Monday, August 14, 2017

The Feast of Blessed Jonathan Myrick Daniels

The Feast of Blessed Jonathan Myrick Daniels

The mirror sees us
It reflects our colors
and glorifies
our differences.
It blurs the imperfections
and accentuates
our fake smiles

We ask instead
for fire. A burning
from above. Burn
these cataracts of ignorance
and prejudice.
Turn to ashes
our adolescent minds
we delight in.
Consume our inbred instincts.
These human eyes, after all
will soon enough
go blind with death
and turn to ash.

But true vision—
true sight
will survive us.

Calm the violence that grows within us
when we are frightened
and challenged. Instill
within us peacefulness
and a love
that helps us to embrace color—
to see, in our various tints,
the holiness of flesh.

Love us
in the colors of our skin—
in our reds,
in our blackness,
in our yellows
in our browns
and in our whiteness.

Love us for
the fire
that burns in us—
that inferno of
of compassion
and truth—
that flames
stronger than all flesh.

Love us for the life
within us—
for the frail breath
here, with us, in this moment
and gone,
in an instant later.

Love us for
the blood
in our veins—
the same blood
drained from your veins.

Make us, truly,
as you are

Jonathan Myrick Daniels (1939-1965) was an Episcopal seminarian who was shot and killed in August 20, 1965 in Selma, Alabama while defending a young girl during the Civil Rights demonstrations in the city.  His feast in the Episcopal Church is celebrated on August 14. 

Originally published in the anthology, Race and Prayer: Collected Voices, Many Dreams, edited by Malcolm Boyd and Bishop Chester L. Talton. Published in 2003 by Morehouse Publishing.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

10 Pentecost

August 13, 2017

1 King 19.9-18; Matthew 14.22-33

+  As we gather this morning, the world seems in turmoil—even more so than usual. I had hoped and prayed that we would not be facing what we are now facing in this world—this show-down of nuclear powers or the amazingly overt racism that manifested itself yesterday in Charlottesville, Virginia.

It is all sobering. And it is all very frightening.  And it causes me to return to someone would understand all of this.

I am speaking of Thomas Merton.  If you do not know Thomas Merton, you must find out more about Thomas Merton. I cannot stress that enough. You will never regret knowing more about Merton.

Merton was an American Roman Catholic Trappist monk at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky, who died in December 1968. And in the turbulent 1960s he was, despite being a monk in a very enclosed monastery separated from the rest of the world, a radical, to say the very least. He was a pacifist who spoke out loudly against the war in Vietnam at a time when few priests and monks did so. And he spoke out loudly and clearly on the issues of racial discrimination that was coming to the forefront in the United States 50 years ago.  And because of his views, let me tell you, there are many people returning to Merton, especially now.

Merton’s voice from 50 years ago is echoing to us across the abyss this morning. In fact,
 an article that just appeared in the Jesuit magazine America asks the question: What would Thomas Merton be saying about the current situation with North Korea?  I would add, what would be his response to Charlottesville? His response would not surprise many of this morning.

Merton would be telling us that, as Christians, we have only one response. We, followers of Christ, the Prince of Peace, have only peace as our option. And not just a supernatural peace, not such a warm fuzzy sense of peace.  But real, practical peace in this world.  Merton wrote,

“Christ Our Lord did not come to bring peace to the world as a kind of spiritual tranquilizer. He brought to His disciples a vocation and a task, to struggle in the world of violence to establish His peace not only in their own hearts but in society itself.

In other words, we must strive for peace—not only a supernatural, spiritual peace, but actual peace in this world, in society. Because, there are consequences to war, to actions, to words thrown in violence and anger, to hatred and anything hate-fueled, to tweets, and to a car driven into a crowd, as we all know. There are consequences to the votes we cast. And there are consequences to racism and inequality and homophobia in this world.

Merton writes,

“We cannot go on playing with nuclear fire and shrugging off the results as ‘history.’ We are the ones concerned. We are the ones responsible. History does not make us, we make it—or end it.

