Sunday, January 31, 2010

4 Epiphany



January 31, 2010

Jeremiah 1.4-10, Luke 4.21-30


Today, of course, is our Annual Meeting. It is the day when we gather to reflect upon the past year in our congregation and to look ahead to a new year. It is a time to take assessment and to prepare for how we are going to minister together in the coming year. Although it’s easy to get caught up in the managerial and financial aspects of the Annual Meeting (both very important things), I think it’s also important that we look long and hard at such other equally important things such as our service to others and our further growth into God’s kingdom.

This Sunday is a good time for us to ask ourselves: what are we doing to proclaim the goodness of God’s Kingdom in our midst? That word—proclamation—is an important one for us. In a sense, it is truly what we are called to do as a congregation and as Christians. We called to proclaim. We—all of us-not, just me or the lay preachers, or the Vestry—are all called to proclaim, by word, yes, but also by action.

Our reading today from Jeremiah is one of those readings that I think really grasps us and makes us sit up and take notice. When I was going through the process to become a priest, this was a passage I—and most everyone else I knew at that time who were also going through the daunting ordination process—found great comfort in.

As our lay preachers here at St. Stephen’s no doubt know, the task of preaching is daunting. There are those weeks when we will look at, ponder, struggle and wrestle with the scriptures assigned for that coming Sunday and can find almost nothing from which to glean some nugget to expand upon, much less to actually proclaim. Or, there are those moments when we are faced with the even more daunting task of preaching before a congregation that is not necessarily receptive to our proclamation.

A few years ago, I was invited to preach at the chapel of a Lutheran college in the area (I won’t say which one). The service was held at 10:00 on a Wednesday evening. The chapel was filled to the rafters with students. They filled the floor, the balconies and the choir. It was quite impressive to see all those Lutheran kids belt out those Lutheran hymns. But I realized half-way through my sermon that I just wasn’t connecting with them. That Wednesday night—the Wednesday of the Week for Christian Unity—I placed before the students the question: what if?

What if, when we all died, everyone got to go to heaven?

Yes, I know it’s Universalism and yes, I know it’s a hot button to preach about. I wasn’t telling anyone what to believe one way or the other. I was simply placing it before them as a possibility and to see where it led in one’s own personal spiritual outlook and, more important, how it changed one’s perspective on proclaiming the Good News.


How would we proclaim the Good News to people if we knew everyone was going to heaven—if no one was ultimately lost, if no one was ultimately cast for a all eternity in some metaphysical hell? I wasn’t saying that was the way it was (how would I know?), I was just asking: what if?

Occasionally, when a preacher is preaching, they can tell if they’re “on”—or if they’re not. They can just kind of sense if the congregation is reception or cool. In this case, I had a room full of Lutheran college students who, at least from my perspective, were cool—maybe lukewarm at very best.

Afterward, a line of students were waiting for me outside the vesting room, with their programs full of notes. Each wanted either to debate me on my points or to point out to me where I went wrong in my message. “How could you even believe in such a ridiculous heresy such as universalism?” they asked me. “So…you think even Hitler gets to go to heaven. Is that it?”

Now, having been raised Lutheran and always feeling for the most part at home among Lutherans, I remember thinking at that moment: “Man, the prophet sometimes is never accepted in his hometown.” I felt as though I was about as distant from Lutheranism at that moment as I could be.

However, some time after that fact, I received an email. It was signed by about ten students who told me about how much they appreciated my sermon. They said: “Your question challenged us to ask ourselves about how different our message would be if we viewed the people we ministered to as ultimately saved. It was actually helpful for us. We ended up seeing people not as numbers to check off as ‘saved,’ but rather as fellow travelers and pilgrims on the journey—people just like us who despite their shortcoming, were ultimately loved deeply by God. All our job was, as you said in your sermon, was to love them as God loves them and not worry about the rest.”

And I think this is the lesson for all of us. Not all of us are called to be preachers. Not all of us have a gift for getting up and speaking. But the fact is that sometimes—sometimes—God truly does reach out to us and touch our mouths and we find the words to say—even in a situation we know we might not readily accepted. That’s what the preacher does every time she or he gets up to preach. And that’s what all of us as ministers of God are called to do on occasion.

We are all called to proclaim. The great Swiss theologian Karl Barth once wrote:

“Proclamation is human language in through which God…speaks, like a king through the mouth of his herald, which is more meant to be heard and apprehended…in faith as the divine decision upon life and earth, as the divine judgment and the divine acquittal, the eternal law and the eternal gospel both together.”

Proclamation may come as a good news to some and horribly bad news to others. Proclamation may wash over us like a soothing wind or it may shake us up and upset us terribly. That’s what makes proclamation is frightening for the herald of that proclamation. But that’s what all of us as Christians are essentially called to do. We are all consecrated to be prophets to some extent. And sometimes what we preach and proclaim is rejected.

In our Gospel reading for today, we find that Jesus’ proclamation of who he is and what he came to do was rejected as well. In fact, people were so hostile to the message, they were ready to kill him. Sometimes that’s exactly what proclamation involves.

Sometimes, our vocation—our calling—as Christians is to proclaim who we are and what we are called to do to people who are hostile to that message. Let’s face it, it is not easy proclaiming to some people in this world the message of love of God and love of each other. People, for various reasons, do not want to hear that message. People are threatened when they are called to respect, to treat as equals those with whom they share this world, much less love them.

It is amazing that the message of love of God and of one another is still such a radical message to this world. It is amazing that there is still such resistance to this message. And it is amazing that oftentimes many Christians—especially clergy and other church leaders—are incapable or frightened to proclaim that message to the world.

It is easier to condemn. It is easier to see things as an “us” and “them.” situation. It is easier to imagine people who do not think or believe the way we do as “damned” or as “ignorant” or as “unenlightened.” It is easier to stereotype or judge or to lash out at others. It is easier to insist, in our own self-centeredness, that we get our way because our way is the only way—the one and right way.

The message of Jesus says we must abandon all this thinking. All we have to do is proclaim that love of God, and to love others as we love ourselves and when we do our own agendas go fleeing from us. That is important to keep in mind as we gather for our Annual Meeting. It is a time for us to look ahead to see how we can proclaim that love as a congregation and as individuals. It is a time for to see how we use the resources and the blessings each of us has been given in our lives to proclaim God’s love and love of each other to the world, to be examples of that love. To be, in a very real sense, conduits of that love both individually and collectively.

