus the immolation of the sheep, and the rite of the Pasch, and the letter of the law are accomplished in Christ Jesus. For the law has become logos, and the old has become new, coming from Zion and Jerusalem. The commandment has become grace, and type has become reality, and the lamb the son, and the sheep, man, and man, God.

For born son-like, and led forth lamb-like, and slaughtered sheep-like, and buried man-like, he has risen God-Like, being by nature God and Man.

He is all things: inasmuch as he judges, Law; inasmuch as he teaches, Word; inasmuch as he saves, Grace; inasmuch as he begats, Father; inasmuch as he is begotten, Son; inasmuch as he suffers, sheep; inasmuch as he is buried, Man; inasmuch as he has risen, God.

This is Jesus Christ to whom be Glory for ever and ever. Amen!

So there! So it was that in the city of Sardis, in Asia Minor, around the year 165, on such a night as this and before such a cloud of witnesses as this, Melito the Eunuch began to proclaim the Paschal Mystery. Few texts that I know sum up as richly and as succinctly the many layers of jubilation, the many waves of glory which in this feast wash over us and overwhelm us like the waters of Baptism. For this is the Passover, the feast of our Redemption, of our deliverance from slavery, from darkness, from sin, and from death, into the liberty, light and life of the Risen Lord.

Alleluia Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen, indeed. Alleluia!
Then there is Mark. An open tomb, a “young man dressed in a white robe,” and frightened women who "say nothing to anyone": this is where Mark leaves things for us to sort out.

The additional text in your bulletin was added by people in the church a century or two later who were disturbed, offended, confused: if the women said nothing to anyone, how did we get here?

Long assumed to be the oldest Gospel, Mark is clear and succinct: there is a large stone rolled aside by a mysterious force, a therefore open tomb, or as we tend to say “an empty tomb,” but there is a someone inside - a young messenger robed in white. The Biblical word for messenger is “angel” – the root word of the opening verse of Mark’s gospel, “evangel” or “Good News – Good Message. Have any of us noticed that this is the only appearance of an angel in all of Mark’s account?
Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia!

So Mark, arguably the oldest of the four gospels, begins with the Good News, the Evangel if you will, and concludes with Good News delivered by an angel dressed in white, seated, calmly explaining to three frightened women, “Do not be alarmed,” (always the opening line of every Good Angel), “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified (that is who He is forever and ever). He has been Raised (as he promised!); he is not here (pretty obvious, but comforting to know our eyes do not deceive us). Look, there is the place they laid him (just an empty space and silence). But go (we have a job to do, no time to linger and wonder just how this all came about), tell his disciples (who abandoned him long ago and are nowhere to be seen at the cross or the tomb!) and Peter (first called, first named of all the disciples) that he is going ahead of you to Galilee (That Jesus! Always one step or even two ahead of us!); there you will see him (We want to see him, we need to see him, we just plain need him to be alive!), just as he told you (His Word is good, the Good Angel assures us!).”
Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Or, would it be more accurate to say, “Alleluia, Christ has been Raised!”? Note the passive voice, "has been raised." Jesus is the object of the action done by another. This other has seriously disrupted the normal patterns of life and death. The women know exactly the identity of the unnamed subject of the passive verb. Fear and trembling is a time honored reaction of those in the Biblical narrative who come face to face with a revelation of the God who creates life and death in the first place. Surely God has the authority to disrupt and change things. Leaving the question for those of us reading and hearing this Word of God's: Are we willing to accept the ways in which God seeks to disrupt and change the rules of our life and world?
Alleluia Christ has been raised! The Lord is Risen, indeed. Alleluia!

“So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” End of story. End of Mark. Nothing to anyone. Nothing to anyone. So, how do we know about all of this? How do we, or how does anyone for that matter, know that Christ has been raised? How do we know the Dead One is on the loose? How can we know if they said “nothing to anyone”?

Mark of all the evangelists is perhaps the shrewdest storyteller of all. Perhaps of all time! Do we see how ending it all right there with no appearance stories, no road to Emmaus, no eating fish with the disciples, no walking through closed doors, no breathing on them, no invitation to touch his hands and his side, do we see how this engages us at the deepest dimension of our being? Mark makes us, forces us, to want to know the Risen Lord for ourselves. Mark does not leave it to chance. Mark does not leave it to hearsay. Mark does not make it easy. Because, really, go back and read the entire Gospel of Mark. Does anything come easy in his telling of the tale? Mark’s Gospel tells of a costly discipleship, a costly freedom, a freedom bought with crucifixion and carrying our own crosses.