And exactly 50 years ago, in the summer of 1967, Merton wrote this about the racial issues that were raging at that time,

"The problem as I see it is no longer merely political or economic or legal or what have you (it was never merely that). It is a spiritual and psychological problem. . . . We are living in a society which for all its unquestionable advantages and all its fantastic ingenuity just does not seem to be able to provide people with lives that are fully human and fully real."

He wrote that 50 years and it rings as loudly right now as if he wrote it this morning. 

Merton would understand the storms we are living within right now, right here. And he would be asking us, “Seriously? You’re still dealing with these things after all these years?”

Sadly, yes, we are.  It’s not a pleasant place to be this morning.

And I want to be very clear. I want there to be no doubt on what I am about to say:

Warmongering is a sin.

Racism is a sin.

You cannot be a Christian and be a warmonger.

You cannot be a Christian and be a racist.

You cannot be a Christian and be an anti-Semite or a homophobe or sexist.

And I never thought in a million years that I would have to say this in 2017, of all years, but you cannot be a Christian and also be a Nazi, a neo-Nazi, a member of the KKK or Alt-Right.

You cannot hate and still be a Christian. (unless, of course, you hate injustice or inequality or or homophobia or war).

It’s as simple as that!

(If you have any issue with what I have just said, don’t attempt to debate me on it. Do not try to convince me otherwise in the narthex or at any other time.)

So, how do we respond to this violence and war and racism and collective and personal anxiety and fear we are experiencing?    

Well, today, in our reading from 1 Kings and from our Gospel reading, we get an idea. In those scriptures, there are storms.  We find, in our reading from First Kings, that the prophet Elijah is being confronted with first a storm, then an earthquake and then a fire.  And in each of them, he finds that, despite their magnificence, despite the fact that they are more powerful than Elijah himself, God is not in any of them.  He does not hear the Word of God coming to him out of these instances.

For our life right now, I can tell you, God is not in any type of nuclear response to what is happening. And I can tell you God is definitely not in the storm of hatred and violence we find at a neo-Nazi rally!

For Elijah, God speaks to him not in the storms, but rather in the “sheer silence” after the storm.

Our Gospel reading is similar in many ways.  There too is a storm.  And this one is just as frightening.  The disciples in the boat are buffeting, they are trying to make their way back to shore and cannot because the storm’s wind is against them, and they are clearly afraid.

A word we keep experiencing in our gospel reading for today is “fear.”  The disciples see Jesus, think he’s a ghost and they cry out in fear.  And Jesus says to them,

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

Peter, audacious as he is, then gets out of the boat and starts walking to Jesus.  But when he notices the storm raging around him, he becomes frightened and begins to sink.

Fear brings him down.

Jesus then reaches out his hands and lifts him from the water and stills the storm.

These scriptural storms speak very loudly to us on this particular Sunday morning.  We understand these kind of storms today. We know the fear storms of whatever kind can produce.

In the storms of this world in which we live, we often find ourselves at a loss.  We too often do unpredictable things in these storms like Peter.  We do the equivalent of getting out of a boat and attempting to walk on water.  We find ourselves doing naively audacious things.  And while doing it, we sometimes lose heart, we become afraid, and we begin sinking.

This is what storms and fear do to us. This is what terror does to us.  These things sap us of our energy, of our joy, of our bravery and they leave us vulnerable to them.

Fear causes us to lose heart.  It causes us to lose our joy and our gladness and our happiness. It saps our life and our energy from us. It gets in the way of standing up against injustice.

And that is why, during those storms, during those moments of false courage, during those times of raging fear, we need to lean into the storm and we need to hear that calm voice speaking to us with familiar words:

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

In the storms of our lives, in the raging tempests of fear, these are the only words we can cling to.  God, again and again, says to us,

“Do not be afraid.”

Do not be afraid of the things this world can throw at us.

Do not be afraid of things you cannot change.

Do not be afraid of wars and rumors of wars.

Do not be afraid of North Korea or Kim Jong-Un. 

Do not be afraid of Nazis and neo-Nazis and the Alt-Right and hatemongers.

Do not be afraid, but also let us not stand here passively in the face of the storm. Rather, let us take courage and let us embody the Price of Peace in our lives. Let us be true children of the God of Peace.  Let us be symbols of peace and love and acceptance in this world. Let us strive actively for peace, as we speak out against war, against aggression, against racism, against inequality, against violence in action and words. And I never thought I would ever have to say this, BUT, let is speak out against Nazis! 