We have a lot to be grateful for here at St. Stephen’s. There is an energy and a vitality here that most of us can feel and appreciate. And most of us understand that we are really and truly making some major efforts here to proclaim—both individually and as a congregation. God has reached to us and has touched our mouths.

Let us proclaim the Gospel of love in our actions and in the words God puts in our mouths. And as we do, let us look forward to our future together with joy and hope.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

3 Epiphany


January 24, 2010

Luke 4.14-21


When I was about seventeen years I read a book that blew me away. It was A Theology of Liberation by Gustavo GutiƩrrez. It opened up for me what is now called Liberation Theology. GutiƩrrez is a Peruvian Dominican priest of mixed Quechua descent who published his landmark book in 1971. It was watershed book for me that jarred me out of my old way of thinking about the Gospels and forced me to look at the message of Jesus as truly a proclamation of liberation to the poor.

Liberation Theology, which originally focused on the poor in Latin America, has now spread to encompass liberation theology for women, for GLBT people, black people, for Asian people, for African people.

In our Gospel reading for today, we find this seed for all liberation theology.

But I want to stress that my view of liberation theology has not been political. I know that it’s easy to let this message of Jesus become a political statement. I once even heard a pastor preach on the fact that Jesus died as a political prisoner, not a religious one—that ultimately the message of Jesus was not religious at all but political.

As someone who daily ponders the message of Jesus, who wrestles with it, meditates on it, and who tries, more often not failing in my attempt, to live out the message of Jesus, I am solidly convinced that Jesus’ message was and remains purely religious. That doesn’t mean that this religious understanding of care for the poor and oppressed shouldn’t fire our political understanding, but I remain firmly convinced that it is ultimately religious.

There is another aspect of this reading that I think is also so beautiful. By Jesus standing and proclaiming who is and what he has come to do, he really sets the standard for us as well. We too should proclaim our faith in Jesus in the same way. Now, as I say that I don’t mean we should be obnoxious and fundamentalist in our views. I think too many Christians proclaim themselves as Christian with their lips, but don’t live it out in their lives and by example (and I am guilty of this myself). What I mean is that because the Spirit of the Lord was upon Jesus, and because he was appointed to bring good news to the poor, that truly becomes our mission as well because we follow Jesus. Because Jesus breathes his Spirit upon us, that same mission that the Spirit worked in Jesus is working in us as well. And we should, like Jesus, stand up and proclaim that mission to others.

Jesus has empowered us to do what he says in today’s Gospel: We are to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of the sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

What does that mean to us—to us who are here, in this place? It means that we are not to go about with blinders on regarding those with him we live and work. It means that we are surrounded by a whole range of captives—people whoa re captive to their own prisons of depression and alcohol and drugs and conforming to society or whatever. Our job in the face of that captivity it to help them in any way we can to be released.

It means that we are not to go about blind and not to ignore those who are blinded by their own selfishness and self-centeredness. I am still so amazed by how many people (especially in the Church, amazingly enough) who are so caught up in themselves. I really think self-centered is a kind of blindness. Selfishness causes us to look so strongly at ourselves (and at a false projection of ourselves) that we see nothing else but ourselves. By reaching out others, by becoming aware of what others are dealing with, by helping others, we truly open our eyes and see beyond ourselves.

When we do these things, we are essentially letting the oppressed go free. And I would add here that our job isn’t only to do this for others. It’s also to do this for ourselves. Just as people become self-centered, so conversely I think some people also deny themselves so completely that they slowly and systematically destroy themselves. They neglect themselves. Which anyone who does ministry on a regularly basis knows we simply cannot do. We cannot help others if we are not taking care of ourselves to some extent. This liberation form oppression, blindness and captivity is just as clearly proclaimed to ourselves as it is to others.

Finally, w are called to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. This is simply the icing on the cake. Once we have proclaimed liberation, we must then proclaim God’s blessings on us. God favors a liberated people. God does so , because God can only effectively work through a people who have been liberated from captivity, blindness and
oppression.

This to me is what true liberation theology is. Although I still believe that liberation theology needs to speak to the poor and oppressed of the world, I also have realized quite acutely that the poor and oppressed of our world—here and now—are not only those who are poor financially. The poor and oppressed of our world are those who are morally, spiritually and emotionally poor. The oppressed are still women and GLBT and those who don’t fit the social structures of our society. They are the elderly and the lonely. They are the criminals and those who are leading quietly desperate lives in our very midst. We, as Christians, are to proclaim freedom to all those people who are on the margins of our lives both personally and collectively. And often those poor oppressed people we need to be proclaiming this year of the Lord’s Favor to might be our own very selves.

This is the year of the Lord’s favor. I am not talking about 2010. I am not talking about this decade. I am talking about this moment and all moments in which we, anointed and filled with God’s spirit, go out to share God’s good news by word and example. When we do so, we are making that year of the Lord’s favor a reality again and again.

So, let us proclaim the good news. Let us bring sight to the blind, and hope to those who are oppressed and hopeless. Let us be liberation theologians in our deeds to those whoa re crying out (in various ways) for liberation which only Jesus and his followers can bring. And when we do, we will find the message of Jesus being fulfilled in our very midst.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Requiem Eucharist for Mary Borkhuis



Mary Borkhuis(Dec. 23, 1939-Jan. 16, 2010)

Micah 6.6-8; John 11.21-27
Mary—in typical Mary fashion—said last week as she was dying that she did NOT want this service because she did not want a “fuss,” regarding her funeral. I can even hear her voice as she said it. But we have went against her wishes to some extent. We are gathered today—hopefully without too much fuss. When her cousin Jay and I talked last week as Mary lay dying in Wisconsin, I made sort of an executive decision as Mary’s priest (an honor she graciously bestowed upon me in our last telephone conversation a few weeks ago) and insisted that there be some kind of service.

Now, I will confess to you that my reasons for making that decision were more selfish than noble. They were selfish because I simply could not imagine how I could let Mary go without having this service for her. Because we all have to face the fact that the Episcopal Church was very, very important to Mary. For all her talk of her Dutch Reformed ancestors and her own Presbyterian upbringing, the Episcopal Church was ultimately the place she called home and found a true church family. And there were few Sundays when she did not attend Mass either here at the Cathedral or at Grace Church in Jamestown.

And when I started a Wednesday night Eucharist at St. Stephen’s, Mary was always there. In fact, she was often the first one in the church and one of the last to leave.

