Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Proper 16 Year Two, Wednesday

[Acts 10:1-16]

The morning's headlines: whether read online,
in hardcopy, seen on the t.v. screen,
or heard read by radio's concerned lectors;
However taken, there's a comfort in
the rhythms of tragedy and human interest,
a secular liturgy of headline, story,
perhaps an editorial or two,
more at eleven. Even this litany
of horrors soothes us, as all ritual does;
At least, we are assured, we can depend
upon creation's gradual degradation;
The daily clippings of a world gone wild,
petals plucked from a garden gone to seed...

Look up from the pages of a world so stained
that the worst atrocities have grown mundane,
expected, comfortable even-- Look up to see
the light descending like a dazzling sheet
pulled by its corners taut over the frame
of an earth fresh-sheared and ready for the fuller...
Imagine: can it clean the news-print stain
from your fingertips; it will be said again
(as it once was, at the start of things, by God)
of all creation, "It is very good."

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Proper 17, Year B (RCL) notes

[Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23]

There are any number of little habits which tradition has handed down to the Church to adorn its worship: kneeling at certain times, standing at others; making the sign of the cross; bowing slightly at the Name of Jesus, or at the passing of the cross; etc. These are outward, physical movements which, considered all by themselves, say nothing about the soul of the worshipper. One can kneel without feeling penitent or worshipful; make the sign of the cross without adoring Christ; bow without believing in he whom the Name and the cross stands for.

These "manual acts" of our devotion can make hypocrites -- in the Greek, literally "play-actors" or "pretenders" -- of us, if we are only "going through the motions." However, this is not to say that these manual acts do not have their place in worship. When they proceed from the promptings of the heart, they are outward manifestations of our faith-- allowing our bodies to pray along with our lips. We express our adoration of God with not only our words, but with our whole physical being-- our gesture and body language and posture all being set to the worship of God. When these little actions (bowing, crossing ourselves, standing, kneeling, etc.) flow outward from our hearts, they have a rightful place in our devotional lives.

The sorts of "teachings" Jesus attacks the Pharisees for in today's Gospel are not intrinsically evil. Washing hands and cups, and taking care that one eats kosher foods, are not in and of themselves unethical. Jesus does not condemn the entire Holiness Code of dietary and bodily cleanliness, nor does he neccesarily condemn the careful piety which prompted the Pharisees to build "hedges" around the Torah, to be so extra careful about their observance of the Law that they went the extra mile. Like the expressions of our piety which have evolved as part of Christian tradition, these Pharisaical traditions can be an expression of healthy devotion to the Lord.

We must resist the temptation to "spiritualize" our ethics so that we think it does not matter what we do with our bodies. Jesus is not drawing a line between the physical and the spiritual here. The point is emphatically not that we should turn inwards, meditating upon our own bellybuttons rather than worrying about our outward actions.

Jesus condemns not the care with which the Pharisees scrutinized behaviour, but their overemphasis of action over heart. Our goodness proceeds outward from our heart. Outward shows of piety without faith are hypocrisy--play-acting. It is the empty shell of faith, like the husk of a cicada that has shed its skin.

However, from the believing heart, all sorts of acts of devotion will naturally flow. From the faithful heart-- almsgiving, righteousness, faithfulness, and perhaps, depending on our styles of piety, the sign of the cross or the "washing of cups"-- will naturally follow.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Proper 15 Year Two, Friday

[Acts 9:1-9]

Driving to the nursery
with Hope just yesterday,
suddenly I couldn't see:
At first my eyes began to tear
and then began to burn,
until I could barely peer
at the interstate
through the saline film of pain
that wracked my vision, made me moan
and blink and shake my head
and close one eye and then the other
a second at a time--
All this at sixty miles per hour--
Unable to see the speeding blur
of traffic all around.
So this was it: I was sure
I'd hit another car--
Blinded, frightened, finally,
I got the us to the curb, and she
ask if I'd heard a voice:

"Paul, why do you persecute me?"

Monday, August 21, 2006

Proper 15 Year Two, Monday

[Acts 7:33-8:1a]

Stephen: deacon, one among seven
appointed by the Apostles to oversee offerings
to the widows and orphans of the Hebrews and Hellenists;
the Seven chosen so the Twelve would not neglect
"the service of the Word to wait at tables"--
As if the Word their Lord whose words they preserved
had not fed five thousand nor broken bread
with priests and publicans, nor taught the Twelve
that the first would be last, that the highest should serve--
(To preach such a Word is to wait upon tables!)

Stephen, chosen to oversee offerings,
did many deeds of power and wonder:
He spoke in synagogues so that many believed,
disputing with detractors and none of their number
could withstand his wisdom for he spoke by the Spirit.