For those of us who live in faith, we have no reason to fear.  Faith means trust.  Faith means being able to look to God, in those storms of our lives, and know that although frightening things may rage about us, with God, we can find the calm center of our lives.

As we strive for peace, even in those choppy waters of our lives and the world,  we need to look up and see Jesus, the Prince of Peace, standing there.

This reminds of the greatest part of the Gospel reading for today.  In the midst of that storm, as Peter sinks into the waters, Jesus doesn’t simply stay put and raise Peter miraculously from the waters from a distance.  Rather, Jesus actually comes to Peter where he is in that storm and lifts him out of those waters.  And that is the image we can take away with us as well. In the storms of this world and of our lives, as we sink deeply into the dark waters of anxiety and fear and war and anxiety, when we call out to Jesus, he comes to us in peace, where ever we are and he raises us up.  He instills peace in us.  And, in peace, he leads us back to a place of safety.

But it doesn’t end there.  We also in turn must go out in peace into the storm, without fear to help others, to lift them up and lead them from the waters of chaos. 

So, let us follow this Prince of Peace. Let us allow the Prince of Peace to reign, to come to us and let him lift us up from the waters of chaos.  In telling us not to fear, in taking our hand and raising us up from the darkness of our lives, he stills the storms of our lives as well. He stills the storms of anxiety and depression and frustration and war and racism and hatred and fear that rage in us and all around us.  

There is a wonderful prayer from the Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church in New Zealand that I often pray with people I visit in the hospital or who are suffering from any anxiety or fear.  The prayer begins,

O God of the present moment,
O God, who in Jesus stills the storm and soothes the frantic heart,
bring hope and courage to those who trust in you.

That is our prayer today as well, as rumors of war and violence and hatred churn around us.   We also should pray that the God, who in Jesus stills the storms of our lives and soothes our frantic hearts, truly does bring hope and courage and eternal peace to us, who trust in God. And when Jesus does, we will find an abundance of hope and courage in our lives so that we can live our lives fully and completely in peace—without any fear—as God intends for us.

Let us pray.

O God of the present moment,
O God, who in Jesus stills the storm and soothes the frantic heart,
bring hope and courage to us—
us, who live here, at this time of fear in the midst of the storm—
for we trust in you.
You are God, and we need you. Amen.

25 years as an Oblate of St. Benedict

25  years ago today, on August 12, 1992, I made my oblation as an Oblate of St. Benedict at Blue Cloud Abbey in Marvin, SD. I very gratefully renew those promises this morning.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Storm approaching (before Wednesday night Mass at St. Stephen's)

Sunday, August 6, 2017


August 6, 2017

+ As most of you might know, I am a huge film fan. I LOVE films. It’s my escape. Some people have alcohol. I have movies. And I especially love those Technicolor spectaculars put out by MGM in the 1940’s and 1950s.  Talk about escape from reality. I always say, my idea of heaven is like a scene from an Esther Williams film from 1951.

Well, today, we get a Technicolor scene from the Bible. Today in our Gospel reading we hear the story of Jesus’ being transformed on the mountain top.   Actually, we more than just hear it. We get to see it.  It’s a very vivid description of what happened.  And it’s truly one of those incredible moments in the Bible.

It’s incredible because, for one holy moment, the veil between our world and God’s world is pushed aside.  On that mountain top, Jesus seems for a moment to have one foot in each world—one in this world, in which he is a human being just like the rest of us, and one foot in the next world in which he is much more than just another human being.

That would have been, in and of itself, enough.  But Jesus is also seen standing between Moses and Elijah—a sign obviously that what they foresaw in their prophecies, in their visions of what was to come, is fulfilled in Jesus who stands between them.  Jesus is the fulfillment of what those great prophets foretold. He is a fulfillment of the Law. 

The presence of Moses and Elijah shows us that—in a sense—their mission is complete.  Here, in this glorified person they flank, all that they foretold—all that they looked forward to—has found its completion.

Everyone who witnesses this vision is affected by it.  The Apostles who witness it—Peter, James and John, that inner sanctum among the Apostles—don’t quite know what to make of it.  They have been roused form their tired state by this incredible experience.

