Saturday, August 30, 2014

Beloved Not Fade Away

Love Not Fade Away
In Matthew chapter 16 we read, "24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?"

In some Bibles it is sur-titled The Cross and Self Denial. I would take issue with that. I would title it The Cross and Our True Self. Or, The Cross and Denial of our False Self.

In Hinduism and Buddhism there is a clear understanding of a divided self - an outer self and an inner self if you will. Some have called it our False Self and our True Self. It has to do with how we see and present our selves. This of course determines how others see us as well.

In Jnana Yoga there is an exercise in which when you are walking down a path you try to watch your self walking down the path. It is in exercise in discovering that among all God's creatures, we alone are capable of stepping outside ourselves to look at our selves.  All religious and wisdom traditions have acknowledged this one way or another. All religious and wisdom traditions have established some form of spiritual exercise like Mindfulness Meditation or Centering Prayer to enable us to access this capability to step outside ourselves and see our selves – our outer self and our inner self.

Freud, Jung, Reich and their disciples have forged new modes of accessing our inner and true selves. In the modern era they have helped us to see how we hide our inner or true self not only from others but even from our selves. When we do this we become a divided self which eventually takes a toll on us spiritually, mentally, emotionally and of course socially.

We become a problem to ourselves. Professor James Carpenter at The General Theological Seminary of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America often used to begin our Systematic Theology classes by declaring, "Man (sic) is irreducibly a social creature since we are created imago Dei, in the image of God." For Christians this lies at the very heart of our understanding of God as Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer; Earth Maker, Pain Bearer, Life Giver.

Other monotheists find this baffling, as do many Christians. Simply put, however, it suggests that even God is a social creature - God desires and chooses to live in community - within God's self and with God's creation and creatures. To be created imago Dei is to irreducibly live in community with God and with others - all others.

I believe Jesus is getting at just this. After Peter correctly identifies Jesus as the Christ, God's anointed one, Peter immediately demonstrates that he still does not "get it." Note that Jesus had anticipated just this when he instructs Peter and the others not to reveal this to anyone. Jesus is clear that he is and must be a Pain Bearer. Peter rebukes and "corrects" Jesus. No way! This cannot be! Jesus' reply strikes us moderns as harsh. "Get behind me, Satan!"

Yet, this could simply be a way of saying, "I need you to follow me, not lead me. You must line up behind me here and now. You must let your false and divided self die, accept and claim your true self, and gain life – eternal life with God."

Find your true imago Dei, your inner self which you will discover is aligned with who I am and what I am telling you. Be a divided self no longer and be free.

It starts at the very beginning, which is seen perhaps most clearly in how Mark begins the story. There are no angels, not wise men, no Mary and Joseph, no stable, no manger. John the baptizer is in the wilderness, which of course is where Moses is commissioned by the Bush, the great I AM, to take the people into the wilderness so that they might be schooled for 40 years in just what it means to be imago Dei. As John is inviting people to repent, that is to turn away from their false self, turn away from their divided self and recommit themselves to the lessons forged long ago in the wilderness.

Jesus arrives in the wilderness as an adult and chooses to participate. Jesus goes under the water of the River Jordan. That is when it is revealed. That is when it happens. That is where we are meant to see and hear what it means to be imago Dei. As he comes up out of the water the Holy Spirit, that part of God's own community, descends upon Jesus "like a dove." It is not a dove, it is "like a dove." The Bible, more than any other literature, speaks in metaphor since it is impossible to describe or explain these things any other way. Then a voice from heaven declares, "You are my beloved; with you I am well pleased."

Literary note: this is the first time that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are on the stage all at one time. That is, at Jesus' baptism by John God's full and undivided self is revealed.

This moment in time on the banks of a lazy river that connects the Sea of Galilee with the Dead Sea is so powerful and transformative that the very first thing Jesus does is to allow himself to be lead deeper into the wilderness for 40 days to ponder just what this means and what he is going to do about it. When he returns he announces the beginning of God's kingdom and invites everyone to repent, to turn away from their divided and false selves to enter into the fullness of God - Earth Maker, Pain Bearer, Life Giver.

In the Christian rite of baptism we are once and for all incorporated into the Body of Christ, and this bond we believe is indisoluable. After pondering this for some time I finally got it. When we come up out of the waters of our baptism – water that we say is the water over which God’s Spirit hovered in creation, the water through which the Spirit led the people of Israel out of bondage in the empire into the land of promise, and the water of Jesus’ baptism - a voice says to us, "You are my beloved; I am well pleased with you." It is the "I am" of the burning bush speaking to us.

