Saturday, June 30, 2012

Lightening Strikes!

1 July 2012/Proper 8B -
Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15;2:23-24/Psalm 30/2 Corinthians 8:7-15/Mark 5:21-43
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, St. Timothy's School for Girls, Stevenson, MD
Do Not Fear, Only Believe
This story of healing has always been close to my heart. The leader of the synagogue, that is a very important person in the community, needs Jesus to heal his daughter. A woman who has been unclean, therefore an outsider, ostracized by the community for twelve years, interrupts and is healed. People, doubters, unbelievers, people who had shunned the woman, then try to discourage the leader of the synagogue from bothering Jesus any further. Jesus is undeterred. He goes to the house. People laugh at him for even coming, let alone trying to do anything. The girl gets up and walks. Jesus instructs people not to tell anyone, and by the way, please get her something to eat.

When dealing with Jesus, life appears to be about interruptions. Life stops, plans are suspended, to take care of the interruptions - even when it means attending to the most marginalized people in society. Our culture is obviously not ordered this way. Those who have access to money and power are first on the agenda. People like the woman, and even the little girl, are not even afterthoughts. In America, repeatedly described as a "Christian Nation," we might pause to consider what this story might have to say to us as a people, as a nation.

Further, the story challenges all our assumptions around scarcity and abundance of resources. Saint Paul goes back to the 40 year wilderness journey when he recalls, "The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little." Jesus seemingly has no concerns about scarcity of resources. And he seems to recognize that there must be a just distribution of those resources - there is enough for the woman and the child. That is, there is enough for everyone if, as Saint Paul urges, there is a "fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be there for your need." Jesus looks past rights and property ownership to the bigger picture - how can God's world provide for all of God's people?

Yet, we are constantly encouraged by marketing and advertising schemes, and by policy debates, to adopt an attitude of scarcity, which in the end is always an attitude of fear - fear that there will not be enough. And we know that actions and decisions made out of an attitude of fear will not serve us well.

We are to place ourselves in these stories. What is it like to be the leader of the synagogue whose daughter is "at the point of death?" What is it like to be in the "great crowd" following Jesus? Are we among those who truly follow him? Are we among those who laugh at him for trying against all odds? What is it like to be the little girl, home, waiting, fearful of what comes next? What is it like to be the disciples, trying to protect Jesus from the crowd? What must it have been like to be the woman, cut-off from  society for  12 years? What is it like to have  her kind of hope and faith? What is it like to touch the hem of Jesus' garment? Madeleine L'Engle helps us to imagine this all:
The Lightening   by Madeleine L'Engle
When I pushed through the crowd,
jostled, bumped, elbowed by the curious
who wanted to see what everyone else
was so excited about,
all I could think of was my pain
and that perhaps if I could touch him,
this man who worked miracles,
cured diseases,
even those as foul as mine,
I might find relief.
I was tired from hurting,
exhausted, revolted by my body,
unfit for any man, and yet not let loose
from desire and need. I wanted to rest,
to sleep without pain or filthiness or torment.
I don’t really know why
I thought he could help me
when all the doctors
with all their knowledge
had left me still drained
and bereft of all that makes
a woman’s life worth living.
Well: I’d seen him with some children
and his laughter was quick and merry
and reminded me of when I was young and well,
though he looked tired; and he was as old as I am.
Then there was that leper,
but lepers have been cured before –
No, it wasn’t the leper,
or the man cured of palsy,
or any of the other stories of miracles,
or at any rate that was the least of it;
I had been promised miracles too often.
I saw him ahead of me in the crowd
and there was something in his glance
and in the way his hand rested briefly
on the matted head of a small boy
who was getting in everybody’s way,
and I knew that if only I could get to him,
not to bother him, you understand,
not to interrupt, or to ask him for anything,
not even his attention,
just to get to him and touch him…
I didn’t think he’d mind, and he needn’t even know.
I pushed through the crowd
and it seemed that they were deliberately
trying to keep me from him.
I stumbled and fell and someone stepped
on my hand and I cried out
and nobody heard. I crawled to my feet
and pushed on and at last I was close,
so close I could reach out
and touch with my fingers
the hem of his garment.
Have you ever been near
when lightning struck?
I was, once, when I was very small
and a summer storm came without warning
and lightning split the tree
under which I had been playing
and I was flung right across the courtyard.
That’s how it was.
Only this time I was not the child
but the tree
and the lightning filled me.
He asked, “Who touched me?”
and people dragged me away, roughly,
and the men around him were angry at me.
“Who touched me?” he asked.
I said, “I did, Lord.”
So that he might have the lightning back
which I had taken from him when I touched
his garment’s hem.
He looked at me and I knew then
that only he and I knew about the lightning.
He was tired and emptied
but he was not angry.
He looked at me
and the lightning returned to him again,
though not from me, and he smiled at me
and I knew that I was healed.
Then the crowd came between us
and he moved on, taking the lightning with him,
perhaps to strike again.
-          Madeliene L’Engle