Before I started the Wednesday night Mass last May, Mary and I had established a tradition of our own on Wednesday nights—we attended the 5:30 Mass at the Cathedral and then afterward ate pizza together at the Green Mill here in Fargo. Every Wednesday without fail Mary and I met to share a large pepperoni pizza with extra cheese and several glasses of diet Coke (Mary’s drink of choice).

And we had a grand time together in those meals. She often enjoyed hearing about whatever it was I was passionate about at that moment, and I enjoyed how she harassed the waiters or waitresses in that restaurant.

Last Wednesday, a group of us honored Mary after the Wednesday night Mass at St. Stephen’s by going to the Green Mill and having pizza and diet Coke in her memory—and we were waited on by one of those waitresses Mary harassed.

During those meals with Mary, I got to know her better than I ever thought I would—and probably better than almost anyone else. It was during those meals with Mary, that I came to cherish our friendship. We really bonded over those meals.

Mary, I think, came across to people in a particular way that may not have reflected who she really was. The fact was, underneath it all, she was a woman of deep intellect, wry sense of humor, rock-solid faith and, what a lot of people didn’t know, a very tender heart. And no matter what you thought you might know about Mary Borkhuis, the fact was she was, in all reality, a very humble person.

One of the scriptures I chose today for this service was our reading from Micah. I love this reading and I know Mary did as well. And in so many ways, it truly captures who Mary Borkhuis was. Let’s hear from it again:

“and what does the Lord require of youbut to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

That was Mary Borkhuis to a T. She was, above all else, someone who truly did walk humbly with her God. I probably saw this most clearly when we shared Holy Communion together.

The Eucharist was very much the center of her life. It was sustained her spiritually and held her up when she needed to be help up. As I was pondering our friendship, I realize that the relationship I had with Mary was very much a Eucharistic friendship. Our friendship revolved around a common meal together. Whether it was the pizza we shared at the Green Mill, or the Eucharists we shared together at the Cathedral or at St. Stephen’s, or those Communions that I shared with her in the hospital after her diagnosis and during her radiation treatments, our friendship was centered squarely on the bond that comes from such a sharing. It is a bond very much like the bond Jesus makes with all of us in the Eucharist.

Just as we know Jesus in this sharing of bread and wine, so we also know each other. Just as we recognize Jesus in the breaking of bread, we also recognize one another in that breaking of bread as well. As we come together to celebrated this Eucharist, to share the Body and Blood of Jesus with each other, we know that we do so not only with those gathered here in this church building. We do so with all those Christians both alive in this world and those who have gone before us into the nearer Presence of Christ. We do so with Mary Borkhuis, who is also in that nearer Presence, but who, at the moment we celebrate our Eucharist, it with us here as well. In this sacred and holy moment in which we share Jesus’ Body and Blood here, we realize more so than any other time how thin that veil is that separates us from them.

Jesus said in today’s Gospel and in the liturgy at the beginning of this service, “I am the resurrection and I am the life.” Those are not light words. That is not an empty statement. Those words contain everything we need to know about Jesus and who he is to us. He is truly our victory over death and he is truly our life without end. At no other time are we made more aware of that fact than we are when we come together at this altar and celebrate that Resurrection and Life.

When I started that Wednesday night Mass at St. Stephen’s, I invited anyone who wanted to, to join us for supper afterward at a different restaurant in town for a meal.

On Wednesday, October 14, Mary attended Mass at St. Stephen’s and afterward I asked her where she wanted to go. She choose—you guessed it—the Green Mill. The following Wednesday I noticed she wasn’t at Mass, which was a bit unusual, and so I called her the next day and left a message on her cell phone, teasing her about missing Mass. When she didn’t call back, as she usually did when I left a message, I suspected something was up. Only the following Friday did I find out that she was in the hospital and had been diagnosed with Stage IV Melanoma that had spread to her brain.

The last time I saw Mary was on Sunday, November 29. She was moving the next day to Wisconsin, to live and be cared for my her sister, Sue. It wasn’t an easy decision for her to move out the house she loved, but she knew she couldn’t take care of herself anymore. That Sunday afternoon, I came to Mary’s house and brought her Holy Communion. And there, at the kitchen table, as we shared Jesus’ Body and Blood, it truly felt like all those meals we had shared before. And as we parted, I think both of us kind of suspected it would be the last time we would see each other…at least on this earth. But having been sustained by that Eucharist and the faith we have in Christ, we realized—it was all right.

And that is the real message we can all take away from the life of Mary Borkhuis. In her heart—that surprisingly tender heart of hers—she knew (and would tell us as well) that Christ is in control, not us (which wasn’t easy, I’m sure, for her to admit). Christ loves us and cares for us and will take care of us, no matter what happens in this life—and that is what matters more than anything. I will cherish forever my memories of the Eucharist’s and meals Mary Borkhuis and I shared together. And I—and I hope all of us who are gathered here today—will look with hope and joy to that moment when we will share a meal together in that nearer Presence of Christ.

I am also grateful that we have went against Mary’s wishes regarding this service and that we are celebrating this service of Holy Communion. As we come forward to share Jesus’ Body and Blood, we do so with sadness at the loss of Mary, but also with true joy at the realization that what she now enjoys awaits us as well.

“I am the resurrection and I am the life,” Jesus said and continued to say to all of us. “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” For those of us who believe, like Martha, in these words, we too can find some of that strength and hope that Mary had as she faced her final illness.

Just as Mary and I knew that last time we saw each other, so we know that no matter what life might throw at us, everything will be all right. Somehow, Jesus—that Life and Resurrection—always prevails. Jesus always sustains and lifts up. So let us prepare to celebrate this Eucharist—this service of thanksgiving—for Mary’s life and with the bold confidence and faith Mary herself had in those words that Life without end awaits us.

May God bless Mary Borkhuis and her presence in each of our lives and may Jesus welcome her with joy to the meal he has prepared for her.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Parrots

after Du Fu


for Dennis Mahoney


So! This sad cloud!
this sad, green cloud.

Parrots. They remember
their ancestors,

those tame, obedient servants
who sang on command

and mimicked the voices
of the hands that fed them,

and released them
to this spacious wildness

too spacious for their brains
to fully comprehend.

Now look at them,
their feathers frayed,

their purple beaks
dulled almost to gray.

And as they pass over—
a mass of green—

they look down as if
they know more than me.

They have forgotten
the comfort (or curse)

of that imprisonment.
The place they came from—

those rusted metal frames
and rotten perches—

lie in ruins.
The hands that petted them

and released them
have crumbled now to ashes

and now lie long buried
in the earth they fly over.