Stephen, standing accused by the council
testified to the Truth by rehearsing the history
of the children of Israel: how they grieved their God
and strayed from his statutes, persecuted his prophets,
and murdered the messengers who announced his annointed.

Stephen, to see with such lively vision!--
To peer into the past with the searing insight
that melts pride to wax, that dissolves the dross
and strips naked our sin, that wrings from reminiscence
of our bygone glory a catalogue of catastrophes.

But to see, as Stephen, not just the past
with this terrible clarity, but even the heavens
opening on the present with its priests and stones,
the gaping lip of the future yawning
over the moment to swallow Stephen,
the stones and spittle and the council's curses
which hang suspended on the moment frozen
on the page of paper, like a pane of glass
about to be shattered in an ecstacy of light
stronger than time, more hopeful than history.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Samson vs. the Vampire Women

As a sort of bizarre homage to the fact that the Daily Office Lectionary has us reading the Samson material in the OT readings right now, I'm watching the Mystery Science Theater version of the old B-movie "Samson vs. the Vampire Women" tonight.

Talk about your weird pop-culture intersections. G'night, darlings.

Nothing this Sunday...

I'm not preaching today, so nothing on this week's readings.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Events Mundane

My car window was broken by someone last night. I noticed when I got in to drive to Morning Prayer this morning. Nothing was taken, and they broke that itty bitty window in the back, not the one that goes up and down. I didn't even notice until I heard wind coming in, and then noticed that my "Door Ajar" light was on. (The door was only partly closed, and it was unlocked back there). The culprit probably ran off when my car's alarm went off-- which it would have once the door opened.

Bye bye, about 220 bucks. Feh.

Oh, and both my Ipod and Internet Service weren't working this morning, but after a few phone calls and a couple of wasted hours, that's all taken care of.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Proper 14 Year Two, Wednesday

[Judges 13:15-24]
[Acts 6:1-15]
[John 4:1-26]


I pulled a sheet of paper from my mouth.
I read it out loud: It had exquisite sound,
sumptuous consonance, just a touch of rhyme
(but nothing too garish) and a rocking rhythm
so lovely that it didn't need a reason.
I pulled another paper from my lips.
It read: "It is not right that we should neglect
the word of God in order to wait on tables."
It seemed to be entirely reasonable.
I spoke another page, and then another,
as if to bury the Word under a mound
of my own clever words, or have God bound
within a book, make a tomb of a tome.
I have stood and argued by the well
about the proper place for sacrifice
as Jesus tried to offer living water.
I stopped to catch my breath, and was surprised
that he was silent. I opened my book
to find the words had vanished. Then I took
the empty thing and threw it on the fire.
And look! As the sparks kicked higher and higher,
angels rose to heaven on the smoke.

Today's readings made me think of this older poem of mine:


Is talk something we "need," the way we need
Food or love or internet access?
Yet monks go years without saying a word...

Today's a "quiet day" at Seabury,
Which means that we are not supposed to talk
When we are in the halls, refectory,
Or any other common space today.
At lunch, I sit and pick at my salad
(I'm trying to lose weight, or change my life
In a way vaguely linked to how I look,
Or how I live, or how I treat myself...)
And look around at all my fellow students.
Most of them seem inward-turned today,
Not looking at each other, eyes downcast
As if to say, "If I can't speak to you,
We might as well be in two different rooms."
What terrifying emptiness is formed
Around us when sensations can't be named:
A siren bays somewhere not far away
And I can't lock it safely down with words--
As if the world might sink its million teeth,
From millions of its tiny mouths, in us
Without the safety of restraining talk--
What does it "mean," when in a lingual void,
A rabbit runs across the campus Garth?
A tree falls in the woods, and no one speaks.
So did it make a sound? What would they mean,
Sound, tree, woods, without the words?
And by the time I get back to my room
I'm feeling nervy as Schroedinger's cat,
Tense with the unnamed's breath upon my neck,
And sit down by the screen to write a bit--
To push the nothing back as by a charm,
As bonfires in the woods drive back the dark--
A stream of language, babbling like the sea--
The neccesary chatter of the world.

Blogging Episcopalians

I was inspired by the article in latest issue of The Living Church on Blogging Anglicans. So, I resolved not only to keep up with my friends' blogs a little better, but looked around a little bit and discovered this webring, "Blogging Episcopalians." I just joined. There's a link at the bottom of the page; check it out and see what people are up to.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

St. Mary the Virgin, August 15


Hannah prayed that she might have a son,
Though she was barren. Soon, she had conceived,
(As Eli had foretold, and she'd believed),
and pledged the boy to serve the Holy One.