And I have come to believe that at our baptism angels, cherubim and seraphim fly around us whispering and singing into our ears, "You are God's beloved; God is well please with you!" It is the first thing we hear as we are incorporated into the Body of Christ. Then we “grow up,” things happen, life gets complicated and we forget that we ever heard that voice – the voice that tells us who we are and whose we are – the voice that announces the fact of our undivided self: We are God’s Beloved; God is well pleased with us. Even when we are reminded of this we cannot believe it is really true. Yet, Jesus not only wants us to get behind him. He wants us to accept the gift of our belovedness. It is not easy to accept such a generous gift, but when we do our inner self, our hidden self, our undivided self that is incorporated into the fullness of God’s own undivided self begins to emerge. We begin to know what it means to be imago Dei. Made in the image of God.  Our belovedness is eternal, grounded in God’s eternal love for all creation – a love that never fades away. Amen.   

Saturday, August 23, 2014


At one time bracelets with WWJD were all the rage. What would Jesus do?  Just last month Tyler Perry won the rights to use WWJD as a trademark. From our Lord’s mouth to trademark in less than 2000 years! And yet, what kind of hubris does it take to presume to know in any given situation just what Jesus would do. Zealous and patriotic American Christians might be surprised to know that the phrase they proudly wear on their wrists has its origins in Charles Sheldon’s 1896 book, In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do? And that Sheldon’s theology was shaped by his commitment to Christian Socialism.

For my money WDYSTIA is more to the point. But it will never sell. It’s too long, and it is too close to WYBMADIITY. I’ll have to let you figure that one out. It used to hang on the wall at the Warwick Inn, Warwick, MA in the late 1970’s.

WDYSTIA – Who do you say that I am? There have been as many answers to this question as there are Christians. Even in the New Testament there is a broad range of answers: Jesus is John the Baptist, one of the prophets, Christ, Lord, King, Judge, Rabbi, Teacher, Prophet, Prince of Peace, Glutton, Drunkard, Lamb of God, the Slain Lamb… the list is nearly endless. It is the central question in the gospels, and within years of his life, death and resurrection the number of titles grew exponentially and continues to this day. Recent books have added names like Zealot, Revolutionary, and from no less than Bill O’Reilly, one sent to liberate his people from taxation – we might call him the original Tea Party organizer!

I have come to believe that the question as posed at Caesarea Philippi to the disciples (always a placeholder for the reader, for us) is meant to have us ponder who in fact we are. Who am I? Who are we? Are we the Body of Christ? Or not?

For on page 298 in the Book of Common Prayer it states that those who are baptized are incorporated into His Body. In Christian parlance it has come to mean something like we are his hands and feet and heart in the world – we are to be his continuing presence. I think it is this notion of our being His body, His ongoing presence which is how some early Christians understood Isaiah when the poet writes, “…my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended.” Isaiah 51:6

My personal ah-ha moment on this central gospel question came from the mouth of a four or five year-old girl named Eleanor. It was my first baptism. Eleanor and her mother were being baptized on the same day. Afterwards, we were invited to Eleanor’s house for brunch where, like good Episcopalians, we enjoyed quiche and a glass of wine. While talking to another guest, I felt a tug on the back of my pants leg. I turned around and there was Eleanor.

“Can you still see the cross on my forehead?” she asked. You see since the earliest days of the church, those who were baptized have the sign of the cross traced on their foreheads – chrismation it is called. It is meant as a sign and a seal that you are Christ’s own forever. One can readily see the resonance with Isaiah in this anointing with oil, blessed by a bishop. Forever tends to be a very long time. We say this bond is indissoluble.

I looked at Eleanor who eagerly anticipated my answer. Eleanor who at age five when asked if all she said and all she did would proclaim the good news of God in Christ had answered in front of the entire congregation, “I will with God’s help.” And when asked if she would strive for justice and peace for all people, not some people, not a lot of people, but all people, and respect the dignity of every human being she replied, “I will with God’s help.”