They are obviously baffled by what they saw.  And in doing so, they do the only thing they can do—they offer to build three sanctuaries there—to worship what they see as divine.  Finally, they seem to come down from the mountain in what I’m sure was a dazed state.

But why is any of this important to us? Why is this story that seems so strange and so exotic—so much like a Technicolor scene from a 1950s Biblical epic—so important to us—in this day and age? We have a hard time wrapping our minds around these images of dazzling white light and booming voices from clouds. We don’t experience God like this in our lives.

I suppose the question could be: why not?  Certainly, we are longing and searching for God in our lives, aren’t we?  We hear about it all the time. We hear of people searching for God.

But, to search for God means that, somewhere along the way, we seem to think God got lost. We know better than that. We don’t worship a lost God. And we don’t come to church on a Sunday morning to search for God.   We come to church because we long for God—we long for an experience similar to the experience those apostles encountered on the mountaintop.

So then, what is this story of the Transfiguration saying to us?  Do we too need to be crawling around on top of hills to find a place in which the veil between this world and God’s world is lifted?

Well, to some extent, that is exactly what we do every Sunday. In a sense, when we come together today, here at this altar, we too are coming to a place every much like the mountain top experience we heard about in this morning’s Gospel.

In the scriptures we have just heard, we have heard God’s voice, speaking to us.  When we celebrate Holy Communion together at the altar, when Jesus comes to us in the Bread and the Wine—for a moment, the veil between this world and God’s world is parted, as you hear me say over and over again.  We too are able to come close to Jesus our God, and see him—truly see him, without a cloud—if only under the appearance of Bread and Wine.  We too get to hear him, in our scriptures readings.  And we too get to experience him in each other—in all of us who are gathered here together.

But I think the interesting thing we need to remind ourselves of is this: it’s all right to seek out these experiences of God’s presence in our lives.  But why our searching and longing for God is different than others is that, in our case, as Christians, our God is not evasive or elusive.  

God is not playing hide-and-seek-with us.  God is here.  All we have to do is ask.  All we have to is look.  All we have to do is seek.  And we will find.

We have never lost our God. God has come to us as dazzling Light, yes.  God has spoken to us—at least through the scriptures—with a booming voice from heaven, yes.

But God has also come to us as one of us. God has come to us in Jesus. God comes to us in the Jesus we share with each other here at the altar, in the Jesus we share with each other in our own very presence as the people of God and the Body of Christ in this world.

God is no further from us than right here, in our midst, when gather together to worship, to hear the scriptures and to break the bread that is Jesus’ body.  And like those disciples, we must, when we’re done, go from here.

We must leave the mountaintop experience and go back down, to share our experience, to live out what we have learned and seen and felt here. We are compelled—by the words we hear in the scriptures, by the spirit of Christ we take with us from this Holy Communion—to live out that experience out in the world.

We do that be by being, honest, humble, authentic Christians. Being an authentic Christian means being loving and compassionate and accepting people.   It means walking in love.

Of course, we will fail in that.  I fail in walking in love—in being compassionate and loving—all the time.  I get angry at the guy who cuts me off in traffic or at the injustices in the world around me. I complain.  I grumble.  I can tell you, I am not always a walking talking billboard for the Christians faith.

But hopefully, our experience here—our encounter with God in this place on this day—can make enough of a difference in our lives that we will be able to carry it with us throughout our week and into our very day-to-day lives.  Hopefully, we can go from here glowing with the experience we have here. That glow might not be a visible glow, but hopefully it is one we can feel within us.  That glow—that aftereffect of our experience of God—is what we can carry with us and cherish within us long after we leave here.

Of course, we also need to face the facts about not only the story we have heard in today’s Gospel, but in what we have commemorated here at the altar. The Gospel reading begins ominously: “About eight days after Jesus had foretold his death and resurrection…”   The Transfiguration is a foretelling of the glory that awaits Jesus--it is a foretelling of the Resurrection--but it is a glory that comes with an awful price.  It comes only after Jesus has been tortured and murdered.