Hannah sang, "My heart exults in God,
My strength has been exalted in the Lord!
Those who were full have hired themselves for bread;
Those who were hungry have been satisfied!
To the barren, seven have been born;
While she who had many sons is now forlorn.
God raises up the needy from the dust,
And lifts the poor from out of the ash-heap."

And what of the ones left in the trash to sleep
The few hours of their lives in some gray dumpster?
Does the Lord raise up the abandonned, also?
Hannah left Samuel at the shrine at Shiloh,
Gave up her only son to serve the Lord.
Was her heart, also, pierced by Mary's Sword?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Proper 14 Year Two, Monday

[Judges 12:1-7]


I went to the Asian market yesterday,
the one on Grand: It's called Jay's
International Foods.
So, shopping list in hand, there I stood
next to the frozen squid, unsure which way
would bring me to the curry paste.
Foods were oddly placed:
pastas in the cooler with the produce,
ox-tail soup base by the octopus.
Another wrong turn led me to waste
ten minutes by the tea,
lost and wandering in a land of plenty.
Finally, I found the soba noodles
and wasabi power (near the bottles
of vivid, bright-red chili).
The check-out clerk asked me in disbelief,
"Are you sure you know how to cook with these?"
I said, "I've got a recipe."
And then she asked me,
"What's with the shirt? Are you some kind of priest?"

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Proper 14 Year B (RCL lectionary) Sermon

I Kings 19:4-8
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35,41-51


In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

The other night I was watching TV after dinner with my wife when something funny happened. There we sat on the sofa, full of this really excellent curry dish she’d made, when a commercial came on. It was a commercial for pizza; you know the kind, the ones in which the camera pans low over the surface of what looks like acres of bubbling cheese and pepperoni, like the surface of some sort of edible, delicious planet. I saw that commercial, and I wanted that pizza. I wanted that pizza so badly that, for a second, I forgot that I’d just eaten—It didn’t even occur to me that I was already full. I even wanted that pizza so much that, for a split-second after that did occur to me, I wished I hadn’t already eaten, so I could have it instead.

What was I doing, drooling after that pizza on television? I wasn’t even hungry. Why did I want it so badly?

Well, from an advertiser’s point of view, the answer is simple enough: I wanted that pizza because the advertisers wanted me to want that pizza. We’re constantly fed messages about what we want, what we need, what we’re hungry for. Commercials subtly promise that their product will fill that nagging void we feel. This promise is often implicit, subtle, or perhaps slightly ironic in a hip, Post-modern way, but the promise is there nevertheless: Buy this and you’ll be happy.

In commercials, our happiness is always tantalizingly within reach: If I whiten my teeth with new Whitening strips, I’ll have a brighter smile and more friends. If I buy a new car, I’ll be fulfilled. My life can be as young and hip and sexy as a beer commercial. And what a veritable horn-of-plenty is promised in fast-food ads: I can Supersize my happiness for only 99c!

Don’t get me wrong: the things advertised in commercials may be good or useful or helpful. But the fulfillment and happiness they seem to promise doesn’t actually come in the box along with them. It’s why big purchases sometimes feel so much like a bait-and-switch. You fork over the money for the glossy, picture-perfect life you saw in the magazine, and all you get is the clothes those models were wearing. You get the computer home, and after a few weeks you realize that you’d heard that guy in the Dell commercials wrong: You thought he’d said: “Dude, you’re getting a brand-new awesome life!” Turns out all he’d said was, “Dude, it’s just a computer.”

Companies don’t want us to stay fulfilled, don’t want that thrill of finally having our needs and hopes satisfied to last. While the satisfaction that commercials promise is always within reach, it’s always just out of reach too, receding to the next purchase, the next manufactured need. It’s like the Greek myth of Tantalus, who would reach out for the grapes he was starving for, only to have them recede just beyond his grasp.

The truth is, we are hungry for something. There is a hunger, a thirst, deep inside of us that yearns to be filled. There is something basic in our nature that needs to be satisfied for us to be truly nourished. But not just anything will satisfy this need. We try anyway; sometimes with drugs or too much alcohol. It’s pretty natural to try to plug this hole with food; I’m not the only one who finds myself overeating when I’m depressed. Food advertisers already have that working in their favor; other advertisers have to work a little harder to get us to displace our soul’s innermost yearning to their products.