Does it not stand to reason that if Mark’s Jesus demands that the cost of discipleship, the cost of being a Christian, is to carry a cross, that anyone who picks up that cross will do so only if they experience the Risen Christ for themselves? With the last verse of the gospel, Mark seems to say, “Don’t take my word for it. Don’t take the angel’s word for it. See for yourself. Look deep within that open tomb and see for yourself – for unless you do, you will never pick up your cross and follow Him!
Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Besides, consider for just one moment – how does one put something like The Resurrection into mere words? How is one to describe such a thing, such a one-off, one-time, reversal of all that we think we know about life and death? Sure, go ahead and read Matthew, Luke and John. Or, read the earliest account of an appearance of our Risen Lord Jesus in Paul’s letter to the Galatians - “For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed to me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ!” Gal 1.11-12

The Gospel proclaimed to me is not of human origin! Mark got that! Mark understood what Paul was saying! Paul who goes on to write in his Second Letter to the Corinthians: “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation, the old has passed away, Behold the new has come! All this is from God who through Christ reconciles us to himself and gives us the ministry of Reconciliation.” 2 Cor 5.17-18
Alleluia Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen, indeed. Alleluia!

Are any of us here willing to raise his or her hand and honestly proclaim that you are in Christ? That you have accepted the “ministry of reconciliation” he gives us and live that out every day in all that we say and all that we do? Seriously my friends, would the church look like it does if we took this ministry of reconciliation at all seriously? Would the world look like it does if we were exercising this ministry of reconciliation seriously?

If you ever thought the cost of discipleship was steep, just ask Paul, the New Testament’s earliest witness - Paul who willingly did ‘hard time’ in jail repeatedly for exercising ‘the ministry of reconciliation.” Paul was a repeat offender in exercising the ministry of reconciliation. Paul was in Christ. Paul was a new creation. Paul was of the new creation Jesus came and launched in our midst!
Alleluia Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen, indeed. Alleluia!

The Gospel, the Good News, is not and cannot be from human origin! Mark knows this better than anyone, so the women say nothing to anyone. It is up to us to see for ourselves, which means we had better get serious about seeing. We better get serious about looking. We better get serious about allowing ourselves to be made new – from the ground up, totally, completely new. We need to look into the open tomb and wake up. What Mark knows, what Paul knows, what countless Christians have known – by which I mean experienced in the deepest dimension and reaches of their being, not some mere intellectual understanding of the thing – is that once we experience the Gospel that is not of human origin, once we encounter the Risen Lord for ourselves,we will wake up! We will wake up and find ourselves having been raised – not by anything we think or do for ourselves, but like Mark and like Paul and like Jesus, we will be awakened, raised up, and find ourselves in Christ’s body.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia!

Saint Symeon the Theologian, a 10th century monastic in Byzantium puts it like this:
We awaken in Christ's body
as Christ awakens our bodies,
and my poor hand is Christ, He enters
my foot, and is infinitely me.

I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him
(for God is indivisibly
whole, seamless in His Godhood).

I move my foot, and at once
He appears like a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous? -- Then
open your heart to Him

and let yourself receive the one
who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,
we wake up inside Christ's body

where all our body, all over,
every most hidden part of it,
is realized in joy as Him,
and He makes us, utterly, real,

and everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably
damaged, is in Him transformed

and recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in His light
he awakens as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.

Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia!

May we listen to these ancient voices: Paul, Mark, Melito the Eunuch and Saint Symeon. They have known Christ in the flesh. They bear witness to life lived with the Beloved awakened "in every part of our body." They invite us to look into the open tomb ourselves. Look inside and see – the tomb is open, not empty. No it is very full – full of the real presence of the Risen Christ in the lives of those who have seen him, picked up their crosses and followed him. Look – see where they laid him?

Know, my sisters and brothers, little by little,
It takes time
Jesus will reveal to you just how much
He watches over you and loves you.
He calls you to follow him
So that you might do something beautiful with your life
And bear much fruit.