"He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to get her something to eat." After the interruptions, come the practicalities. Alongside the spirituality of Mary comes the spirituality of Martha. There is no time to waste glorifying the good thing that has happened. There are people who are hungry and need to be fed. See to it that those who have little do not have too little. See to it that those who have much do not have too much.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

New Beginnings

24 June 2012/Proper 7B - Job 38:1-11/Psalm 107:1-3,23-32/2 Corinthians 6:1-13/Mark 4:35-41
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, St. Peter's at Ellicott Mills
Always We Begin Again
"O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for
you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure
foundation of your loving-kindness…"

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?(Job 38)

29 He stilled the storm to a whisper *
and quieted the waves of the sea.
30 Then were they glad because of the calm, *
and he brought them to the harbor they were bound for.
31 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his mercy *
and the wonders he does for his children.
32 Let them exalt him in the congregation of the people *
and praise him in the council of the elders.(Psalm 107)

At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of
salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day
of salvation! (2 Corinthians)

“Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And
they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that
even the wind and the sea obey him? (Mark 4)

As we come to what appears to be the final moments in our journey together with Christ, I woke up the other morning with the realization that The Bible appears to speak only of beginnings, not endings. The Bible itself begins with words that continue to resound throughout all of creation, all that is, seen and unseen (and thanks to Hubble we can see quite a lot!), “In the beginning….”

Indeed, in trying to give the reader some sense of just who Jesus of Nazareth is, the writer of the fourth gospel repeats these eternal words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….” And our gospel for Year B in the Revised Common Lectionary, Mark, also starts off with a reminder and the assertion that this Gospel is, “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ the Son of God.” And we may recall, all the way back on Easter morning, the Gospel of Mark ends with the women fleeing the Empty Tomb, leaving us to engage with, as Paul Harvey used to say, “The rest of the story.”

Indeed, the very last words of Holy Scripture issue our plea to stay connected with the rest of the story: Come, Lord Jesus!(Revelation 22:20b) Like the disciples in the boat, crossing the sea, we have run into rough waters. The wind is fierce, the boat seems in danger of capsizing, and where is Jesus? Asleep on a cushion in the rear of the boat. Come, Lord Jesus, we cry. Teacher do you not care that we are perishing, is the cry of disciples in all ages! As only Jesus can, he wakes up, rebukes the wind and the waves, restores a sense of calm to turgid waters and then asks the question that is meant for all of us, for all believers and non-believers alike, in any time, in any place, “Why are you afraid?”

It is like God who finally, after 38 long chapters of Job defending God against his detractors, out of the whirlwind of fear and uncertainty declares, “Where were you? Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know!” Job is a cautionary tale for preachers and anyone who thinks, who believes, they know all that can be known about the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus. It is placed near the center of our Bible to chasten our hubris and thinking we know all that much about God. And it is a reminder that our purpose is to know God, not to know all there is about God. The difference may be subtle, but it is an important distinction to know.

How we know God is in Jesus. Jesus and God, Jesus like God, Jesus who is God – there it is, the wonder and the scandal of Christianity – sends us back to the beginning. Because that is all there is – new beginnings. As St. Benedict puts it so succinctly, always we begin again. Always and all ways we begin again. It could be argued that there is only one story in the whole Bible – the story of new beginnings! Or, as one psychologist/theologian put it many years ago, Creation Continues (Fritz Kunkel). In his book of the same name, Kunkel looks at the structure of the Gospel of Matthew, but focuses his central attention on the Dark Sea Journey – this little episode of stormy seas on the Sea of Galilee.

It is a story that is persistent in asking the questions, “Why are you afraid? Why have you so little faith? Already I have told you, you just need an amount of faith as small as a mustard seed. A faith grounded “in the beginning,” when my Spirit, my Holy breath, my Holy wind tamed the chaos of the primordial seas of creation – which creation continues to expand, just as your Hubble telescope observations have confirmed. There is much to see, and yet much more to come into being. Are you going to be a smart aleck like Job and pretend you know everything there is to know about me? About creation? About how to survive the current storm? About how to calm the waters and begin yet again? Or, will you be more like my servant Paul who recognized, he knows not how, that all things are being made new in Christ, in my Word, in the logos, the eternal Word that declares, ‘Let there be…’? You ask yourselves, 'Who then is this that even the wind and the sea obey him?' I am who I am and have always been: God creator, redeemer and sustainer - Father, Son and Holy Spirit, with emphasis on the 'and'!”