In Isaiah 55, God calls:
Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Here, God is calling Israel to a metaphorical banquet, where what they truly hunger and thirst for will be provided for them. This spiritual “food and drink” is “without money and without price” – that is, both priceless and free. God encourages the Israelites to stop chasing after what doesn’t really satisfy, or throwing money away on what doesn’t really sustain. As Saint Augustine said, “Our souls are restless until they find their rest in God.”


I went to college in Santa Fe, and I used to drive all the way across Texas on my way home to New Orleans. On the highway, through the driest, hottest parts of Texas, water would appear far off down the road, only to disappear as I got closer. The promise of true, lasting happiness from any worldy thing is like a mirage; it evaporates when we approach it.

I’m sure all of us, at one time or another, have dreamed of eating, only to wake up still hungry. The opposite thing happen to Elijah! He dreams of a call to eat and drink, and wakes up to real food-- hot cakes and jars of water! More importantly, God has not just fed his physical hunger and thirst; God has responded to the despair that led Elijah to pray, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”
Elijah laid down ready to die;
he woke refreshed and ready to go on.
He went to sleep soul-weary and full of doubt and despair.
He got up full of strength and confidence in God.
God fed his spirit as well as his body, giving him strength to get up and journey on to Mount Horeb, where he would encounter God in the “still small voice” after the storm.

Just before our reading from the Gospel, Jesus has been talking with the Jews about Moses and feeding the Israelites with Manna in the wilderness. The crowds had followed Jesus, in fact, because he had fed the five thousand in the wilderness. Jesus says that the Manna-bread that God gave the Israelites sustained them for a while, but in the end they still died. Jesus tells them about better bread:
“For the bread of God is that-which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
The Greek of this sentence could also mean “the bread of God is he-who comes down from heaven.” The crowds respond, “Sir, give us this bread always.” (6:33-34)
They’re hoping, perhaps, for a repeat performance of the feeding of the five thousand. But the situation is completely different: the five thousand came out to the wilderness to be near Jesus, to hear him teach. While they’re there, Jesus decides to feed them. These people, by contrast, have set out intentionally to get a free meal out of Jesus.
Their request— “Sir, give us this bread always”— sets up Jesus’ startling self-revelation: “I am the bread of life.” Jesus is the very bread that the crowds have requested. They already have what they have asked for, right before them!

In the synoptic Gospels, Satan tempts Jesus to turn stones into bread. This temptation worked on two levels: one on level, it was merely a temptation to satisfy his own physical hunger, but on another, Satan was tempting Jesus to make himself a popular leader by bribing the masses, to make himself a “bread king.” Jesus’ response to this temptation is worth quoting here, when he is approached by a crowd hoping for the very same thing—a miraculous feeding, a bread magic show. He quotes Moses from the book of Deuteronomy (8:3):

God humbled you by letting you hunger, then feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

As the Gospel of John has already made clear, Jesus himself is the Logos, the Word, that came from God. We are nourished by Jesus in a way that mere manna never could.

The manna met the Israelite’s immediate physical hunger, but those who ate it ultimately died. The bread from heaven, Jesus Christ, satisfies our ultimate human needs and satisfies us on another level. Jesus answers our human need at the most basic, most fundamental level, even more central to the core of who we are than (physical) hunger. On some level, bread alone—even manna—leaves us un-nourished. Christ nourishes us at that level—at the very core of our being

It was once thought that the Gospel of John was the least Eucharistic of the four Gospels. It does not have an account of the Last Supper as the other gospels do, or recount Jesus’ words over the bread and the wine. However, New Testament scholars now recognize that Eucharistic theology is woven throughout the entire Gospel in a diffuse way. In the turning of water to wine at the Wedding at Cana, in the feeding of the five thousand, and in the “Bread of Life” discussions in chapter six, the Eucharist permeates all of John’s Gospel throughout, rather than in discrete events as in the other Gospels.

As the food God sent to Elijah strengthened him to go on with his ministry, the Eucharist feeds us and nourishes us for the work God has given us to do. In Eucharistic Prayer C, we pray: “Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal.”

In this feast, we are sustained at our most fundamental level, becoming more fully who and what we truly are. As we prepare to receive communion together this morning, ask yourself: What is my deepest need? What is my true heart’s desire? What is my soul thirsting for?

It probably isn’t a new car, a Dell computer-- or even a pizza. Whatever your truest need, it is fed in the Bread of Life. And may we pray, understanding better what we say than the crowds from John’s Gospel, “Lord, give us this bread always.” AMEN.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Proper 14 Year B (RCL lectionary) notes

1 Kings 19:4-8

- Elijah in despair, sick of his efforts with Israel going unheeded, sick of Queen Jezebel’s harassment and persecution, sick of the weight of being a prophet to Israel.