I said, “Yes, Eleanor, I can still see the cross on your forehead.” Her face erupted in a joyful smile and she went skipping across the room as pleased as could be that we could still see the cross on her forehead. And I thought to myself, “That is the question for all of us. Do all the things I say and do proclaim the good news of God in Christ? Do I strive for justice and peace for all people? By the way I live my life can people see the cross on my forehead?” Then I went back to eating quiche and drinking wine.

During the week I attended to such important kingdom tasks as laying out the parish newsletter, taking it to the printer, and all the other minutia of parish life. The following Sunday I was vesting for the 9:00 AM service when there was a tug on the back of my alb. It was Eleanor. “Can you still see the cross on my forehead?” she asked. She had remembered all week! I said, “Yes, I can still see the cross on your forehead.” And then I got it. It was the ah-ha moment I had evidently been waiting for. The gospel that day said that those who want to follow me must pick up their cross and follow me.

After a lifetime in Sunday School and church, four years undergraduate studies in religion, three years of seminary, ordination exams, psychological exams, canonical exams and what-not I had totally misunderstood Jesus. I thought that the cross I was to carry were all those sad, difficult and lonely things that befall us. We say, “He has had to bear this cross for so many years.” Or, “She has had so many crosses to carry.”

It took a little girl named Eleanor to cut through all of that and help me to understand, this cross traced on our foreheads at baptism, and retraced with ashes on Ashe Wednesday, is the cross we are meant to carry. We are to live our lives in such a way that others can see it. It says I am yours and you are mine. It says we are the body of Christ in the world. It says that we do respect the dignity of every, not some, not many, but every human being. It says we know the answer to the question Who Do You Say That I Am.  And that we are that answer.

It begins in our being created imago Dei, in the image of God. It begins with a Bedouin named Abraham who sets out on a  journey from home with the promise of being a blessing to all people everywhere. It begins with Moses’ sister Miriam and the sisters breaking out the tambourines on the far side of the Red Sea and dancing and singing their way to freedom from the Empire. It begins with Isaiah proclaiming that God’s deliverance will never end. It begins with Jesus who asks us each and every day, “Who do you say that I am?”

We are called to be the answer to that question. Many times the church has failed to live up to that answer. More often than not the people of God have made the world a better place.

WDYSTIA? Answering this central question leads us to live lives so that people can see the cross on our foreheads.

Eleanor is all grown up now. She is married. And everyday people who know her still see the cross on her forehead. We are all better for her having asked the question, “Can you still see the cross on my forehead?”  Amen.

Can you see the cross / On my forehead
Sayin’ Jesus lives inside of me
Can you see the cross / On my forehead
There for all the world to see

To see how we are meant to love
To see how we are meant to live
To see how we are meant to share
To see how we are meant to give

That he is Lord of all that is
That he is mine and I am His
As I strive for justice, peace and dignity
I share in his every ministry

That I am God’s beloved child
That our God is well pleased with me
That we can laugh and dance and sing
Nothing can separate the love of Christ from me

Can you see the cross / On my forehead
Sayin’ Jesus lives inside of me
Can you see the cross / On my forehead
There for all the world to see

Copyright Sounds Divine
Kirk Alan Kubicek

Saturday, August 16, 2014


Crumbs - Matthew 15:21-28
Crumbs. How many of us are satisfied with crumbs? Yet, here is a woman in great need, great distress, and deeply desperate to find help for her daughter, who seemingly needs greater things than we might ever hope for, willing to settle for crumbs. How many of us are satisfied with crumbs?

It is interesting to note that this fifteenth chapter of Matthew begins with a dispute over “the tradition of the elders.” Specifically, it is a dispute that occurs in households throughout modern America every day: washing one’s hands before meals. Evidently Jesus’ disciples were not washing their hands before every meal. It is equally interesting to note that Jesus does not defend the disciples, but rather attacks back at his questioners pointing to traditions they regularly ignore or find clever ways to get around and brands them hypocrites.

After some more back and forth with them about the traditions of the community of faith, Jesus decides to get away from it all and heads up the coast into Gentile territory. Surely no one will hassle him there. Wrong. Along comes this woman. She has no name in our text. That could be a result of male dominated discrimination on the part of those who managed the texts. Or, it could be the story intends  for any one of us to be this woman, give her our own name, encouraging us to come to Jesus on our knees with our real needs: healing, salvation, and to be fed. We all, like her, seek to be fed, healed and saved.

