This is what I feel like after this week.
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Sunday, March 26, 2017
March 26, 2017
1 Samuel 16.1-13; Ephesians 5.8-14; John 9.1-14
+ I know it’s not quite the word one would expect at this half-way point through Lent. In fact, it sounds suspiciously like a word we haven’t used at all during this season—a certain A word that rhymes with Malleluia. But “Rejoice”—or “Laetare” as the word means in Latin—is the word for today. And it’s a good word to have.
Today is, of course, Lataere Sunday. Laetare means, of course, mean "Rejoice" in Latin. We are rejoicing on this Sunday because we are now at the midpoint of Lent. We get a little break from Lent on this Sunday. It’s not all purple and swishes and ashes around us. There’s flowers behind the altar and in front of Our Lady’s ikon (flowers are normally forbidden during Lent).
It’s good to rejoice. It’s good to take this time and just…breathe. It’s good to reorient ourselves. Ash Wednesday on March 1st seems like a long time ago already. And Easter on April 16th seems to be in a very distant future. This is where we are—right smack dab in the middle of this season.
The Gospel reading for this Sunday in the old lectionaries was John 6:1-15, the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes -- symbols of the Eucharist to come on Maundy Thursday of Holy Week. But, I’m happy we have the Gospel reading we have for today. This story of Jesus healing the blind man speaks very loud and very clear to us.
In a sense today—Lataere Sunday, the half-way mark of Lent—is a time for us to examine this whole sense of blindness. Not just physical blindness, but spiritual blindness, as well.
My theme for Lent this year, as you have all heard me say by now, has been brokenness, or more specifically, our brokenness in relation to the broken Body of Jesus in the Eucharist. In a sense, our brokenness and our blindness are similar. In our brokenness we become like blind people—or, at least, like nearsighted people. We grope about. We find ourselves dependent upon those things that we think give us come sense of clarity. But ultimately, nothing really seems to heal our nearsightedness. In fact our sight seems to get worse and worse as we go on.
In our Gospel reading for today, we find a man blind from birth. The miracle Jesus performs for him is truly a BIG miracle. Can you imagine what it must’ve been like for this man? Here he is, born without sight, suddenly seeing. It must have been quite a shock. It would, no doubt, involve a complete reeducation of one’s whole self.
By the time he reached the age he was—he was maybe in his twenties or thirties—he no doubt had an idea in his mind of what things may have looked like. And, with the return of his vision, he was, I’m certain, amazed at what things actually looked like. Even things we might take for granted, such as the faces of our mother and father or spouse, would have been new for this man.
So, the miracle Jesus performs is truly a far-ranging miracle. There’s also an interesting analytical post-script to our Gospel reading. (And I’m certain I’ve shared this story with you, but I always found it interesting)
St Basil the Great and other early Church Fathers believe that this blind man was not only born blind, he was actually born without eyes as some kind of birth defect This, they say, is why Jesus takes clay and places them upon the empty sockets, essentially forming eyes for this man. When he washes them in the waters of Siloam, the eyes of clay became real eyes with perfect sight.
It’s a great story, but the real gist of this story is about us. Our spiritual blindness often causes us to ignore those in need around us and this blindness causes distance and isolation in our lives, making our brokenness even deeper and more pronounced. For some of us, our spiritual blindness is merely a spiritual near- or far-sightedness.
But today, on Lataere Sunday, as we head into the latter part of Lent, we find ourselves being relieved for a bit of the heavy sense of brokenness we have been dealing with throughout Lent so far. We find ourselves bathed in light—a rose-colored light.
Our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians shows us that we are not children of darkness. We are not meant to walk around, groping about in our lives. We are meant to walk in light. We are meant to embody light in our lives. And, by that, we are not just meant to hold the light close to us, as though it’s some special gift we are given.
We are not meant to hoard the light. As children of light, we are meant to share it. We are meant to be conduits of that light. To everyone. Even when we might not feel like it.
We are anointed in much the same way David was anointed by the prophet Samuel in our reading from the Hebrew Bible today. We, who were anointed at our baptism, are now called to be what David was—a person on whom the Spirit of God comes in great power.
That Spirit brings light. That Spirit brings spiritual clarity. That Spirit brings vision. That is what we are doing on this day.
Lataere Sunday, also known as Rose Sunday or Mothering Sunday or Refreshment Sunday—is a break in our Lenten grayness. It is a time to refocus, to readjust ourselves again, to remind ourselves of our anointing, of the light that dwells within each of us.