Today is also the anniversary of another bright light. It was on this day in 1945 that the Atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.  Now, not a lot of people know this, but I actually know a fair amount about Hiroshima, because I actually wrote a book about it. I know. You have probably not read it. Not many people have.

My little-know third book, Cloud, published twenty years in 1997, is a long (166
page), two-act poem (verse play) about Hiroshima and its after-effects in the lives of five people.  I think three people read the book, including my mother, who, I don’t think, “got it.” It’s  out-of-print now. I did see that a copy of it is currently for sale on Amazon for $49.99 (trust me, that 50 bucks I’m never gonna see) The theme of the poem is the Light of the bomb, and how that light illumined more than just the event of that day.

We, in a sense, are still living in the afterglow of the Light of that event.  It changed all of us and transformed us in ways we could never imagine.  In that white light, a violence like we have never known was unleashed upon the world.

What we celebrate today at the altar, is a remembrance of the violent death of Jesus and his triumph over that death.  And not just over his death. It is a triumph over the death that was brought upon Hiroshima and all those people who through violence.  It is a triumph over our deaths as well.

As I’ve shared with you before, I have been a big fan of so-called Indie Music for many, many years, back before it was even called “Indie.” One of my favorite Indie performers, whom I’ve mentioned in sermons before is an incredible singer and song-writer by the name of Sufjan Stevens. Stevens put an amazing album back in
2004 called Seven Swans. On the album was a deceptively simple and beautiful song called, “”The Transfiguration.” I highly recommend you find it on YouTube and listen to it (especially today) But there’s a great verse that in that song that is just wonderful:

What he said to them, the voice of God, the most beloved son
Consider what he says to you, consider what's to come
The prophecy was put to death, was put to death
And so will the son
And keep your word, disguise the vision
Till the time has come

The Transfiguration shows us that we  must “keep [the] word,” and maybe sometimes “disguise the vision/Till the time has come.” Whenever that will be.

The Transfiguration shows us that God—not us—gets the last word.  Our experience on the mountain-top—like all life-altering experiences—will fade from us eventually.  It did for those apostles who accompanied Jesus there.

All of them—Jesus, Peter, James and John—would experience much sorrow in the weeks and years ahead of them.  The experience of the mountaintop cannot be preserved.  Like all the wonderful moments in our lives, they can only be cherished.  And they can be shared.

But we have the continued opportunity to come back and to participate in it again and again.

God is here.  God is present among us—God’s people.  God is longing too.  God is longing for us—to know us and to have us experience God.

So, let us go from here—let us go back down the mountain, into the valley below, with our experience of God glowing brilliantly on our faces. Let us cherish this experience we have of God. And most, importantly, let us live out this experience in our life, as we walk in love.  

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Sunday, July 30, 2017

It was sad to say farewell to Darcy Corbitt this morning

8 Pentecost

July 30, 2017

1 Kings 3.5-12; Romans 8.26-39; Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52

+ Well, to say the least, it was a…shall we say...a very interesting week in the news.

Yes, of course, we heard about the President’s  banning Transgender people from the military, which, it seems, none of the military heads agreed with. Then, there was the resignation of Reince Priebus as White House Chief of Staff, following quickly on the heels of the resignation of the Press Secretary last week.  Six resignations in six months.
It’s feeling, weirdly, like 1973-74 all of a sudden.  (Not that I would remember) (I think I can hear the Carpenters singing…)

Of course, then news came that the North Koreans might possibly have a missile that could reach has far as Chicago.  

Then, locally, we heard the story of the confrontation in the Wal-Mart parking lot between a Christian woman and three Muslim women. Many of us watched the video. Many of us watched it in horror.  We heard the spiteful, hateful, mean things that woman spewed, all while a gold cross hung from her neck.  It was disturbing and frightening.

But, in the midst of it all, we also saw the reconciliation as the women all met later and made peace.

I don’t know about you, but for me, as I hear these stories, as I obsessively watch and follow many of these stories (especially the daily, increasingly bizarre stories coming out of the White House), I realize that the fear that is at work in this country is almost palpable. No matter where you are politically or religiously or personally, there’s a lot ear at work. Real fear.  You can cut it with a knife, it’s that REAL.