The woman’s need is in fact on her daughter’s behalf, not so much her own. But then again, what mother, what parent, does not want their child to be made well and whole and safe? The daughter has a demon. We know about demons. We know how they can drive everyone crazy.  She cries out, “Lord, have mercy on me and my daughter.”

The Lord of infinite mercy and compassion, the God of Love, ignores her. There is no getting around this.  Perhaps if I don’t respond, he thinks, she will go away. We have all tried this strategy before. It rarely works. And, no doubt, we have all gone to the Lord with a plea and have felt ignored. We know what that feels like. It can make us sad, and it can make us angry with God. And that sadness and anger can spill over into everything else we do and say.

Then the disciples, that always means us, demand that Jesus send her away. She is interrupting their time alone with Jesus.  So Jesus answers their plea, hoping I guess that she will hear his response to them, “I was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel.” Translated that sounds to her something like, “People outside our community and outside our tradition need not apply. Unless you are just like us, bug off!” Which is a bit odd. He has specifically gone off to Gentile territory and is now complaining of being hassled by Gentiles. Now he adheres to tradition.

Her response is instructive. She gets on her knees and simply pleads, “Lord, help me.”  She is on her knees. How often do we forget to get down on our knees? Only when all other solutions are found wanting and ineffective, when there is nowhere else to go, only then do we remember our knees. And that our Lord is the one Lord who gets on his knees and washes feet.

This woman is persistent. She will not take “no” for an answer. She has taken assertiveness training and learned the “broken record” strategy, and now has fallen on her knees on behalf of her poor demon possessed daughter. Being ignored and put down does not faze her. Her heart is undivided. She is, in a word, amazing! Awesome! A model for us all.

She does not allow her own hurt feelings to get in the way of her daughter’s need for healing. Yet, how does Jesus respond to her humble and persistent gesture: Jesus insults her further. He calls her a dog. He calls all her people, all Gentiles, dogs. Whenever people read this story, really really read this story, they cannot believe Jesus could be so cruel. There it is. “I cannot take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” That has to hurt. But our woman’s heart remains undivided. When your heart is turned radically to the needs of others, there is no time to feel sorry for yourself.

And suddenly she has vision. For a single moment she has greater vision than Jesus himself. She can see crumbs under the table. She has seen children eat. There are always crumbs under the table. Crumbs are just tiny bits of something larger. Crumbs are insignificant. We often sweep them away. Crumbs are what most of us overlook, especially in the spiritual life. We are so busy looking for ways to grab the whole loaf.

She seems to be the only one in the room who has the vision to see that those crumbs are enough. She says, “OK, you can save the loaves for your family, your people, your children, and I’ll settle for just the crumbs. Even dogs like me get the crumbs that fall off the table.”

Talk about taking lemons and making lemonade! Wow! She is perhaps the most amazing person in the whole Bible. Maybe even the most important person in all of history!

Why? Because she changes Jesus’ mind. Jesus was moved to a new place. He let her in. He forgot about tradition for a moment and opened the door and gave her a place at the table. Suddenly he could see only her love for her daughter and the daughter’s need. He could not allow the law or the tradition to get in the way of love and need. He saw her faith. The daughter was healed. So was Jesus. Jesus was healed of being enslaved to the tradition, of bigotry and of blindness to the needs of all people.

Because of her perseverance, her undivided heart, her love and her daughter’s need, Jesus was moved, his mission was changed, and the world has never been the same. Because of the radical turning of her thoughts for others, Jesus radically turned his attention to the needs of others, all others. Because she could see great promise in just the crumbs, her daughter was healed, Jesus was moved to a new place. Gentiles were allowed to sit at the table. All because of the crumbs.

What a wonderful story! And it can be our story! It can be the church’s story, and it can be your story. It all begins with crumbs. When we are hungry enough the crumbs will do. And we will be fed, healed and saved.

Remember this woman in your prayers each day. Remember her heart. Remember her faith. Remember her vision. Remember her persistence. Remember your knees. Remember that when we radically turn our thoughts to the needs of others we have little time to feel sorry for

ourselves. Remember that little bits of grace will be more than enough to sustain us this day and every day. It all begins with crumbs. Amen.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Be Still

Be Still
I want you to think for a moment. Just let go of all that is happening here and go deep into yourself and remember. Remember a time when you heard that still small voice Elijah heard so long long ago. There may have been wind and rain and fire swirling all around. You may have been frightened. Or, perhaps it was very very quiet – gazing at the sunset or sunrise when suddenly you heard that voice call you by name.