Today, even in Lent, we can be joyful. It is a time for us to realize that our brokenness is not an eternal brokenness. We realize today that no matter how broken or fractured we might seem, we can be made whole once again. No matter how blind or nearsighted we might be spiritually, our spiritual sight can be returned to us once again. And in doing so, we find ourselves almost chuckling over our brokenness, over our blindness.
We, in a sense, find ourselves on this Lataere Sunday—this joyful Sunday in Lent—laughing at our brokenness. Lataere Sunday is a great time to remind ourselves that, even in our brokenness, we will not be broken forever. We will be made whole like the blind man. We too will see with clarity and vision—with new eyes. And like him, we too will see the darkness lifted from our lives and the dazzling light of Christ breaking through.
So, today, on this Lataere Sunday—on this joyful Sunday in Lent—let us be joyful. Let’s be joyful, even in our brokenness. Let us be joyful even as we grope about, spiritually half-blind as we may be at times. Let us be joyful, because our brokenness and our blindness are only temporary But our joy is eternal.
Thursday, March 23, 2017
Prayers for the repose of the soul of Robert Zacher (+March 12, 2017), a former brother of the Episcopal Order of the Holy Cross, who was buried at (appropriately) Holy Cross Cemetery in north Fargo today. I knew Robert on and off for about 16 years (not always under pleasant circumstances, sadly) and he very graciously donated several boxes of liturgical books to St. Stephen's a few years back. No real mourners except for the clergy, the funeral director and the cemetery workers.
+ Rest eternal grant to him, O Lord; and light perpetual shine upon him.
Monday, March 20, 2017
Sunday, March 19, 2017
March 19, 2017
+ So, I can’t remember if I’ve talked about this much from the pulpit, though I have discussed I know with many of you one on one. But…two years this coming May, I made a decision that was, for me, an important one. Two years ago in May, I decided then to not partake of alcohol any longer. I mean—none. Zero. Not even a sip.
It was not an easy decision for me to make. I liked partaking of my cocktails, as many of you know. I liked the social aspects of drinking. But…I suddenly, physically, was not able to drink alcohol any more. Every time I did, I get physically sick.
At the time, two years ago, I was not 100 percent happy to give up drinking. And I sort grumbled about it and pouted about it for a while.. But, after a while, I discovered that it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I have never felt better!
The bigger issue for me was navigating my social life without alcohol. I soon discovered non-alcoholic beers (which weren’t as bad as I initially thought), as well as the wonderful world of mocktails. (They’re actually pretty tasty).
Giving up alcohol, however, much like when I gave up meat or dairy, makes one especially conscious in many ways of the ways one can use and sometimes misuse such things. And yes, we can be abusive not only how we drink, but also how we eat. Yes, I missed alcohol, and meat, and dairy. For a while. But after so long, the “new normal” took hold. And now, I can’t imagine those things in my life at all.
Now, as I say that, I realize this is all a matter of a privileged person talking about giving up something. These are what we call “First World Problems.” In a world in which people are starving and thirsting, in a world in which people are suffering from real addiction to substances and food, I realize that my crowing about giving up alcohol sounds a bit shallow. And I apologize if it does.
But it also has given me a unique outlook on those people are starving and thirsting, as well as those people who are suffering addictions to such things. I realize that, for the most part, thirst, for example, just like real hunger, is one of those things we simply don’t worry about too much in our lives in our privileged Western world.
Most of us don’t physically thirst. We have our coffees, our clean water, our water machines and water tanks, not to mention our sodas and our recreational alcohol. And so, for the most part, it’s a luxury for most of us to give up things like soda and alcohol, even if we’re addicted to them.
There’s no doubt about it: so much of our life our life revolves around what we drink, that thirst very rarely ever plays into our lives anymore. But although we might not thirst for liquid often in our lives, we do find ourselves thirsting. We do thirst for knowledge, we thirst for justice, we thirst for fulfillment, we thirst for truth. And we definitely thirst for spiritual truth.
And I think that’s very close to what Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel. In our very long Gospel reading, we find Jesus confronting this Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. More often than not, when we encounter a story like this in scripture, we don’t often think about what happened to some of these people following their experience with Jesus.
Every so often, it might not hurt to ask ourselves: what happened to this woman at the well? Did she heed the words of Jesus to her, or did she go on in her old lifestyle? We know she shared the news with other Samaritans. But did she reform her life? We will never know.
But, what is more important is the message that is here for all of us. When Jesus sits with the woman at the well, he offers not only her that water of life—he offers it to us as well. And we, in turn, like her, must “with open hand” give it “to those who thirst.” To truly understand the meaning of water here, though we have to gently remind ourselves of the land in which this story is taking place.