And together—en masse—
they have lost the uniqueness of their beauty.

Instead—look!
see how they exult

in their lack
of rarity.

Orange County, California.
December 1, 2007

Sunday, January 17, 2010

2 Epiphany


January 17, 2010

John 2.1-11

As most of you know, weddings are not one my favorite things. Give me a baptism or a funeral any day over a wedding. Still, I actually do enjoy weddings that are truly joyful events in which two people express their love and their commitment for each other.

Of course, I have done my fair share of weddings in the seven years I’ve been ordained. And one thing I have discovered is how a wedding without some very good drinks is not necessarily a great experience.

In our gospel reading for today, we find that experience as well. The good wine has run out and the wedding feast is about to crash quickly. But Jesus turns water into wine and when he does, there is a renewed sense of joy and exultation.

That I think is the gist of this experience from our gospel reading. It is not just some magic trick Jesus to performs to wow people. It is not some action he performs at the whim of his mother. He performs this miracle and in doing so instills joy in those gathered there. But more than that, by doing this he does what we always does when he performs a miracle. He performs miracles not just for the benefit of those at the wedding. It is for our benefit of us as well. Because by performing this miracle, he is giving us a glimpse of what awaits us all.

If we look closely at the story and at some of the details contained in it, we will find clues of the deeper meaning behind his actions. First of all, let’s look at those jars of water. This is probably the one area we don’t give a lot of thought to. But those jars are important. They are not just regular jars of water. They are jars of water for the purification rites that accompany eating in the Jewish tradition.

Scot McKnight writes in his wonderful book, The Jesus Creed:

“The water in these stone jars is not for hygiene. This water is sacred. This water is used to purify people and things. People and things are made pure to get them in the proper order before God, to render them fit to enter into God’s presence. Observant Jews wash their hands in this water so they can eat their food in a state of purity.”

So, what we find is that Jesus turns these waters of purity into wine. And not just any wine. But abundant wines that bring about a joy among those gathered. In a sense, what Jesus has done is he has taken the party up a notch. What was already a good party is not an incredible party. It’s a beautiful image and one that I think we can all relate to.

The best part of this view of the wedding at Cana is that Jesus is saying to us that, yes, there is joy here in the midst of us, but a greater joy awaits us. A greater joy awaits when the Kingdom of God breaks through into our midst. When it does, it is very much like a wedding feast. When it does, the waters of purification will be turned into the best-tasting wine because we will no longer have to worry about issues like purity.

To some extent, the wedding at Cana is a foretaste of what we do every Sunday (and Wednesday) here at this altar. It is a foretaste of the Holy Eucharist—this sharing with each other of Christ’ Body and Blood..

And the Jesus we encounter at this feast is not a sweet, obedient son, doing whatever his mother says. He is like the wind—doing what we must when he must and no sooner. As Scot McKnight writes:

“The Messiah, [Jesus is suggesting] is not a tame lion; he roars and roams when and where he chooses. And he is about to choose to do so, but not until Mary clears herself from the picture.”

To be fair to Mary, however, we must realize that at no point does she request anything from Jesus. All she does is state the obvious. “There is no wine.” She then says to the servants, “Do whatever he asks.”

Gary Willis, in his lovely book, The Rosary, responds to this fact by quoting W.H. Auden:

“Our wishes and desires—to pass an exam, to marry the person we love, to sell our house at a good price—are involuntary and therefore not themselves prayers, even if it God whom we ask to attend to them. They only become prayers in so far as we believe that God knows better than we whether we should be granted or denied what we ask. A petition does not become a prayer unless it ends with that words, spoken or unspoken, ‘Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.’”

McKnight probably sums up the miracle at Cana most perfectly in this phrase:

“When he water turns to wine and the eye of faith peers into the purification vessels, it does not see sacred water but sacred wine. The eye of faith sees not an image of itself but the image of Jesus floating on the surface of the wine. Jesus is seen in the wine for who he is really: the one who not only provides but is himself the joy of the kingdom.”

I love that! And that to me only cements the fact that what happens at Cana happens each time we gather together at this altar for the Eucharist. Here too, at this altar, we see Jesus in this wine and when we do we find that he is truly our joy. In him, our truest and deepest joy come springing forth.

So, as you come forward for Communion this morning, do so with that image of the wedding feast of Cana in your hearts and minds. Know that you come forward to not just a magic trick. You come forward to a miracle and sign of God’s kingdom breaking through into our very midst.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

1 Epiphany


The Baptism of Jesus
January 10, 2010


Luke 3.15-17, 21-22

I don’t know about you, but occasionally I am just perplexed by things that happen in Scripture. Just when you think you might have it all figured out, something comes along in the Bible that completely perplexes me and throws everything upside down. Now, I bet if I went around the church this morning, most of you can give me an example. Maybe it’s the concept of the Trinity, or something St. Paul said, or maybe it’s difficulty in trying to figure out something Jesus said in a parable, or maybe it’s just one of those violent, weird stories from the Old Testament.

For me, the Baptism of Jesus has always been a hard one to grasp. My problem is this: I have always had a pretty clear sense of what baptism is. Baptism is probably one of my single most favorite things about the Church. I love the idea of Baptism. I love doing baptisms. I love commemorating my own baptism. And certainly I believe highly in Baptism. I believe in what the Catechism, found in the Book of Common Prayer, tells us about Baptism:

“Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us as…children and makes us members of Christ’s Body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God. “

I like that definition and I believe it completely. So, with this mind, I am still a bit perplexed. If Baptism is the sacrament in which God’s adopts and in which we are made members of the Body of Christ—the Church—why then was Jesus baptized? Isn’t he already the Son of God. Isn’t he, as the Son of God, already the natural inheritor of the Kingdom of God? So, why was he baptized?

Now, I will be honest. This is a question that has perplexed me for years. And most preachers that I’ve known have really glossed over this question. In all my years in the church, I have never heard anyone really confront this question from the pulpit. Sure, I’ve heard plenty of sermons on this First Sunday after Epiphany on the importance of the Baptismal Covenant. Trust me, I’ve preached plenty of sermons in the seven years I’ve been ordained about the Baptismal Covenant and about the importance of baptism in general on the this First Sunday of Epiphany. But I still have never heard one preacher ever wrestle with this issue of why Jesus had to be baptized.

So…why was Jesus baptized?