Always we begin again: the promise of eternal return. We come from love, we return to love, and love is all around. All of life is a homecoming, a coming home to God. Do you believe this? Do we believe this?

God says in Christ: In the waters of Baptism I declared to my Son, “You are my beloved with whom I am well pleased.” He walked among you, taught among you, healed, fed, and cared for you. He invites you to a Baptism of water and the Holy Spirit, that same Spirit that hovered over the face of creation, that same Spirit-Breath that I breathed into your nostrils when you took your first breath, that same Spirit-Breath that is the first and last word of every mortal on earth from time immemorial, that same Spirit-Breath that is life for all living things, that same Spirit-Breath that continues to create all that is, seen and unseen, that same Spirit-Breath which you inspire every moment of every day, declares that “You are God’s Beloved. God is well pleased with you! Do you believe this?”

The same Spirit-Breath took off his robe, wrapped a towel around himself, and got down on his knees to wash our feet. It was to be a sign. It was to be a sign that we are to love one another as he loves us. If only we will love one another as he love us, all shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of thing shall be well.

Paul summarizes this in what is perhaps the most beautiful and breath-taking passage in the Christian Scriptures in the second chapter of his letter to the Philippians. Please open the pew Bibles to Philippians Chapter Two: 1-11 (page 182) so we may read this out loud together:
"So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 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 the likeness of men. An being found in  human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him, and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father."

Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others as better than yourselves. Look not only to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Have this mind amongst yourselves. Have the mind of Christ. For today is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation! There is no time to wait. He arises from his well deserved rest, he arises from his Sabbath, he arises from his three-days Shabbat, to still your fearful soul, calm the waves of emotions that destabilize you and the whole community, to offer you one, tiny, little mustard seed’s worth of faith.

Always we begin again. As I read the Bible year in and year out, there is no ending, only beginnings. That is what the Passover-Exodus means. That is what the deliverance from Exile means. That is what the cross and resurrection mean. There are no endings with the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus. Always we begin again, always a new beginning. This is the Good News, yesterday, today and tomorrow!

Walk together, little children. You don’t ever have to worry. Through this world of trouble, you’ve got to love one another. For you are God’s beloved. God is well pleased with you. We come from love, we return to love, and love is all around – if only we will take one another by the hand, we will all be together, forever and ever, when we make it to the promised land! And the Promised Land begins here and now! Because with our God there are no endings - only New Beginnings!

I wanna say to my sisters and my brothers
Keep the faith
When the storm flies and the wind blows
Go on at a steady pace

When the battle is fought, and the victory's won
We can all shout together, we have overcome
We'll talk to the Father and the Son
When we make it to the promised land

If we walk together, little children
We don't ever have to worry
Through this world of trouble
We've got to love one another

Let us take our fellow man by the hand
Try to help him to understand
We can all be together, forever and ever
When we make it to the promised land

Our bible reads
Thou shall not be afraid
Of the terror by night
Nor the arrow that flies by day

Nor for the pestilence
That waiteth in the darkness
Nor for the destruction
That waiteth in the noon-day hour

If we walk together, little children ...

This world is not our home
We're only passing through
Our trail is all made up
Way beyond the blue

Let us do the very best that we can
While we're travelin' through this land
We can all be together, shakin' a hand
When we make it to the promised land

If we walk together, little children
We don't ever have to worry
Through this world of trouble
We've got to love one another

Let us take our fellow man by the hand
Try to help him to understand
We can all be together, forever and ever
When we make it to the promised land

When we make it to the promised land
Make it to the promised land
Make it to the promised land
(Little children)
Make it to the promised land

Make it to the promised land
Make it to the promised land
We can all be together, forever and ever
When we make it to the promised land

Walk together, little children
We won't ever have to worry
Through this world of trouble
We gotta love one another

Let us take our fellow man by the hand
Try to help him to understand
We can all be together, forever and ever
When we make it to the promised land
We can all be together, forever and ever
When we make it to the promised land
-Charles B Johnson

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Mustard Seed Faith

17 June 2012/Pentecost 3 – 1 Samuel 5:34-16:13*2 Corinthians 5:6-17*Mark 4 26-34
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland
For We Walk By Faith
Thirteen days and counting! The obvious resonance for many of us may be with Samuel, the boy prophet when the Lord asks, "How long will you grieve over Saul?" How long, O Lord, how long indeed. How long does Jesus weep for Lazarus? Or, how long does Jesus weep over Jerusalem? How long does God weep over the way things appear to be going on this Earth he created and pronounced "good"? For a congregation in transition, still reeling from the tragic events of May 3rd, perhaps it is enough to know that Samuel, Jesus and God are with us as we grieve what someone once called "necessary losses." Like the "someone" who scatters the seed in today's parable, we do not know. It is not ours to know. What we need to know is that God is in this with us every step of the way.