- not being “up to task”
- not being “good enough”

- not being any better than, or even as good as, one’s predeccessors
- like Moses didn’t feel qualified (see Num.11)

- lies down in despair, ready to give up, ready to just throw in the towel and die
- sort of a spiritual paralysis

- Elijah’s complaint is not so much physical as emotional/spiritual. He is not only physically worn out from his efforts; he is spiritually drained. He needs sustenance which will feed his spirit with hope and vigor, not just his body

- God answers this sort of deep depression and spiritual paralysis with life
- a vision in a dream: spiritual response
- a word of encouragement and life: Get up and eat
- life-affirming
- outward signs of life and sustenance
- bread and life
- the basic support the body needs

The sustenance God gives to Elijah, both for his body and for his soul, not only satisfies him, but invigorates him.
- God does not just comfort Elijah in his depression, but strengthens him.
- the hot cakes and jars of water strengthen Elijah to get up and move on
- the life that God gives is for living
- Elijah continues on to Mount Horeb

Ephesians 4:25-5:2 notes

We are to speak truthfully and reign in our anger because “we are all members of one body.” Our corporate life means that we are to be genuine with each other, not hiding ourselves or the truth. It also means that we are not to let our own passing feelings of anger or frustration tear us apart from each other.

We are “members” of one body-- the Church—the Body of Christ.
- knit into Christ’s body, we are to be like Christ
- we are to imitate God, and imitate Christ
- Since Christ was loving and self-giving, we are to be also

We are “God’s beloved children.” Now, children imitate their parents and grow into their image. This mimicking is part of how children learn how to speak, how to behave, how to interact with others. Imitation is formation. And the parent not only models patterns of behavior for the child to imitate: they patiently teach and instruct as the child grows into these patterns.

But there is something more basic going on than that. Children are *like* their parents. There is something fundamentally “related” or “same” about the children and parents of a particular species. Baby elephants grow up into elephants. Kittens grow up into cats. Babies grow up into adults. So, as children of God, there is something fundamentally “godly” about us that we have to “grow into.” As God’s children, and as members of Christ, this “godliness” is already a part of who we are. But we, like any children, must mature into it, imitating the ways of our Parent—God—until we are grown.

As adopted children, the exhortation “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed” reminds us that we were sealed as God’s own in our baptism. As such, the phrase should sound in our ears something along the lines of “Do not grieve your father or your mother.” If we are to honor our earthly father and mother, how much more our heavenly Father, God!

Imitation themes in vv. 4:32-5:1
1 - God in Christ has forgiven us
- we are to forgive one another
2 - Christ loved us and gave himself for us
- we are to live in love

John 6:35, 41-51 notes

Immediately before our passage, Jesus has just told the crowds who followed him after the feeding of the five thousand:
“For the bread of God is that-which/he-who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” (6:33-34)

This sets up Jesus’ startling self-revelation: “I am the bread of life.” Jesus is the very bread that the crowds have requested. They already have what they has asked for, right before them!

Jesus’ (earthly) parentage is a stumbling block for “the Jews.” When he claims to have descended from heaven, their rebuttal is that they know his father and mother— so he cannot possibly have come down from heaven! However, Jesus’ earthly origins are not the totality of his origins, and his human descent is not the totality of his descent. There is more to his identity than what they know.

The manna met the Israelite’s immediate physical hunger, but those who ate it ultimately died. The bread from heaven, Jesus Christ, satisfies our ultimate human needs and satisfies us on another level. Jesus answers our human need at the most basic, most fundamental level, even more central to the core of who we are than (physical) hunger.

On some level, bread alone—even manna—leaves us un-nourished
- Christ nourishes us at that level—at the very core of our being

vv. 45-46: learning, imitation, drawing near to Christ…

“It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me,”
- touches themes of learning/imitating also found in the Ephesians reading
- Jesus is the “content” of the lesson;
- they will be taught by God,
 they listen to the father & learn from him
 they come to me
If we are learning what God is teaching us, we are drawing near to Jesus; Christ, or Christlikeness, is what God is teaching us.

Eucharist notes

Orthodox Eucharistic Invitation: Holy things for holy people.

- Receive What you Are, Become what you receive.

In Orthodox Eucharistic theology, God does not so much "come down" to our level as we, the people of God, are "lifted up" to God's level.

Eucharistic overtones: how Eucharistic theology permeates all of John’s Gospel throughout, rather than in discrete events as in the synoptics…

Bread is the “staff of life.”

Water is the “element of life.”

Together, water and bread represent the sustenance we require, our most basic needs.

Eucharistic Prayer C:
“Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal.”