That’s the question Scot McKnight asks in his book, The Jesus Creed, a book from which you have heard me quote many times before (and no doubt I will quote from again). McKnight writes:

“John’s baptism is for repentance, but Jesus is sinless. So why was Jesus baptized? To begin with, we are no more baffled than John himself, for he does his prophet’s best to keep Jesus from jumping into the river… Clearly, then, if Jesus doesn’t need to repent [and John’s baptism is all about repentance], then he must be repenting for others, for us. Why would he do that? … Jesus is baptized to repent perfectly so God can send the Spirit to empower us for our vocations.”

McKnight goes on to quote C.S Lewis:

“Only a bad person need to repent: only a good person repents perfectly….The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person—and he would not need it.”

All right. So, we understand that John’s baptism is about repentance and Jesus is repenting for us by being baptized. Great. Still, that definition leaves me a bit disappointed. I think we need to look at it from a difference perspective to truly understand where we stand on this issue. Only when we start recognizing that baptism isn’t some sweet christening service do we truly understand the meaning of Jesus’ act in today’s Gospel.

Baptism is, in reality, full of heavy connotations. Namely—and this is very important—there is a powerful connection between descending into the waters of baptism and…you guessed it…death. We say in our baptismal liturgy:

“We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death.”

That’s a very important aspect of understanding what Baptism is all about. Originally Baptismal fonts were not sweet little stoups like ours. Originally they were big—in fact that were purposely shaped like tombs. And the belief was that as one was immersed in the waters of baptism, one essentially died. One died to one’s old life. One died to sin. They were buried in the tomb of the baptismal font. And as one rose from the waters, one was resurrected and renewed. Later in the Baptismal rite, we hear this:

“By [the waters of baptism] we share in [Jesus’] resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.”

This is essential in trying to figure out what happens at baptism. Again, this is no sweet little service in which babies in white garments are sprinkled with water. This is an actual re-enactment of death and resurrection. We go down in the death of the water and we rise into new life in Christ. It involves death and resurrection.

So, essentially what Jesus is doing is he’s 1) foretelling what is going to happen to him. He too will die, but will rise again to new life. and 2) he sets the standard of what it means to be a Christian.

As Christians, we too, like him must die to our old selves and be reborn into new life. And—even more strikingly—this baptismal event in Jesus’ involves deep theological understanding we not fully grasp on first glance.

Last Wednesday, on the Feast of the Epiphany, I shred at our Wednesday night Mass a few thoughts from Father John Julian of the Order of Julian of Norwich. He shared with us the belief in the Eastern Church about the Baptism of Jesus being a theophany—a revelation of God as Trinity. In today’s’ reading, we find all of God being revealed to us. We find God the Father as a voice speaking. We find God the Son, in the water. And we find God the Holy Spirit descending upon the Son as a dove. This is important. We don’t experience moments like this very often in the Bible. It seems as thought, for this one moment, it all comes together. It’s all laid out for us. In fact, the only other time we experience something even remotely like this is also an event we celebrate during the Season of Epiphany and that is the Transfiguration of Jesus on the Mountain. In a sense then, what we find happening in the baptism of Jesus is not a cleansing of Jesus, not a sense of Jesus inheriting the Kingdom.

Rather what we find in Jesus being baptized is a pathway being set for us. Jesus, by going down into the waters of the River Jordan, is prefiguring his own death. And by rising from those waters, he prefiguring his own resurrection and glorious ascension, not to mention the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is, then, a kind of prophetic act. And it is one that he invites us to take part in as well.

The early Church Fathers thought a lot about the Baptism of Jesus. And whenever I get hung up on something perplexing, I can usually go to those early Church Fathers and Mothers and find a new perspective. And sure enough, there it is in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch. Ignatius was one of the great Fathers of the early Church. And he wrote this wonderful little gem:

So far from being cleansed in the waters at his baptism, Jesus effectively cleansed the waters for us by his baptism.

Jesus shows us the way. He makes clear to us that we too must do so we can partake fully in not only his death, but also his resurrection. Or rather we can say that Jesus, by dying, confronts head-on that unavoidable fact that we must die and by doing so we lets us know that we also can take part fully in his resurrection. As Tom Wright says,
“This is how he must do it: by humbly identifying himself with God’s people, by taking their place…living their life and ultimately dying their death.”

So too then can we partake in his resurrection. This is what baptism is all about. It is not about sweet, gentle sprinkling of water. It is about death and dying. It is about death and new life. It is about renewal and rebirth.

In just a few moments, we will renew out Baptismal Covenant. And when we are done, I will sprinkle you with water. In these actions, we will be reminded of how important this Baptismal act was in our lives. Although most of us were too young to remember the actual event, our baptism was, by far, the single most important event in our spiritual lives. We, on that day, were reborn and renewed to live a life of following Christ. On that day we, like Jesus, went down into the waters and by doing so we died like him. And that, like Jesus, we arose from the waters. We arose from those waters renewed and reborn into full inheritance of God’s Kingdom. When we arose from those waters, like Jesus, the Holy Spirit descended upon us and anointed us with the holiness that would sustain us throughout our lives. And when we arose from those waters and were anointed by the Spirit, God also spoke to us and said to us (and God still says to us), “You are my Beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

Now, you can see why I love baptism so much. You can see why I believe it such an import event in our lives as Christians. Because we truly are reborn in these waters of baptism. And it is an event in which we are embraced by God in all God’s forms—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—and claimed by God as God’s Beloved So, with that in mind, please stand and turn to page 292 in the Book of Common Prayer.


Friday, January 8, 2010

The memorial service for Clayton Teitgens


Clayton Tietgens
(January 4, 1923 – January 5, 2010)

January 8, 2010
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church
Fargo

John 14.1-6

As most of you know, Clayton was a life-long Lutheran. He was active here at St. Mark’s all of his life. The Church was very important to Clayton and it defined and shaped his faith in God.

On Monday night, which was also Clayton’s 87th birthday, I was called up to MeritCare to pray at his side. And as I did, I realized that it is in moments like this that we all truly need the Church. The Church is more than just this building. It is all of us—all of us as Christians, gathering together both in our physical sense and spiritually. And that night, as I left and I sent out requests for prayer, I knew those prayers were being sent up for Clayton And there was a sense that we as Christians were gathering together and were there for him, for Margaret and for their family in spirit.

I too was baptized and raised a Lutheran and so I know how important things such as this service we are celebrating together is for those of who knew and loved Clayton. And Clayton, no doubt, would commend the words of this service to us as a way of consoling ourselves and making sense of the loss and sadness we are feeling this morning.