Palestine was and is an arid land. And in Jesus’ day, water was not as accessible as we take for granted these days. It came from wells that sometimes weren’t in close proximity to one’s home. There was certainly no in-door plumbing. The water that came from those wells was not the clean and filtered water we enjoy now, that we drink from fancy bottles. They didn’t have refrigeration—they wouldn’t have understood what an ice cube was—so often the water they drank was lukewarm at best. And sometimes it was polluted. People got sick and died from drinking it. Which is why people drank alcohol—especially wine.
But despite all of that, water was essential. One died without water in that arid land. Water meant life. In that world, people truly understood thirst. They thirsted truly for water.
And so we have this issue of water in a story in which Jesus confronts this woman—who is obviously and truly thirsty. Thirsty for water, yes, but—as we learn—she is obviously thirsty also for more. She is thirsty as well for love, for security, for stability, all of which she does not have.
Now, we have to be fair to her. For a woman to be without a man in her day would have meant that she would be without security, without a home, without anything. A woman at that time was defined by the men in her life—her husband or father or son. And so, widowed as many times as she was, she was desperate to find some reason and purpose in her life through the men in her life.
This woman is truly a broken woman. She is thirsty. Thirsty for the water she is drawing from the well and thirsty for more than life has given her.
In a sense, we can find much to relate to in this woman. We too are broken people, as you have heard me preach again and again during this season of Lent so far. We too are thirsty.
As broken people, we are thirsty for relationships, for money, for food, for alcohol, for anything to fill that empty parched feeling within our broken selves. And as broken people, we find that as much as we try to quench that thirst, it all seems to run right out of us. We find that we will never be quenched until we drink of that cool, clean water which will fill us where we need to be filled.
That cool, clean Water is of course Christ. He is the Water of which we drink to be truly filled. It is the Water that will become in us “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” What better image to take with us in these long, spiritually thirsty days of Lent?
As we journey through the desert of Lent toward Holy Week, toward the darkness and violence of Good Friday, what better image can we cling to? Because that is what we are doing during Lent. We are traveling through the desert. We are walking through the arid wasteland of our own lives. We are journeying toward the Cross and the destruction, thirst, pain and death it brings. We are wandering toward that tomb, that dark, dank place. We are that woman at the well—parched and alone, thirsting for something more.
In Lent, we bring ourselves—our fractured, shattered, uncertain, frightened, insecure selves—to the well, expecting only for a temporary quenching. But at Easter, that day we are longing for, that we are traveling toward, that we are striving toward despite our thirst—on that day we will find more than we expected to find. On Easter, we will find Jesus, alive and vibrant, offering us water that will truly quench our thirst. At the empty tomb—that other well—he gives us the water that will fill us and renew us and make us whole and complete.
There, he offers us the water that will wash away the grit and ugliness of all that we have done and all that we have failed to do, as we say to God in our confession of sins. We find glimpses of this Easter feast in the Eucharist we celebrate together.
Here too we our thirst is quenched in the blood shed from the well of the broken body of Jesus. Here we too drink to quench our thirst. Like the Samaritan woman, we approach the well of this altar, trapped in our own brokenness. But, like her, we are able to leave the well of this altar and of the Easter tomb different people.
We walk away from this altar and that tomb transformed people—a person made whole. We walk away no longer fractured people. We walk away remade into saints.
So, as we approach Easter and the Living Water that pours forth from the tomb of Easter, let us drink fully of the water that is offered to us there. Let us drink deeply of Jesus, who offers himself to us fully and completely there, on Good Friday, there on Easter morning, and here on this altar this morning. And in that Water, we will find all that we desire. Our insecurities will be washed away. Our wounds will be cleaned and healed. Everything we have done or failed to do will be made right. Our brokenness will be made whole.
That thirst that drives us and nags at us and gnaws at us, that drives us to drink from places where we should not be drinking, will finally—once and for all—be quenched. And in that Living Water we will find Life—that Life that Jesus brings us on that Easter morning—a Life without death or suffering or wanting—a life which Jesus breaks wide open for us and shows us as more incredible than anything we fully appreciate or understand.
Jesus is there, offering himself for all. All we have to do is say, “Give me some of that water.” And it will be given to us. And those of us who drink of that water will never again be thirsty.
Thursday, March 16, 2017
Sunday, March 12, 2017
March 12, 2017
Genesis 12:1-4a; John 3.1-7
+ It seems like a long time go already—and that’s a good thing, to some extent—but I have been back from vacation for almost two weeks. And this is the first Sunday morning sermon I’ve preached since early February. Which seems insane to me!