But what is most shocking to me is how so much fear, so much anxiety, so much darkness, can come forth from some seemingly small, other-wise  insignificant actions. It doesn’t take much to fan the flames of fear anymore. It doesn’t take much stoke the fire of our personal and collective anxiety.

A car parked too closely to another in a parking lot.

A simple phone call.

A tweet. 

Which is a reminder to all of us: it is not the big things we sometimes need to fear. It not always the North Koreans and political tampering with our democratic process by foreign governments that really get our fear factors going—though that’s pretty frightening.  Sometimes—more often than not—it is the small things that affect us most.

In our Gospel for this morning, we heard the Kingdom being compared to several small things: mustard, yeast, treasure, pearls and fish.  The gist of these parables is that something small can make a difference. Something small can actually be worth much.

As I pondered this these last few days, I realized that Jesus really is, as always, VERY right on with this. When we do a bit of good—like planting a bitty mustard seed—a lot of good can come forth. But, as I said, we also realize that a little bit of bad can also do much bad. A little bit of fear can grow into something out of control.  And I’m not just talking about the news and the government.

We all live with various forms of fear.

Fear of the future.

Fear of change.

Fear of things that are different, or strange, or that don’t fit into our confining understanding of things.

Our fear of these kind of things can be crippling.  We sow the small seeds of fear that grow into larger ugly plants of fear when we when wallow in that fear, when we let fear grow and flourish into a huge, overwhelming weed.  When we let fear reign, when we let it run roughshod through our lives, we see
bitterness and anger following.

Our reading from the Hebrew scriptures is a great example of how we should respond to issues of fear. In our reading from the 1 Kings, we find God telling King Solomon that anything he asks will be granted.  This would be something most of us really would want God to say to us as well. If God spoke to you and told you that anything you prayed for would be granted, what would you ask for? I know a few things I would ask for. And most of those things we ask would be normal.

But Solomon doesn’t ask for the normal things. Solomon asks God for the gift of understanding. And that is the gift God grants Solomon. And us too!

When we ask for the gift of understanding, God usually seems to grant it. As long as we are open to the gift. The fact is, most of us aren’t open to understanding. We are too set in our ways, into believing we know what is right or what is wrong.

But when we ask, when we open ourselves to this gift, God gives us the Holy Spirit.   And how do we know when the Holy Spirit is given to us? We know the work of the Holy Spirit, by the Spirit’s fruits. Those fruits blossom into real, tangible signs.

But when we resist the Spirit, when we resist the movement of God, we find ourselves trapped—in fear, in bitterness, in anger. But it is not an option for us as Christians to be stuck and trapped in fear.   How can we fear when we hear Paul say to us in his letter to the Romans:

“if God is for us, who is against us.”

We cannot let fear rule our lives.  After all,

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ?”

Will any of the hardships of life be able to defeat us or separate us from Christ?

“No, in all these things we are conquerors through him who loved us.”

Nothing—not “death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, not things to come, not powers, not height, not depth, not anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

(By the way, I am convinced that this might be the most powerful scripture we have as Christians!)

After all, when we get stuck in fear, when we let ourselves be separated from the love Christ in our lives, that is when we hinder the Kingdom.  It prevents the harvest from happening.  It prevents growth from happening.  It makes the church—and us—not a vital, living place proclaiming God’s loving and living and accepting Presence.

Our job is to banish fear so the Kingdom can flourish.  The flourishing of the kingdom can be frightening.  Like the mustard seed, it can be overwhelming.  Because when the Kingdom flourishes, it flourishes beyond our control.  We can’t control that flourishing.  All we can do is plant the seeds and tend the growth as best we can.

Rooting our endeavors in Christ is a sure guarantee that what is planted will flourish.  Because rooting our endeavors in Christ means we are rooting our endeavors in a living, vital Presence.  We are rooting them in a wild Christ who knows no bounds, who knows no limits and who cannot be controlled by us.  Rooting our endeavors in Christ means that our job is simply to go with Christ and the growth that Christ brings about wherever and however that growth may happen.  When we do, Christ banishes our fears.