The world needs you,
The church needs you,
Jesus needs you,
They need your love and your light.

Let Jesus live in you
Go forward with him!

Alleluia Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen, indeed. Alleluia!
Alleluia Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen, indeed. Alleluia!
Alleluia Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen, indeed. Alleluia!
And so are we, and so are we! Amen!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday

Good Friday 2012 - John 18:1-19:42 -
God's Passion/Our Passion
Each year, year after year after year, Christians gather on Good Friday to rehearse this story - what we call the Passion Narrative. On Palm Sunday we read versions from Matthew, Mark and Luke. On Good Friday it has always been from John. Each gospel offers a slightly different view of what happened that day nearly 2000 years ago. It is like looking at a diamond from different angles - one sees different facets, different sparkles, different ways the light plays off the gem stone.

For John Jesus is Light - and His Light is the Life of the world. We call it Good Friday, even though it looks as if the light is extinguished. But for people of faith we know that is just not the case. We know the rest of the story. We know that the darkness has not overcome the light.

But we do know a few things about darkness in today's world. We see it from far off, we see it up close and personal. From the tragedy at the World Trade Towers, the tragedies of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to a close and dear friend of mine, Frances, who is battling brain cancer. As we sit in this magnificent chapel, even now she is in the hospital for a radiation treatment.

There is darkness for those who have lost their jobs, for the child born of a mother addicted to crack cocaine, for the homeless, the hungry, the destitute and those without jobs here and around the world. For those who live under oppressive military dictatorships, for those mother, father, sister or brother sits on death row, for those who live with HIV/AIDS. We know something about darkness.

Darkness for John is evil - specifically the evil of living under the military yoke of Rome. And even more so, the memory of Jesus standing up to the Imperial powers and the ruling religious authorities to say that a lot of people, most people, are not getting the kind of care and support they need to survive.

At my parish, St. Peter's, Wednesday evening we celebrated the life and death of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In the church we observe the date of a martyr's death, not their birthday like the rest of the country does in January. The night before he was assassinated, he had been in Memphis, TN, to support the sanitation workers, garbage men, who were striking for a living wage. Some years before that, Dr. King was incarcerated in the Birmingham, AL jail, from which he wrote a series of letters urging white Christians to join his movement to end racial discrimination - segregation, what amounted to apartheid in America.

Our preacher, my friend and colleague The Reverend Gerald Collins, reminded us of one of these letters in which King quotes one of the 20th century's most renowned theologians, Reinhold Neibuhr. Quoting from Neibuhr's book, Moral Man and Immoral Society, Dr. King reminded the white clergy of Birmingham that "groups are more immoral than individuals.". King made this astonishing observation which I believe continues to this day. It was observed that more often than not individuals rarely act immorally, or practice bad ethics on their own. Such behavior patterns usually emerge in the actions and attitudes of a group - however large or small. It is the group mentality, or to quote the sociologist Erik Fromm, the "herd mentality" that drives teh greater hatred than the individual. Think of the Holocaust, the Ku Klux Klan, Rawanda, Pol Pot, The Inquisition and similar movements throughout history.

I would approach this theory by suggesting, "evil always needs help." "Evil needs companions!" Evil, the Devil, does not and cannot act on its own in order to achieve its intended goal. By comparison, "Goodness" or "Godliness" can always stand and act on its own merits.

This is what is going on in this story about Jesus. Evil had just enough companions to crucify him on that Friday, the Day of Preparation for the Passover, which that year was to be on the Sabbath. The collusion and collaboration between the Roman soldiers and politicians, religious authorities already on the payroll of Rome, and the usual crowd of "rubberneckers" always looking for a gory site to behold was just enough to put him on a cross and let him hang there for several hours before he gave up his spirit.

It is that giving up that always gets me. In Hebrew and in Greek there is just one word that means spirit, breath and wind. All three are understood to come from God. God's breath is our breath, God's spirit is what gives us life. Here in his final act of charity toward humankind, Jesus gives up his spirit.

He does not give in to the herd mentality. He does not give in to group evil. He remains steadfast in speaking truth to power, just like Dr. King, just like Gandhi, just like so many individuals throughout human history who have made a difference.