This last vacation was a little different than most vacations I’ve had in the past. I have never taken three weeks in a row before (usually I spread my vacation out over the year) And, for the most part, I really let myself be on vacation this time. I prayed for you all, I thought of you all fondly, but I didn’t worry about you. I knew you all could take care of yourselves. And that you were in good hands with our Senior and Junior Wardens.
But…the last few days of vacation, I have to admit, I was beginning to bite at the bit somewhat. I was started to actually get anxious about getting back to work. (Maybe three week vacations are a good thing).
I was mentioning this anxiousness to a friend of mine before I went back to work, who replied by saying, “Well, I’m sure it’ll be good to be getting back to ministry again.”
That response was meant to mean, I think, work at the church. But I have to say that the response stopped me in my tracks for a moment. The fact is, I actually didn’t stop “doing ministry” while I was on vacation. I don’t get a vacation from “doing ministry.” Nor do any of us. I know. I’m sorry to break that news to all of you. None of us get a break from doing ministry. There’s no end to it.
Because, as most of us know, we are all ministers. We are all doing ministry together here. I am just the priest doing ministry in my own way. And to be real clear, I also don’t get a vacation from being a priest. Yes, I was still a priest on vacation. Being a priest, like any other ministry, is not something that can be turned on and off whenever I might feel like (though, let me tell you, there are days in which I wish I could…) Each of you are doing ministry in your own ways as well.
Now, I should be clearer about that. Our ministry together is not just in what we do. It is in who we are. Our ministry is often a ministry of who we are. Of our personalities. Of the person that God has created, even in our very brokenness. It’s all bound up very tightly together. And if each of us listens, if each of strains our spiritual ears and hearts toward God, we can hear that calling, deep in our hearts. We can find that God is calling us to the ministry of our day-to-day lives, the ministry of the person God has formed us to be, the ministry to serve others in the way God sees fit.
In our reading from the Hebrew Bible this morning, we find a clear call from God to Abram.
“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to a land that I will show you.”
Essentially this is the call to all of us who are in ministry. God calls to us wherever we may be and when that happens, we must heed it. We must step out from our comfortable places, and we must step out into our service to others even if that means going to those people in strange and alien places. And sometimes when we step into those uncomfortable places, we are made all the more aware of our own brokenness—we become even more vulnerable. But that’s just a simple fact in ministry: when God calls, God calls heedless of our brokenness.
In fact, God calls us knowing full well our brokenness. And—and I hope this isn’t news to anyone here this morning—God uses our brokenness. God can truly work through our brokenness and use our fractured selves in reaching out to other fractured people.
For too many people our brokenness divides us. It separates us. It isolates us. It prevents us from moving forward in our lives and in ministries. I see this all the time in the world and in the Church. And when it does, our brokenness becomes a kind of condemnation. It becomes the open wound we must carry with us—allowed by us to stink and fester.
But when we can use our brokenness to reach out in love, when we allow God to use our brokenness, it is no longer a curse and a condemnation. Our brokenness becomes a fruitful means for ministry. It becomes a means for renewal and rebirth. It becomes the basis for ministry—for reaching out and helping those who are broken and in need around us.
In our Gospel reading for today we get that all-too-familiar bit of scripture.
“For God so loved the world that [God] gave [the] only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”
We have heard that scripture so often in our lives, we almost don’t realize what it’s really saying. It is saying to us that God truly does love us. And that those of us who are heeding our call—who following after Jesus, who are loving Jesus and loving the Jesus we find in others—we will be made whole one day. We will be given eternal life Each of us is called. Each of us has been issued a call from God to serve. It might not have been a dramatic calling—an overwhelming sense of the Presence of God in our lives that motivates us to go and follow Jesus.
But each Sunday we receive the invitation. Each time we gather at this altar to celebrate the Eucharist, we are, essentially, called to then go out, refreshed and renewed in our broken selves by this broken Body of Jesus, to serve the broken people of God. We are called to go out and minister, not only by preaching and proclaiming with words, but by who we are, by our very lives and examples.
So, let us heed the call of God. Let us do as Abram did in our reading from Genesis did today.
“Abram went, as the Lord told him…”
Let us, as well, go as God has told us. Let us go knowing full well that heeding God’s call and doing what God calls us to do may mean leaving our country and our kindred and our house—in essence, everything we find comfortable and safe—and going to a foreign place—a place that may be frightening. And going will be doubly frightening when we know we go as imperfect human beings—as people broken and vulnerable.
But let us also go, sure in our calling from God. Let us go sure that God has blessed each of us, even in our brokenness. Let us go knowing that God loves us, because we too love. Let us go knowing that God will use the cracks and fractures within us, as always, for good. And let us go knowing God will make us whole again in our eternal life.