As Laurence Hill Stookey notes in Eucharist: Christ’s Feast with the World, “The English words companion and company both are formed from two Latin roots meaning ‘those who share bread’ with each other. The desire to be together when eating and drinking appears to be a universal human characteristic.”

In the Eucharist, we receive what we are: the Body of Christ. We come together with who we are: the Body of Christ. We are fed by Christ, in whom we are already children of God, and we are sustained at our most fundamental level, becoming more fully who and what we truly are.

This enables us to be Christ's hands and feed in the world.

Food reflections

Isaiah 55:1-2a

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?

dreaming of food, only to wake up still hungry
- the opposite happens to Elijah!

seeing a mirage of food or water, only to have it evaporate when you approach

Dt. 8:3 He humbled you by letting you hunger, then feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

There is something we hunger for that isn’t food;
something we thirst for that isn’t drink.

Proper 13 Year Two, Friday


The parliament of plants planned to elect
one of their rank to rule them as their king;
But who to select? They chose the Olive tree,
but it refused: "Do you really expect
me to leave my fatness, by whose oil
gods and men are honored, for anything?"
They asked the Vine if it would wear the crown;
It scoffed, "What, is it sweeter than my wine?"
They offered the throne to Oak, who preferred soil.
The Palm was much too busy offering shade.
The Rose had an appointment with a bee.
The Fig tree was engaged in growing figs.
They cursed their drought of luck: "By trowel and spade!
By spore and twig! Who will reign over us?"
Then Kudzu crept up and said, "Tell you what;
I know my brambles may not look like much,
but I'll be king." The parliament agreed.
And Kuzu grew and spread, devouring seed
and herb and flower, clambering up trunks,
and clinging like a parasite to trees;
until they wondered why they'd chosen a weed
to crown their king and meekly call their Sire.
And now, though they should die, when storms pass by,
they half-wish it would start a forest fire.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Proper 13 Year Two, Wednesday


He woke from a dream of fire:
hundreds of children holding mason jars
full of captured stars
buzzing in the glass like molten bees.
He woke to the sound of fire:
three-round bursts, the tintinnabular
nightmare symphonies
of battle-cries and sirens through the trees
and all throughout the tents
the men were in a panic, shooting far
of the mark, rifles seized
by riotous spirits, each lieutenant's
sudden imcompetence
raining death upon his own allies.
He falls down to his knees
as the night explodes beyond the barbed-wire fence.
Far off, the enemy cries
"A sword for the Lord and Gideon!" at the skies,
which have dawned upon
a history full of hideous precedents.

Proper 9 Year B (BCP lectionary) Notes

Ezekiel 2:1-6

The Lord sends Ezekiel knowing that Israel is “a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me.”
- they are “impudent and stubborn”

The Lord knows they may well “refuse to hear”
- even so, Ezekiel is to say “Thus says the Lord”
- they will know that there has been a prophet among them
- Ezekiel must speak whether or not they are expected to listen

Ezekiel must not fear dejection, scorn, mockery, or lack of listening
- do not be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns surround you and you live among scorpions.
- do not be afraid of their words or dismayed at their looks.


Ps. 123

Have mercy upon us, Lord, have mercy,
For we have had more than enough of contempt,

Too much of the scorn of the indolent rich,
And of the derision of proud.

The psalmist looks to the Lord to answer the contempt of the scorners; (s)he does not attempt to “save face” by changing behavior to fit their expectations.
The scorners are “proud”
The psalmist is (by implication)

Rather than training his/her gaze on the mockers, the psalmist trains his/her eyes on God.


2 Cor. 12:2-10

Paul has been accused of being proud, taking advantage of the Corinthians, or preaching the Gospel for personal gain
- he is misunderstood
- he is hurt by this
- what’s more, his message is in jeopardy because he has been misunderstood

At the same time, competing “super-Apostles” have moved in and are fomenting dissent and mistrust of Paul

Rather than boasting of his own worthiness, Paul rather ambiguously refers to the vision of a certain “person in Christ” (himself?).
- Paul emphasizes his own lowliness - contra accusations of his prideful ness

rather than surrender his image to the slander of the “Superapostles” Paul continues to attempt to reach the Corinthian Christians with his message

Paul has an additional reason to be content with insults and persecutions: in Christ, “whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”


The residents of Jesus’ hometown cannot accept that this local boy, whose siblings and mother they know, is now some sort of prophet.
“Where did this man get all this?” they ask, scornfully.

People have certain expectations of Jesus. They expect him to be one way, and they cannot accept that he might be some other way.

Expectations sometimes blind us to what is really happening.