This story we just read together is drenched with meaning. Today I want us just to focus on the fact that the choice is ours. The choice is always ours. Evil is always looking for companions. Evil is always looking for help. And the choice to side with Evil is often attractive. There always appears to be something in it for me, even if it is just the cheap thrill of watching someone else suffer.

The other choice, of course, is to stand up to Evil. To stand your ground. Not to give in to the group. To speak truth to power. Or, to simply walk away and say I will not participate in this.

The world is still a dangerous place. There is no end, however, as to how much Goodness and Godliness just one person can give to the world.

If there is one moment to remember from this Passion Narrative of John's, it is that final moment when Jesus bows his head and gives up his spirit - that moment when God's Passion becomes our Passion!

He is giving it to us. The man who healed people, helped people, fed people, gave outsiders dignity, and welcomed all to sit at his table and share a meal, gives his spirit to us.

The world needs His spirit. The world needs your spirit. You can take His spirit which he gives away, which is given for the world, not just for Christians, not just for believers, but for the whole world, and you can do something beautiful with your life and bear much fruit. The World needs you. God needs you. We all need one another. Our choice needs to be to accept that spirit of Goodness and Godliness and make it your own. When you do, what looks like a tragic story becomes good. A very good story!
Which is why we call it Good Friday.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Maundy Thursday

5 April 2012/Maundy Thursday - Exodus12: 1-14/1 Corinthians 11:23-32/John 13: 1-17, 31b-35
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek,Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills
Do As I Have Done To You
This is a night of quite mixed traditions: Last Supper, foot washing, Agape meal, altar stripping, all night vigil. Then there are instructions for the first Passover - not a Passover celebration or Seder Meal, but a description of the opening acts of the Great Escape from Egypt itself. Then there is Paul’s take on the Last Supper, which is in fact the earliest account in the New Testament, preceding the Gospel accounts by at least a decade or more. Finally there is John’s take on the Last Supper. We tend to try and do them all. And no thanks to the lectionary, we lump them all together and tend to make some wrong assumptions.

For instance, although it is often assumed that the Last Supper was a Passover meal, even a Passover Seder, John’s account quite definitely places it “before the festival of Passover.” For John, it is not Passover, it is not a Seder meal, and it is not even a traditional Friday night Sabbath Meal. Point of fact: nothing like what today constitutes a Passover Seder even existed at the time of Jesus.

So we make the wrong inference from reading the Exodus account, which describes the Passover event itself (approx. 1300 bce), not a festival or meal to remember the Great Escape. Combined with John's account of things, however, what we do take away from our first reading is that for John, Jesus is the Paschal Lamb - he is the Lamb that was sacrificed the night before the Escape, the Lamb whose blood protected the Hebrew households as the Angel of Death swept over the land of Egypt taking the life of all the first born children of the Egyptians, "from the first-born of Pharaoh who sat on the throne to the first-born of the captive in the dungeon, and all the first-born of the cattle." Exodus 12:29

After all, it is John's Gospel, way back in chapter 1, who places these words in the mouth of John the Baptizer when he first sees Jesus, "Behold, the Lamb of God." So we say, "Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us!" For it is his body and blood that saves his people - which, as it turns out, is all people. As we hear in the Comfortable Words of Rite I, "...and he is the perfect sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world." 1John 2:2

John devotes five whole chapters to the Last Supper. Yet, in all these chapters in John’s gospel that describe the Last Supper, there is no mention at all of bread or wine. None.

Instead, John offers the unique description of Jesus washing feet. It is Fellini meets the Word of God! He takes off his clothes, ties a towel around himself, pours water in a basin and begins to wash feet and wipe them with a towel the night before Good Friday. Perhaps we are meant to recall Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, anointing his feet with oil and wiping them with her hair the night before Palm Sunday. The night that those enemies of Jesus stood outside the house plotting just how to kill Jesus AND Lazarus! And perhaps we are meant to recall that foot washing was done by the lowliest of household slaves, usually a child.

What we are definitely meant to recall is that way back in Chapter 1, John identifies Jesus as The Word, the logos, and that in the time before all time, before the heavens and earth were created, the logos was not only with God, but that the logos, Jesus, is God. As we study our Christianity unit at St. Tim's, I have to put this on the whiteboard nearly every day: Word=Jesus=God.