The fact is, we can take great hope in our liturgy—in the actual words of this service. Certainly, we liturgical Christians which include of course Lutherans (and in my case, Episcopalians), we place huge importance on liturgy. The words of this service say everything we can ever hope to say about dying and about rising to new life in Christ following death. For most preachers, anything we say in addition to the words of the liturgy simply pale in comparison. In fact, as we celebrate this service together, I invite you to pay special attention to the words we say together.

For example, the words we used at the beginning are incredible. Those words, “All who we baptized into Christ have put on Christ. In his baptism Clayton was clothed with Christ. In the day of Christ’s coming, he shall be clothed with glory.”

We often don’t think too much about those words, but they really do tell us everything we could hope to hear about death. In those words, we hear that Jesus, who has been working in Clayton’s life from the very beginning, from that he was baptized day, is still here with us today. And that today, Clayton is clothed with glory, as we all shall be as well.

Pay close attention also to the prayers we say at the commendation at the end of the service when we pray those beautiful words,

“Receive Clayton into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.”

Those are not light words. Those are words that pack a punch and have deep meaning for anyone who mourns.

In a few moments, at the end of the Prayers of the People, we will pray in grateful thanksgiving that, in Jesus’ death, God has

destroyed the power of
death and that by his resurrection Jesus has opened the kingdom
of heaven to all believers.

We pray that God will “make us certain that
because Jesus lives we shall live also, and that neither
death nor life, nor things present nor things to come,
will be able to separate us from God’s love in Christ
Jesus our Lord

It’s words and images and sentiments such as these that make our liturgy so important and carry the weight it does. That’s why I always encourage people to often refer back the words of the funeral service found in the Worship book and read through these words when they’re feeling sad or lost Often people tell me that they have taken the funeral service home with them and replaced the name in the Worship with one of their own loved ones and that using these prayers have helped them in their own grief and sorrow. After all, they are full of consolation and hope. They truly do give us a glimpse of what awaits all of us.

The liturgy carries great meaning at other times as well. On Monday, when I gathered with the family at Clayton’s bedside to say some prayers, one of the prayers we prayed was this one. It comes from the Book of Common Prayer for the Anglican Church of New Zealand. The prayer we prayed Monday evening was this:

God of the present moment,
God who in Jesus stills the storm and soothes the frantic heart;
bring hope and courage to your servant, Clayton and to his loved ones.
Make them the equal of whatever lies ahead for them.
For your will is wholeness.
You are God and we trust you.

It was a perfect prayer for Clayton on Monday. God, who in that present moment, God, who in Jesus stills storms and soothes hearts that are frantic, was, at that moment, brining hope and courage to Clayton. Jesus was there at his bedside. In that moment, Jesus was there to make Clayton the equal of what lay ahead for him—life. Unending, glorious life.

That prayer could also be used for us as well today. As we head into these days without Clayton, we also ask our God, who is with us in this present moment, to still the storm of our mourning and to soothe whatever frantic hearts we may have in the wake of our loss. We ask God at this time to bring us hope and courage. And we truly do ask God in our liturgy to make us the equal of what lies ahead for us in these days to come.

We, also, in our liturgy, center everything on the reading of the scriptures. Our gospel reading for this service this afternoon is especially appropriate. In it, we find Jesus truly stilling the storm of mourning and loss. In it we find the distraught Martha crying out to Jesus and saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus, in a sense, tells her not to fear, but to have faith. He settles her fear with those immortal words, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live and everyone who lives and believe in me will never die.”

We have heard those words so often in our lives as Christians—often without giving them a second thought. But they really do tell us everything we could hope to hear about death.

In Jesus, we have Resurrection and Life. We have the defeat of death and we have life everlasting. With faith in Jesus, even though we will die in our bodies, we shall live. And in living, we will live forever with him.

This is the consolation we can take away from today. In that place—that wonderful glorious place, promised to us in scripture and in liturgy—Clayton is now fully and completely himself. He is whole.

In that Prayer from the New Zealand Prayer Book that I prayed with Clayton and his family on Monday, we prayed,

Your will, O God, is wholeness.

Wholeness means just that—completeness. Whatever imperfections we might have in this world, whatever in this life prevented us from being who we are truly meant to be, are made whole by God. And today, we can take great consolation in the fact that that petition has been answered for Clayton. God has made Clayton whole.

Of course that doesn’t make any of this any easier for those who are left behind. Whenever anyone we love dies, we are going to feel pain. That’s just a part of life. But like the illnesses that lead to death, our feelings of loss are only temporary as well. They too will pass away. This is what gets us through. This is where we find our strength—in our faith that promises us an end to our sorrows, to our loss. This is what scripture allows us to glimpse. This is what liturgy allows us to look forward to. Clayton knew this faith in his own life and we too can cling to it in a time like this.

When I heard of Clayton’s death on Tuesday morning, I prayed a prayer for him that gives me a lot of consolation.

“Into paradise may the angels lead you. At your coming may the martyrs receive you, and bring you into the holy city Jerusalem.”

On Tuesday morning, Clayton was received into that paradise. On Tuesday, angels led him to that holy city Jerusalem. On Tuesday, the martyrs received him and brought him home. One day we too will be received there as well. One day, we too will experience that wonderful paradise.

So this afternoon and in the days to come, let us all take consolation in that faith that Clayton is complete and whole at this very moment and for every moment to come from now on. Let us take consolation in that paradise to which he has been received by martyrs and angels. And let us be glad that one day we too will be there as well, clothed, like him, with a glory and a happiness and a joy that will never end.

Amen.










Thursday, January 7, 2010

Fargo Forum article/interview


http://www.inforum.com/event/article/id/265000/

Scenes and syllables: Fargo pastor, artist team for new book

Jamie Parsley is used to working with someone else’s words. As a pastor at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Fargo, he goes to the Bible for inspiration, guidance and interpretation.
By: John Lamb, INFORUM
Jamie Parsley

Known to his parishioners at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church as their reverend, Jamie Parsley just published his ninth collection of poetry, “This Grass,” which also features art by Gin Templeton. Forum file photo
“Autumn Meadow”
Gin Templeton’s pastel paintings like “Autumn Meadow” help illustrate imagery Jamie Parsley conveys in verse. Special to The Forum
“Autumn Clearing”
Gin Templeton’s “Autumn Clearing” is featured in Jamie Parsley’s new collection of poetry, “This Grass.” Special to The Forum
"This Grass"
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Jamie Parsley is used to working with someone else’s words. As a pastor at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Fargo, he goes to the Bible for inspiration, guidance and interpretation.
As a poet, however, Parsley was used to working alone. That is, until 2006. That’s when he collaborated with Fargo pastel artist Gin Templeton, pairing his verse with her paintings.
That collaboration, showcased at the Spirit Room Gallery, received such supportive comments from friends that Parsley says the two decided to publish a collection of their endeavor. The book, “This Grass,” came out late last year.