I cannot help but think back to the day I arrived in New York City to move into the Seminary housing. It was a hot, muggy, August afternoon. We had to move everything out of the rented U Haul into a fifth floor apartment - and the elevator was out of service. Soon, however, a chain of fellow seminarians assembled to hand things from one to another to the fifth floor up the stairway. About half-way through, I was standing in the back of the truck looking for what to unload next, when a smiling face appeared in the street below, looked up at me, and in a soft, South Carolinian drawl said, "Yo po lidda lamb!" Yo po lidda lamb, I thought? It was my first delightful encounter with one of God's greatest gifts to mankind and the seminary, Lili Smith, who had just moved to NYC from Staunton, VA with her husband Ben. Just four little words that it took me a few moments to comprehend, and already I was feeling better.

Reading Paul's letters, or Mark's version of the Good News of Jesus Christ the Son of God, one gets the feeling that both Paul and the Jesus of Mark would give anything for someone to look at them with loving eyes and say, "Yo po lidda lamb!"

As we look at the world around us, as we struggle to understand where we are all headed come June 30th, it becomes increasingly difficult to agree with Professor Pangloss “that all is  for the best in this best of all possible worlds.”

And yet, against such a backdrop, Paul and Jesus both challenge us to see things as different from what they appear. Paul says we are to see no one from a human point of view. Jesus in his parables alludes to the present yet hidden and emerging nature of God’s kingdom. Without a categorical listing, suffice it to say that Paul and Jesus faced a dangerous, confusing and evil world much like the one we face today. As did the young church, as did the early disciples of Jesus.

Yet, despite all that can and does go wrong, Jesus talks about a sower and some seeds. Seeds that once sown grow, the sower knows not how. It is a mystery. Even while the sower is asleep, the seed produces a harvest. In a culture in which we find ourselves caught up in endless cycles of overwork, increased productivity, and increased profit as immutable necessary goals, Jesus in this simple tale invites us to recognize that God’s grace does not depend on human efforts.

Indeed, it seems to be an invitation to Sabbath Rest by which our lives might be lived in a more balanced rhythm of sleeping, rising, working and RESTING. In this way we glorify God by performing the productive work of the sower while recognizing that the growth of the seed ultimately depends on God. Is it possible that such recognition constitutes what Paul calls Walking By Faith?

Are we to believe that God is in control of growth and harvest despite the evidence of the way the world  appears to be?

Jesus would be saying, Yes! Yes, says Jesus, the world is not chiefly about happiness but about Hope. If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you would see things differently. If you stick around long enough, you will hear Paul conclude that the old has passed away, so that if you are in me as I am in you, there is a new creation. Everything has become new. You become new! We become new! The seed becomes a bush with branches to provide a home for all wayfarers like the birds. The bush will provide shade for those who are wilting in the sun.

Then the editorial board of Mark points out that Jesus was always talking this way. No straight lines, no clearly defined markers. Yet, stories that are infused with Hope. Stories which mean to remind us that God will not fail to fulfill the promise of salvation! It is already coming into being, says Jesus! Like the shrub slowly emerges from the seed, silently, quietly, but powerfully coming to be.

Our being here, called by God in Christ, as a worshipping community, a community of prayer, as people who continue to form families, raise children, welcome strangers, care for one another, makes us a sign that the falseness that this world is ultimately bounded by a more profound truth. We are the seed. We are becoming the shrub, the shelter and the shade from the falseness of this world

If only we will walk by faith. Faith as small as a mustard seed is all you need.

If you have faith as small as a mustard seed/
If you have faith as small as a mustard seed

You can take trees and hurl them in the sea/
You can take trees and hurl them in the sea

The lame will walk and the blind will see/
The lame will walk and the blind will see

Wars will cease with the end of greed/
Wars will cease with the end of greed

Loaves multiply so there’s enough to feed/
Loaves multiply so there’s enough to feed
As you sow you shall receive/
As you sow you shall receive

As you pray you will believe/
As you pray you will believe

Trust in the Lord, He’ll supply every need/
Trust in the Lord, He’ll supply every need

As you follow Christ you’ll begin to lead/
As you follow Christ you’ll begin to lead