Faith here is contrasted with scornfulness and calcified expectations. When are minds are completely made up about other people, we may miss what God is up to: when we’ve written people off, we miss the chance that God is working through them.


When others are scornful of us as Christians (even when only potentially so), it may seem easier not to attempt to speak to them about our faith or correct their misunderstandings. However, the Gospel-- the Good News-- of Jesus demands to be spoken even where we may reasonably expect an unfavorable reception.

Controlling metaphor: the bumper sticker
“Don’t Pray in My Schools,
And I Won’t Think in Your Church”
(misunderstanding, scorn, slander, writing off Xns as dogmatic, thoughtless, and stupid. Also a baldly contemptuous message-- whose only purpose is to make the like-minded chuckle and mock/anger Christians.)

Illustration: the “too smart for religion” intelligentsia,
- the students at my high school
- (my mostly silent tacit acceptance of such characterization)
- later, my friends in college
- (attempts to explain how one can have faith and be a thinking, intelligent person)

- Be who you are, even in the face of scorn or rejection.
- better to please God than mockers

- How will they ever know any different if we leave them to their misconceptions?

- THE CHURCH NEEDS APOLOGISTS, such as there were in the early centuries of the Church
- those who can interpret what Christians are really all about
- even in the face of a sometimes scornful secular world



- story about going to get a shake Friday night, seeing the bumper sticker
- writes off Christians as unthinking, reactionarily conservative, and oppressive

- Lots of people already have their minds made up about Christians
- contemptuous, mocking, dismissive

- Ironically, I think of myself as something of a liberal, and anything but "thoughtless"
- But this driver assumed that I was conservative,
- wished to impose my will on others,
- and unthinking.


- My old buddies in H.S: smart, nerdy, intelligent, and liberal...

- Many of my old classmates in H.S. thought they were too smart for faith
- dismissive of Christianity, esp. Catholicism, as conformist, smallminded, and backwards

- Many thought of themselves as too kind of compassionate for a religion they saw as meanspirited

- my (mostly) silent tacit acceptance, reluctance to correct them.

- Many people today are dismissive of Christianity for one reason or another
- they have assumptions about us that may be false
- they apply their experiences with some of us to all of us

- their default stance towards Christians may be hostile, dismissive, or mocking

- It is easier, perhaps, to not talk to those who we either know to be, or expect to be, hostile towards us
- However, if we never even attempt to correct their misperceptions,
how will they ever know any better?



- God sends Ezekiel to a people who are "impudent and stubborn, a nation of rebels"
- they may well "refuse to hear"
- But God won't leave them to their mistakes without at least trying:
- they will know that there has been a prophet among them
- Ezekiel, for his part, is not to let their insults or impudence sting him.
- "do not be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns surround you and you live among scorpions
- "do not be afraid of their words, and do not be dismayed at their looks"


Paul has been accused of being proud, taking advantage of the Corinthians, or preaching the Gospel for personal gain
- he is misunderstood
- he is hurt by this
- what’s more, his message is in jeopardy because he has been misunderstood

At the same time, competing “super-Apostles” have moved in and are fomenting dissent and mistrust of Paul

Rather than boasting of his own worthiness, Paul rather ambiguously refers to the vision of a certain “person in Christ” (himself?).
- Paul emphasizes his own lowliness - contra accusations of his prideful ness

rather than surrender his image to the slander of the “Superapostles” Paul continues to attempt to reach the Corinthian Christians with his message


In the Gospel, Jesus faces the expectations of those in his hometown. "THEY TOOK OFFENSE AT HIM." They cannot accept God's wisdom from someone among whom they grew up, whom they have known all their lives.


Ezekiel, the Psalmist, Jesus, and Paul all refuse to be defined by others' scorn of them.
- Since their message is about God, not themselves,
they don't let the mockery of the proud bruise their egos.

They train their eyes on God, and are eager to please God, not the contemptuous who mock them.

They also have the courage to speak to those who may not listen or who won't easily accept them.


Throughout the history of Christianity, Christians have had to explain their faith, making it intelligible and "make sense" to contemptuous outsiders.

Although many of these "apologists" were saints, clergy, and theologians, the overwhelming majority of them were ordinary, mostly uneducated, and in menial positions.

Today, we need those willing to speak frankly, openly, and courageously to those who might be dismissive or misunderstand Christians

How else will they know any better?

God sends all of us to make the Good News of Christ's love for humankind available to all,

- and we are to sow that news with the liberality of the sower in the parable of the seeds,
- sowing on rocky ground or concrete roads where we may not expect favorable reception as well as on good soil

We know the wondrous truth that God has revealed to us in Jesus Christ.
God give us the courage to open our mouths and say "Thus says the Lord,"
...nevermind the scorpions.