God will make us a blessing to others and God will “bless those who bless us.” What more can we possibly ask of the ministry God has called us to carry out?
Thursday, March 2, 2017
March 1, 2017
Joel 2.1-2,12-17; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6.1-6,16-21
+ Most of us, when we think of Ash Wednesday and Lent, think of a time of…dare I say, dread. This is, for most of us, a season of lamenting. A season of giving up something dear to us. Of being confronted with unpleasant things, like sin and our own mortality.
And that’s true. Yup. That’s exactly what it’s all about. That is exactly what we do tonight and for these next 40 days. We will be hearing about sin. We will be hearing about repentance. We will be reminded of the fact that, yes, we have fallen short in our lives.
And tonight especially, we will be reminded that one day, each of here tonight will one day stop breathing and die. We are reminded tonight in very harsh terms that we are, ultimately, dust. And that we will, one day, return to dust.
Yup. Unpleasant. But…
…sometimes we need to be reminded of these things. Because, let’s face it. We spend most of our lives avoiding these things. We spend a good portion of our lives avoiding hearing these things. We go about for the most part with our fingers in our ears. We go about pretending we are going to live forever. We go about thinking we’re not really like everyone else. We think: I’m just a little bit more special than everyone else. Maybe…maybe…I’m the exception.
Of course we do that. Because, for each of us, the mighty ME is the center of our universe. We as individuals are the center of our own personal universe.
So, when we are confronted during Lent with the fact that, ultimately, the mighty ME is not the center of the universe, is not even the center of the universe of maybe the person who is closest to me, it can be sobering.
And there we go. Lent is about sobering up. It is about being sober. About looking long and hard at the might ME and being realistic about ME. And my relationship with the God who is, actually, the center of the universe and creation and everything that is. It’s hard, I know, to come to that realization.
It’s hard to hear these things. It’s hard to have hear the words we hear tonight as those ashes are placed on our foreheads, “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”
You are dust. We are dust. We are ashes. And we are going to return to dust. Yes. It’s hard. But…
Lent is also about moving forward. It is about living our lives fully and completely within the limitations of the fact that are dust.
Our lives are like jazz to some extent. For people who do not know jazz, they think it is just free-form music. There are no limits to it. But that’s not true. There is a framework for jazz. Very clearly defined boundaries. But, within that framework there is freedom.
Our lives are like that as well. Our mortality is the framework of our lives. We have boundaries. We have limits. But within those limits, we have lots of freedom. And we have the potential to do a lot of good and a lot of bad.
Lent is the time for us to stop doing the bad and start doing the good. It is time for us to store up for ourselves treasure in heaven, as we hear Jesus tell us tonight in our Gospel reading. It is time for work on improving ourselves. And sometimes, to do that, we need to shed some things.
It is good to give up things for Lent. Look at me. I gave up something even before Lent started: The brown pigments in my hair.
No, it is good to give up things for Lent. But let me just say this about that. If we give up something for Lent, let it be something that changes us for the better. Let it be things that improve us. Let us not only give up things in ourselves, but also things around us.
Yes, we can give up nagging, but maybe we should also give up those voices around us that nag. Or maybe confront those voices that nag too much at us. Maybe Lent should be a time to give up not only anger in ourselves, but those angry voices around us.
Lent is a time to look at the big picture of our lives and ask: what is my legacy? How am I going to be remembered? Are people going to say of our legacies what we heard this evening from the prophet Joel?
“Do not make your heritage a mockery…”
Am I going to be known as the nag? As that angry, bitter person? Am I going to be known as a controlling, manipulative person who always had to get my way? Am I going to be known as a gossip, as a backbiter, as a person who professed my faith in Christ on my lips, but certainly did not live it out in my life? If so, then there is no better time than Lent to change our legacy.
In these last few months, one of the best rallying cries I have heard is this:
choose to be on the right side of history.
That is our rallying cry during Lent as well. Choose to be on the right side of history. Choose to be a good, compassionate, humble, love-filled follower of Christ. That is the legacy we should choose during this season, and from now on.
After all, we ARE ashes. We are dust. We are temporary. We are not immortal. But our legacies will outlive us. In fact, in many ways, they are, outside of our salvation, ultimately, the most important thing about our future.
Live in to the legacy that will outlive us. This is probably the best Lenten discipline we can do. Most importantly, let this holy season Lent be a time of reflection and self-assessment. Let it be a time of growth—both in our self-awareness and in our awareness of God’s presence in the goodness in our life.As St. Paul says in our reading from this evening: “Now is the acceptable time.”
“Now is the day of salvation.”
It is the acceptable time. It is the day of salvation.