Saturday, October 31, 2015


Halloween – Really All Hallows Eve, the Eve of All Saints Day which is followed by the Feast of all Souls in the church tradition. Three days set aside as leaves are falling, the earth begins (in the northern hemisphere) its long glide into dormancy, darkness, coldness, with only the evergreen trees and shrubs watching guard as sentinels and protectors of the light and energy stored in their chlorophyll tinted carbohydrate molecules. It is a natural time of year for the contemplative among us to ponder the eternal cycles of birth, death and rebirth that mark so much of our experience of life, being, in time.

This three-day observance begins with pranking, merry making, disguising our “selves” and our fears of our mortality, death, by literally taunting and making fun of it all! As the Reverend Sam Portaro reminds us, ‘our ancestors used the most powerful weapon in the human arsenal, the power of humor and ridicule to confront the power of death.” (The Brightest and The Best). Perhaps this is also the power of late-night TV, winding down after the evening’s news of the brutalities of the day with one’s comedian of choice to settle our troubled hearts and minds for a good night’s sleep.

All Saints and All Souls then beckon us to recall the lives of those who have gone before us and made life a little better for others by confronting the powers of evil and death in large and small measure – offering some assurance that we too live lives that matter, that make a difference, if only we can live with a small measure of the intention with which the saints and souls we recall exemplified.

Three days in the fall – beginning with children as goblins and superheroes hilariously “scaring” us in their annual extortion scheme to gather as many carbohydrates as humanly possible to make it through the cold and dark of winter. The laughter, the celebrations, the parties then dissolve into serious reflection on how our lives fit into the lives of those who have gone before, and vice versa. The prophet Isaiah garnered meaning as he watched fallen leaves blow across his path. Three days offered as gift – the gift to stop and ponder life and death and how they really are all one and the same – two dimensions of an eternity lived in the heart of God’s eternal love – a love that knows no end. A love that surrounds us on all sides at all times.  Take time to watch the leaves fall swirl. Take time to remember our ancestors. Laugh at our fears, rejoice in the cycles that promise new birth, new life, as the dormancy of winter will once again blossom in spring. 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

God's Shrewd Economic Plan

Proper 23 B - Hebrews 4:12-16/Mark10:17-31
God’s Shrewd Economic Plan
“Then who can be saved,” they said to Jesus. How often we ask ourselves that very question. Oh yes, day to day we put on a good face and project an image of confidence to the world around us. Like the man who seeks Jesus out to ask how he might inherit eternal life, we like to believe we know all the answers and have done all the right things.

When it comes to where the rubber meets the road, Jesus asserting that one must give it all away and follow him strikes us as simply impossible. And like the man in the story, we are shocked and go away unhappy at best, frustrated and defeated at the worst.

How true are the words from Hebrews: “ …the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints and marrow; it is able to judge our thoughts and intentions of the heart. Before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.”

Deep down inside we know this to be absolutely true. We just wish Jesus, the Word made flesh, would save his ability to judge our thoughts and intentions for someone else. Anyone else. Anyone else but me. Anyone else but us.

Can’t it be enough simply to love Jesus? The disciples thought it was enough to simply follow him around – to have left home and all that means – family, friends, support, a bed of one’s own, the means to make a living.

It is curious, isn’t it, how Jesus is always upping the ante! And yet, from beginning to end his program hinges on the foundational belief that in God’s reign the last will be first and the first will be last.

Now if Bill Gates with all his billions represents the first in this world let’s say at number 10, and the poorest of the poor are at number one on a scale of one to ten, can we even begin to imagine, as Jesus urges us to do, what it would look like if this world were turned upside down?

Try to imagine what it is like to live at number five? Why number five? Because those who live at number five will likely feel the least disruption in their lives as the Kingdom of God turns everything upside down!

So the ultimate question may be, How do I get to number five? How do we as a society get to number five? What does the journey to number five look like?

Now most of us, not all of us, live somewhere nestled in around number 9, except on April 15th when we all argue ourselves down to an eight-point-five or eight! This is something to think about right there – this massaging of numbers, financial casuistry if you will, to pretend we are not as affluent as we are one day of the year.

So what does an individual and a society need to do, need to change, to scale things back to number five?

This may be where the power of the word of God comes in: time spent reading, listening to, and meditating on the Word of God will work like a two-edged sword, dividing soul from spirit – judging the intentions of our hearts. As the author of Hebrews observes, Jesus has in every respect been tested as we have, and is willing to offer us grace and mercy to find help in making this journey from nine to five.

One suspects it will be a journey that once and for all chooses to be about the common wealth, rather than individual wealth – the salvation of the whole world, rather than
individual salvation.

The man before Jesus evidently felt his salvation was in all that he had – not all that he was. At the end of the day, says Hebrews, and Jesus, it is who you are that matters more than what you have.

This is so difficult to grasp in a culture that urges us to grasp for all the gusto we can get! We place so much of our identity in the things we have, the car we drive, the clothes we wear, the house we live in and so forth. We consume and acquire so much stuff necessary to who we see ourselves to be that we run out of space and have to put it in self-storage – where we store our excess self! It is so difficult to grasp that letting go may be the most important lesson of all on this journey from nine to five.

If so, we just might discover as we read, listen to, and meditate on God’s word, that God’s own economic plan, a plan that revolves around The Tithe and The Sabbath, is truly the meaning of life we have been looking for. There are at least Four Holy Habits: Tithing, Weekly Corporate Worship, Daily Prayer and Study with God’s Word, and Keeping Sabbath.

These habits enable us to draw near to God, and as the Letter of James urged a few weeks ago, “Draw near to God and God will draw near to you.” James 4:8 Which leads us to a closer understanding of what Jesus answers when they ask, “Who then can be saved?”

“For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” Drawing near to God seems to be the best way to make the journey. In the end, the meaning of life cannot be learned or understood. What is needed is fidelity to a way of living that transcends understanding. The Four Holy Habits is a good place to begin a way of living that transcends understanding, placing us, as they do, before the Word of God, living and active!

Who then can be saved? As the late William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury once put it: “I have been saved. I am being saved. I hope to be saved.” It is a journey, a process, shaped by the Holy Habits that draw us closer to God, closer to others and closer to ourselves.  Amen.