So, let us help the Kingdom flourish!  To be righteous does not mean being good and sweet and nice and right all the time.  To be righteous one simply needs to further the harvest of the Kingdom by doing what those of us who follow Jesus do.  It means seeking understanding from God.  It means to plant the good small seeds.  And in those instances when we fail, we must allow the mustard seed of the Kingdom to flourish.  

And when we do strive to do good and to further the kingdom of God, then will we being doing what Jesus commands us to do.  The Kingdom will flourish and we can take some joy in knowing that we helped, working with God, to make it flourish.  And, in that wonderful, holy moment, we will know the fruits of our efforts.  And we—like the kingdom of which we are citizens—we     will also truly flourish!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

It was an honor to officiate at the marriage of Amanda and Roxanne

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Sunday, July 16, 2017

6 Pentecost

July 16, 2017

Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23

+ I don’t think I’ve ever discussed this in a sermon before, but there is a very old and very strange tradition in the Russian Orthodox Church that has both fascinated and perplexed me. Many years ago I read a wonderful book on the subject, which I now no longer have and could not find in any online searches. But the idea of that book has lingered with me. The tradition is that of the so-called “Holy Fool.”

Now, I’m going to quote extensively here from Wikipedia, for which I apologize.  I don’t like quoting from Wikipedia if I don’t have to. But this is a pretty good summary of what Holy Fools were.

Foolishness for Christ refers to behavior such as … deliberate flouting society's conventions to serve a religious purpose–particularly of Christianity. Such individuals were known as both "holy fools" and "blessed fools". The term "fool" connotes what is perceived as feeblemindedness, and "blessed" or "holy" refers to innocence in the eyes of God.
The term fools for Christ derives from the writings of Saint Paul. 
In the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:10, he famously says:
"We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised." (KJV).
Fools for Christ often employ shocking and unconventional behavior to challenge accepted norms, deliver prophecies, or to mask their piety.

A Holy Fool is one who acts intentionally foolish in the eyes of [all].
The term implies behaviour "which is caused neither by mistake nor by feeble-mindedness, but is deliberate, irritating, even provocative."
The "holy fool" is a term for a person who "feigns insanity, pretends to be silly, or who provokes shock or outrage by his deliberate unruliness."  Such conduct qualifies as holy foolery only if the audience believes that the individual is sane, moral, and pious. The Eastern Orthodox Church holds that holy fools voluntarily take up the guise of insanity in order to conceal their perfection from the world, and thus avoid praise.
Some characteristics that were commonly seen in holy fools were going around half-naked, being homeless, speaking in riddles, being believed to be clairvoyant and a prophet, and occasionally being disruptive and challenging to the point of seeming immoral (though always to make a point).

In other words, the Holy Fool is one who challenges, who disrupts one’s previously held views. It’s a topsy-turvy ministry. It is a ministry that, in a very shocking way, jars one out of their complacency.

The Holy Fools challenge again and again everything we thought we knew about our faith.  They challenge us on an intellectual and social level. And they challenge all out preconceived notions of what it means to be a Christian.

I’ve always loved the tradition of the Holy Fool. Because they remind us that Jesus is not calling any of us to perfection. 

There are so many Christians who strive for some kind of weird perfection in Christianity. We must do this or do that so that we may be “right.” There are people who feel: I figured this out. I have read all the right books and taken all the right classes and I know now what it all means.

With such thinking comes a kind of moral and intellectual superiority. You have often heard me caution against “intellectual snobbery.” We have all done it. We think we know more than others on these subjects because we read all the right books, or took all the right classes and have attained the right degrees from the right institutions.  And if we’re not “right”—doing the right things, saying the right thing—then we’re in trouble. We’re “wrong.”

The Holy Fools challenge all of that. For them, our job as Christians is not to be perfect Christians or even “successful” Christians. And let me tell you, nowhere does the “intellectual snob” fit into Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom! Our job as followers of Jesus is to follow—to follow in our imperfection, as fractured, imperfect human beings. Not the best, but the least.

Now, I know that even hearing that creates frustration in many of us.  We like the idea of working toward the goal of perfection. And often we maybe even feel we have gained a kind of “success” as a Christian. We’ve got it figured out.  And I’ve heard people say it, even. I’ve heard people say to me, “Well, that’s not a very Christian thing to do, Father.” I’ve done it too.  I’ve said that.