Or, maybe you never have heard that still small voice, but can remember a time when you really needed to, really wanted to, hear it calling you by name. You felt that just hearing that voice would make all the difference. And perhaps just wanting and needing to hear it was enough.

Elijah was fleeing for his life. The people did not want to hear what the prophet has to say. The king does not want to hear what the prophet needs to say. Elijah is hiding, not knowing where to turn next when suddenly he becomes aware – aware of a Presence. The Presence.

Or, the disciples are instructed to get in the boat and head over to the other side of the sea – that is to Gentile territory, enemy territory, unclean territory. Notice how diligently they are on their way, and despite the rough seas they persevere. They are rowing against the wind. How often do we feel like that? We know these guys. We are these guys!

Out of nowhere – previously, we are told, he is off alone, praying alone, getting some alone time with Abba, Father, YHWH, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus – suddenly someone approaches the boat walking on the water – the stormy water, the wind driven rough waters. It is dawn - recalling the dawn of creation when Abba-Father-YHWH’s Spirit blew across the face of the deep, dark, chaotic waters – now it seems to be a ghost. But that will come later – afterwards, after the cross and the tomb they will again suppose him to be a ghost. But it is Jesus out for a morning stroll to check in on the lads. He is there. He is with them in the midst of the storm on rough waters. They stop rowing against the wind and see that He is there.

 “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter walks toward him on the water. Only modern liberals ask, How can this be? As if it is a miracle. The miracle is coming to know He is there, He is here – He is with us. He is never not with us. With such knowledge we can hear His voice, we can see His presence, we can walk towards him wherever we are.

I used to have these dreams in which I was flying. I would wake up in the morning fully convinced that I had been flying, that I could, if you will, swim the breast stroke through the air with the greatest of ease. And there was the time I was sitting in the sanctuary at St. Peter’s, others were distributing communion at the rail, the rest of us were singing a communion hymn, I was sitting quietly listening to the music because one afternoon Bob Duggan had encouraged me to find ways to worship with the congregation, not just lead worship. So I was sitting there experiencing worship when all of a sudden I could hear only one small voice – it was as if someone had turned down the volume knob on the entire congregation and all I could hear was the lone voice of our youngest daughter Cerny who was sitting across from me as one of the acolytes – just her and her alone, a still, small, voice. The next day I mentioned this to my Senior Warden who stopped and said, “That’s funny, I heard that too.”

Elijah stopped running. I stopped leading worship. The disciples stopped rowing against the wind. It is not that God suddenly shows up. Meister Eckhart says, God is at home, it is we who have gone out for a walk.

We tend to live our lives, writes Evelyn Underhill, out of three verbs: To Want, To Have and To Do. “Craving, clutching and fussing, on the material, political, emotional, intellectual – even on the religious – plane, we are kept in perpetual unrest: forgetting that none of these verbs have any ultimate significance, except so far as they are transcended by and included in, the fundamental verb To Be – and that Being, not wanting, having and doing, is the essence of a spiritual life.”
(Underhill, The Spiritual Life, p.20)

The most important thing I learned in seminary, the most important thing I teach at St. Tim’s every day in every class, is how to Be. Jim Fenhagen would have us begin with the Psalm that says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Then we would sit for several minutes of mindfulness meditation, centering prayer. Stopping. Listening.

We have lost the capacity to be still. Whereby, we have lost the capacity to be aware of God’s eternal Presence – that still small voice within. Every now and then it manages to pierce our busyness. When all along we simply need to be still to hear that voice and feel that presence. Stop running, stop doing, stop wanting, stop clutching, craving and fussing. Be still, and know that I am God. Listen and  hear the voice which lives within of the God who lives within, the God with whom we are One. The God who is always here.

A week or so ago I was sitting on a dock on Lake Sunapee, NH. This is what I saw and learned:

Let us sit still. Let us say, “Be still, and know that I am God.” We will be quiet for a few minutes. Then we will sing our way back.

Have faith and have no fear
Be still and know that I Am God
You are mine, I am always here

Tho wind and rain will rock your boat
And you feel so all alone
Reach out your hand and I’ll be there
To lead you safely home

God is at home, it is we who have gone out for a walk. It’s time to go home. Amen.