Parsley is already preparing for his collection of poems, “Fargo 1957,” a look at the impact of the ’57 tornado, to hit shelves later this year, but talked about his current project, available at Zandbroz Variety and Melberg Christian Book & Gift.

What about Gin’s art works well with your poems?

I like the simplicity in a lot of her paintings. Particularly in her nature paintings she has ties to the Earth, and I think I sort of have that in my poems as well … I wasn’t surprised that her nature paintings and my nature poems went together. What I was more surprised about was how her city paintings and my poems went together.

In the introduction to the book and in the piece “Dropping the Stick,” you talk about wanting to be a painter. When you write, do you try to project imagery or is it more abstract?

I don’t know if it’s ever cut and dry. It depends on the particular topic that I’m writing on. I do notice, and this is probably where the painter comes to mind, I probably see color more than a specific object, and that’s a connection I always make to paintings. And I think there’s a lot of color words in my poems. … We could go on and on about the artist’s eye and what you see you try to convey in some way, whether it be painting or poetry. I think there’s a commonality there. That’s what I found so appealing about this project. There is a commonality. It is art.

Have the two of you ever discussed switching mediums for a project where you would paint and she would write?

We have not ever talked about that. That would be interesting. She would do much better with the poetry than I would do with the painting.

The poem “This Grass” toward the end of the book is not necessarily a happy piece. It’s about time passing and things fading, human remains “outdated as a comma.” Why not name the book after a more celebratory poem like “This Place” or “A Steady Sigh”?

I sort of like that, and I think she does, too. You look at the paintings and it seems light and colorful, but you look at it longer and there’s depth and volume and shadow. The poem leads you into this place you didn’t know you were going to be led. I like when we do that. That’s a good thing.

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533
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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Funeral for Harriet Engebretson


Harriet Engebretson
(April 16 1924-January 1, 2010)

January 6, 2010
The Feast of the Epiphany
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church
Fargo

Revelation 7.9-17

In our reading from Revelation today, we find a wonderful vision of the future. We heard this:

They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’

The future is certainly an uncertain time. It can be full of hope. Or it can be full of fear. Or it can be full of sadness. It all depends on where we are, emotionally.

The fact is that for us, people who believe in the vision we are given in our scripture reading from Revelation today, we cannot allow fear or sadness to reign in our lives. When we are told that, in the future, every tear shall be wiped away, those are not light words. Certainly not for those of us who have shed our fair share of tears in this life.

Harriet, no doubt, shed more than her share of tears in her life. But today, we realize one thing after hearing this lesson: her tears have been dried. Every tear has been wiped away from her eyes. And she will never again shed tears of sadness or pain. If she sheds tears, they are tears of joy and gladness.

Funerals of course are sometimes sad events. But I think sometimes it’s good to find joy in the midst of sadness. When someone we love and care for and who cared for us and loved us leaves us, it is natural to feel sadness. It is natural to shed tears. It is natural to be apprehensive of a future without that person. But the fact is this: as sad as it may seem, as wonderful as it is that Harriet’s tears have been wiped away, we also can find hope and joy in our futures, even a time like this. If Harriet was here—and I think she is here with us today—in our midst—she would tell us to cling to hope and joy in this moment.

As a pastor, I lead a lot of funerals. And sometimes—sometimes more often than not—I lead funerals for people I never knew. I am disappointed today that I didn’t get to know Harriet, that we never met. But what I have found in my years of leading funerals is that, more often than not, I bond not only with the family, but I also sometimes bond especially with the person whose life we are remembering. I definitely felt a bond develop between Harriet and myself in these last few days. Although I never had a chance to know Harriet personally, I have no doubt in my mind that I would’ve liked her immensely. And forming bonds like that with people never makes leading funerals any easier, let me tell you. In fact, it sometimes complicates doing them. I find myself at times getting emotional about people I have never even met. But that’s a good thing, I think.

I have no doubt in my mind that what separates us who are alive and breathing here on earth from those who are now in the so-called “nearer presence of God” is a thin one. And because of that belief, I take a certain comfort in the fact Harriet is close to us today. She is here, in our midst, celebrating her life with us.

Yes, I think I would’ve liked Harriet very much. She seemed like one of those people who, for the most part, loved life and tried to live it as completely as possible. It was fun for me to hear the stories about her. Cathy told me about simple wonderful things like how she always had fresh cinnamon rolls for her grandchildren. Or how amazing it was that for someone who was such a crazy driver to have so few bumps on her car.

But she was also a woman of faith. She was a woman of prayer (even if her prayers were in Norwegian sometimes) She a woman committed to studying Scripture. Bob remembers seeing her lying down on the couch after a long day of work and reading her Bible.

And this church—St. Mark’s—was important to her. It was here she was married and it was here she attended church until 1962, when the family moved to Mandan. Her faith is a lesson for all of us still. No doubt she knew pain in her life. She shed her share of tears in her life.

But, in this moment, that is all over for her. In that place she now lives, it is a wonderful place. It is place where there are no more tears. It is place where there is no more sadness or pain or loss.

Last Sunday, I preached here at St. Mark’s about New Year’s Day and how New Year’s Day is a day of hope and renewal for us. It is a day when everything seems new—when we seem to grasp at that one moment in life and say, “This is it. We are here. Now.” I truly believe that in God’s Kingdom, it always like New Year’s Day. The day is always fresh and new and full of endless possibilities. In God’s Kingdom we are always in that one new, fresh moment of saying, This is it. We are right here.” And it is wonderful. It is wonderful because that freshness and newness never ends or grows old or becomes stale. It is a renewal that happens again and again.

I truly believe that God would provide no less a place for Harriet. We, here and now, can only guess and, maybe if we try hard, can possibly JUST imagine that place. We, here and now, can only just guess at what unending joy can possibly be like. Here and now, we can only barely fathom what a place would be like in which there are no more tears.
But the consolation we can take away from today is that for Harriet, she is experiencing that place at this moment.