So, the Holy Fools, in the face of that exalted view, challenge us, and frustrate us. But, the fact is, nowhere does Jesus expect us to be successful in our faith, or perfect.

Now, today’s Gospel, at first glance you would think would not be a reminder to us of this fact. But…but…it actually is. Deep down inside this Gospel reading, we find exactly what those Holy Fools were getting at in their bizarre and eccentric ministry.  

If you notice at the beginning of our Gospel reading, as Jesus sits in the boat from which he preaches sort of like from a pulpit, we are told that there is a large crowd coming forward to listen to him.  To this large crowd, Jesus then proceeds to preach about seed that fails and seed that flourishes.  And for this moment, it seems as though the seed of the Gospel as it comes from Jesus’ mouth is truly falling on the good soil.

But…. when we look at it from the wider perspective of the story of Jesus, what we realize is that what he is preaching is, in fact, falling on rocky ground and among thorns.

Let’s face it: on the surface, from a completely objective viewpoint, Jesus’ ministry is ultimately a failure (or seems to be anyway).  Let’s look very hard at just this instant in Jesus’ ministry.  

On this particular day, he is surrounded by twelve men—people he himself chose—who just, let’s face it, just don’t get what he’s saying.  And they won’t for a very long time. In fact, they won’t get it until after he’s dead.  These men will, eventually, turn away from him and abandon him when he needed them the most.  One of them, will betray him in a particularly cruel way: one of them will betray him to people he knows will murder Jesus.

By the time Jesus is nailed to the cross, it’s as though everything Jesus said or did up to that point had been for nothing.  Not one of the people Jesus helped, not one of the people he gave sight to, helped to walk, healed of illness, came forward to defend him.  Not even one person he raised from the dead came forward to help him in his time of need. And certainly, not one person from this large crowd of people that we encounter in today’s Gospel, comes forth to defend him, to vouch for him or even to comfort him as he is tortured and murdered.

Everyone left him except his mother and a few of his female friends.  And maybe his dear apostle John.

As far as his life of ministry was concerned, it seemed very much like a failure.  It seems, in that moment, as though the seed he sowed had all been sown on rocky ground and among thorns.  It seemed as though the seed he sowed had died.  For any of us, frustration would be an understatement for what we would be feeling at that moment.  

And if this was the end of the story, if it ended there, on that cross, on that Friday afternoon, then it would be truly one of the greatest failures.

But this is one of the cunning, remarkable things about Christianity—one of the things that has baffled people for thousands of years.  And this is what the Holy Fools embody in their lives and ministries.   

In the midst of this failure, in the midst of this frustration, God somehow works.  In that place of broken dreams, of shattered ambitions, God somehow uses them and turns them toward good.

Somehow, in a moment of abject loneliness, of excruciating physical pain, of an agonizing murder upon a cross, God somehow brings forth hope and joy and life unending.  And what seems to be sown on rocky ground and among thorns does, in fact, flourish and produces a crop that we are still reaping this morning. God truly can use our flawed and fractured selves for good and turn our failures and our frustrations into something meaningful.

What we can take away from our Gospel reading today is that our job is not always to worry about where or how we are sowing the seed.  Our job is to simply do the sowing.  And God will produce the crop. It is not our job to produce the crop.

What I have realized in my years of ordained ministry is that I simply need to let God do what God is going to do.  Our job, as Christians, is simply to sow.  And God will bring forth the yield.  And when God does, then we will find crops flourishing even in rocky soil and amidst thorns.

So, all you who have ears, listen. We will all feel moments of frustration in this life, but for those of us who hope in God and who sow the seed of God’s Word in this world simply cannot allow frustration to triumph.  Frustration and despair are the thorns and rocky soil of our lives.

Rather, let us heed the message of the Holy Fools for Christ. Let us be Holy Fools for Christ.

God loves us our weirdness, our eccentricity. God loves us when we are the misfits, the fools.  God uses and works through our imperfections.  And in our weirdness, in our imperfection, we become the rich soil in which that seed flourishes.  When we do that, the crops God brings forth in us and through us will truly be one hundred times more than whatever we sowed.  Amen.