So what John invites us to imagine is that God not only became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood (John 1:14), but that the night before The Day of Preparation for the Passover, Good Friday, God takes off his clothes, ties a towel around himself, gets down on his knees, and like a child-slave, begins washing feet.

It is an extreme posture and activity to assume. Not unlike overturning the tables in the Temple precincts to make a point. Not unlike withering fig trees to make a point. Not unlike accepting a drink of water from a Samaritan woman in public. Not unlike eating with prostitutes, tax collectors, blind, lame and leperous people. Jesus was not a moderate. He did not play it safe.

He picks up a towel like the one on our altar. This towel of ours holds the gospel book which contains the stories of Jesus and his extreme activities. It holds our offerings, our financial commitment to spreading His kingdom and continuing his work in the world. And as it remains on the altar all by itself at the end of the mass, it reminds us of this night before Good Friday and his washing the disciple’s feet - an action He says we are to do for one another

Jesus insists that this way of relating to one another is somehow emblematic of what it means to be a disciple of his: “A New Commandment I give to you that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 This is the Maundy, the mandatum, the commandment of Maundy Thursday.

It has been said by some that Jesus’ entire life was a ministry of the towel. When he was born in a lowly stable, his mother wrapped him in something like a towel. He stanches the flow of blood in a hemorrhaging woman with something like a towel. He prepares and cleans up tables before and after meals with towels. He wipes feet with a towel. And when he dies on the cross, he is wrapped in something like a towel and placed in a new tomb.

So this towel on the altar can be said to summarize his entire life and ministry of service to others. All others. Especially those who were not and are not welcome anywhere else.

Maybe that is why Peter at first refuses to participate. Maybe that is why Peter pulls back from having his feet washed: he does not want to think of himself as being lumped in with all those others, all those unclean and sinful people Jesus insists on welcoming all the time.

Maybe Peter was the first to think, “There but by the grace of God go I.” Something a lot of well-meaning Christians like to think is what God’s grace is all about.

I used to help serve meals at Paul’s Place, our flagship Diocesan Feeding Program, and had a music and prayer ministry there. One day Bill Rich, a colleague and friend, turned to me and said, “There by the grace of God am I.” I have never forgotten it.

I believe that is at the heart of Jesus and the washing of feet. There we all are. We are the poor. We are the sick. We are the broken and brokenhearted. We are the slaves escaping from Pharaoh’s bitter yoke. We are the poor Iraqi child who has no mother or father tonight. We are the poor Afghan woman who struggles to get an education. We are the poor child born of a crack mother tonight. We are the men, women and children infected with HIV/AIDS. We are the hungry, the tired, and the unemployed. We are the mother, father, sister or brother who sits on Death Row. We are the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad waiting and wondering what tomorrow might bring.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word accepted a drink of water from a despised and broken Samaritan woman. A bleeding woman touched the hem of the Word's robe and was healed. The Word fed thousands of hungry people. And the Word picked up a towel, washed everyone’s feet and gave dignity to all of human kind. He made us one with himself and with all creation. He taught us how to love one another as he loves us. As God loves us. For He is God.

Washing feet, eating bread and drinking wine makes us his own. It is his table, not ours. He denies no one a seat at his table. He washes everyone’s feet.

He invites us to do to others as he has done for us. Welcome them to his table. Wash their feet. Wipe them with a towel. His towel. Tonight we can feel what it is like to live with him. Tonight he wants us to wash one another’s feet so we can say, “There by the grace of God am I.”

My sisters, my brothers -
Jesus calls you to follow him
so that you might do something beautiful with your life
and bear much fruit.
The World needs you.
The Church needs you.
Jesus needs you.
They need your power and your light.
Know that there is a hidden place in your heart
where Jesus lives.
This is a deep secret
you are called to live.
Let Jesus live in you.
Go forward with Him.
Let him wash your feet tonight.
Feel just how good it feels to be touched by Jesus.

For we are, sisters and brothers, the Body of Christ.
His broken body is our broken body upon which others feed.
His blood spilled is our blood shed to rejoice the hearts of all.
His tomb is ours, and in it others die to rise again.
Even now we are becoming him.
As you hold his body in your hand, it is to this we say Amen
before we receive what we have become.