On New Year’s Day, she experienced a new beginning that will never grow old or stale. Our hope in that place is what gets us through. Our knowledge is that Jesus himself knew what pain and tears were. And he has led the way to that place where those things pass away.

In those moments when all seems bleak, when all seems lost, we know that we can find peace—we can find comfort. We can find God’s peace.

Bob shared me with this story about Harriet: Back in 1990, Clyde had a brainstem stroke. The doctors said he wasn’t expected to make it, that patients who have had this kind of stroke never survive. After days of praying and watching over him, an exhausted Harriet went back to the hotel. She climbed into the bath with her Bible and randomly opened it. She came upon a verse in which God spoke very clearly to her. As she read it, she felt peace descend upon her. She knew then and there that everything was going to be all right. She went back to the hospital and upon entering the ICU, she was told by that doctor who had told her Clyde would not survive that he had, in fact, turned a corner.

That, to me, is a sign of deep and abiding faith. And it is something we can take away with us today. Yes, we might be saddened that Harriet is no longer with us, we might be saddened by all those memories we have. But through our tears, through our pain at loss, I think we can all hear Harriet’s voice speaking to us, telling us, “It’s going to be all right.”

This is where we find our strength—in our faith that promises us an end to our sorrows, to our loss. It is a faith that can tell us with a startling reality that every tear we shed will one day be dried and every heartache will disappear. All of those negative things in life will vaporize like a bad dream upon awakening. We too can cling to it in a time like this.

So this morning and in the days to come, let us all take consolation in that faith that Harriet is full of joy and gladness in this New Day that will never end for her. And let us also be full of joy that one day we too will be sharing with her in that joy that will never end.

Epiphany


A lovely little Epiphany prayer I found:


Dear Jesus, as you led the Three Kings to you by the light of a star, please draw us ever closer to you by the light of Faith. Help us to desire you as ardently as they did. Give us the grace to overcome all the obstacles that keep us far from you. May we, like them, have something to give you when we appear before you. In your holy Name, we pray. Amen.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

2 Christmas



January 3, 2010

Jeremiah 31.7-14; Matthew 2.13-15, 19-23

I’d like you to go back in time with me today. We’re going back to a very different time. We’re going back to the summer of 1983. Yes, I know, on a bitterly cold day like today, going back to any summer in our thoughts is a pleasant diversion. But, let’s go back to that summer in particular. 1983.

That summer I was thirteen years old. Thirteen is never a fun time for any of us to return to. And even more so for me. But that summer was a decisive summer for me. It was the summer I was called to the priesthood. Now when I say “called,” I don’t mean any might booming voice from heaven called me. Or any voice for that matter. I just knew that summer that I was going to be a priest one day and my whole life changed.

In this morning’s Gospel we encounter Jesus not as we would expect to encounter Jesus in this Christmas season—not as a baby or an infant. Instead, we encounter Jesus as a twelve year old—not that much different in age then when I was called to the priesthood.

Jesus appears to us like a head-strong independent youth, going off and doing his own thing. But unlike many twelve year old boys, who could go off and do much harm at that age, he goes off by himself and spends as much free time in the Temple.

or Jesus, the Temple was not a strange or unusual place. It was a place, we have seen throughout his life, that his parents returned to again and again. Here he was dedicated and circumsized. Here they returned every year. He would have been familiar with the Temple. And more than that, he felt at home in the Temple.

When I was thirteen, I was, as I still am, very much a “church geek.” I loved church. I thought it was a magical place—a different place than the rest of the world. It was a great place for me to go to seek refuge, to escape, to be somewhere different.

I will also tell you something else about myself that you will no doubt find quite remarkable: I was a good teenager. I was not rebellious in the ways many of my friends and colleagues were. I didn’t drink. I didn’t smoke. I would never even have considered taking drugs of any sort. I genuinely liked my parents.

But I was rebellious in my own way. I guess I knew my parents well enough hat I knew the one thing that could get their goat was not drinking or hanging out with hoodlums, but rather religion was an issue of contention. My parents were good Lutherans and no one int heir families or in our family ever questioned that or pushed the limits on that. Sure, my siblings and my counins drifted away from church after confirmation like everyone else seemed to do, but they always remained, at least nominally, Lutheran.

Imagine the chagrin they and my grandparents felt when, at thirteen, I announced that I wanted to be a Catholic! And a Catholic priest nonetheless. It was simply not soemthing that was done—certainly not by a teenage boy! My parents, like Mary and Joseph in today’s Gospel, no doubt were also astonished and had no idea what I was saying to them.

And this was my rebellion. I was devoted myself to being a Catholic with such determination that eventually there was nothing more they could say.

During that time in my life, this story from the Gospel was a meaningful one to me. I understood and related to the twelve-year-old Jesus in a way I couldn’t relate to other teenagers my own age who were also just as shocked and perplexed my decision.

Now, it’s natural that the teenage “church geek” should grow up to be a priest who also still loved to be in church any chance he can get. But I am not recommending that to you.

What we, as Christians, need to do is recognize the fact that our Father’s house is some exclusive, conformist place. Rather, our Father’s house is a place that oftentimes is at odds with the world around it. It is place for all the rebels, all the rabble-rousers, all the people who exists out here on the fringes of society can come and find a home. It is place where everyone rejected by society can feel at home and peace. It is the place in which God dwells and it is there that we will find God. It is there we must, like the pre-teen Jesus, always be.

For me, the Church has never been a place of conformity as so many other people have seen. For me the Church has been sort of counter-cultural. It has seemed to me to be a place that always is a bit at odds with the world. I recognized that when I was a teenager. I realized early on that my greatest rebellion was not doing what all the other kids were doing. My greatest rebellion was in place that was truly floating against the stream at times.

And this is what the Church should be. The Church should never be the country club to the society. it should never be the place where “we” get to gather in place different than “them.” Rather the Church should be the place wherein “we” and “they” can come together and find our home.

We don’t need to be obnoxious in our rebellion. We don’t need to be shout and scream our rebellion. Our rebellion sometimes is as simple as living life with a sense of personal integrity and purpose, with a sense of love and compassion for everyone who comes to us. When we do that, the house of God stops being a church and starts being our very hearts, in which God dwells. We become the house of God to others when we reach out in love and compassion to others and be there for them.

Be the house of God in which God dwells, in which Jesus longs to be and makes every effort to return to again and again. Be the house of God and when you are those words of Jesus taking on greater meaning: “Why do you search for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And when we are, we will make a difference in our world that truly be satisfied within our boundaries.