Proper 12 Year B (BCP lectionary)

2 Kings 2:1-15
Ephesians 4:1-7,11-16
Mark 6:45-52
Psalm 114


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

We’ve all seen that ceremony at the beginning of the Olympics each year, where several runners race towards the stadium in shifts, carrying the Olympic torch. Each one runs for a certain span, then passes the torch to the next runner, who takes it from there. Eventually, this relay ends with the final bearer of the torch, who approaches the Olympic cauldron, then uses the torch to light the Olympic Flame. From this practice, we have the expression “Pass the torch,” meaning to surrender one’s duties or responsibilities to another who comes after.

In our Old Testament lesson today, the prophet Elijah “passes the torch” to his disciple, Elisha. Elisha had traveled with and learned from Elijah, rather like an apprentice, for years. Now, aware that his mentor would be taken from him this very day, Elisha doggedly refused to be dismissed, he refused to be spared the pain and confusion of witnessing Elijah’s ascension in the whirlwind. Elijah passes the blessing of a “double helping of his Spirit” onto Elisha for his faithfulness up to the very end. In doing this, Elijah also passes along the office of prophet, with all the responsibilities and authority that of that office. Elisha “picked up the mantle of Elijah” and in so doing assumed the same authority and role that Elijah had held before him.

In this story, we are witnessing something of a “relay race” of ministries. Elijah has faithfully run the course of his own ministry, and now passes the torch to Elisha, his student.

I’m sure many of us have run in relay races of one sort or another ourselves. I remember that, in grade school, we used to run relay races around the block in P.E. I recall pounding up the asphalt in my sneakers up to the next kid, fumbling the plastic relay staff into their hands as quickly as possible before they took off. I never really liked these races that much; I wasn’t a particularly good runner as a child-- I was somewhat overweight and bookish, not an athlete-- and I hated that my team suffered because I couldn’t run that well.

Running races is one of the Apostle Paul’s favorite metaphors to describe the Christian life. He exhorts the Corinthians, “Run in such a way that you may win the prize.” - that is, not a “perishable” prize, but an “imperishable” one. In the same letter, he describes his own evangelism as “running the race.“ In another place, Paul tells the Galatians that “You were running well.” until, that is, they were confused by false teaching.

But Paul is clear that this running isn’t just about the individual Christian. It is about the whole church community running toward the prize. In the letter to the Philippians Paul links the image of running a race with the idea that the Christian community should get along with each other. He writes, “Do all things without murmuring and arguing; It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain.” And the letter to the Hebrews links race with the rest of the Christian Church, both those we know, and those who came before us: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also… run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”

If this Christian life is like a race, it is more like a relay-race than a race between individual competitors. Paul seems to be telling us: We all run together. If one stumbles, we all stumble. Like Elisha, God calls us to pick up the torch-- or the mantle-- of those who ran before us. And like Elijah, God calls us to pass the torch-- or pass the mantle-- to those we have prepared to run on after us. By acknowledging the importance of those who “ran the race” before us, and by training those who will run on after us, we recognize that the ministries we are engaged in are larger than us. They are not “our” ministries, but the Church’s ministries-- or, more properly, God’s ministries.

Let us ask ourselves honestly: Have we picked up the mantle that has been laid in front of us? Have we taken the lead from those who ran before us? And have we mentored others, preparing them to run after us?


The lesson of Elijah and Elisha teaches us a little about passing the torch across our limits in time: Our lifetimes are finite, but the Church is larger-- in time as well as space-- than ourselves. By acknowledging our own finitude, we are kept safe from over identifying ourselves with our particular ministry in the Church, and we are kept safe from being territorial or possessive about our “speciality.” When others express an interest in a ministry that we think of as “ours,” we are able to remember that it does not “belong” to us, and be generous in yielding some of our control over it.


Just as mentoring and teaching passes the torch across time, we can also pass the torch another way: by seeing the different gifts we each possess. In Ephesians, we hear that “there is one body and one Spirit,” but that the body of Christ-- the Church-- is made up of very different people. These different members of the body have quite different gifts: “The gifts that he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”

When we acknowledge the gifts that others have, and how they differ from ours, we pass the torch across our talents: The ministry of the Church is larger than any one of us, and encompass the many different gifts we have. Paul says that only when all of our gifts are working together can we, the Church, grow “to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” In other words, It takes all of us to be the Church, It takes all of us to be the body of Christ.


Let us mentor and teach others to follow in our ministries, and thank God for each other, whose gifts are so different than our own.

Let us pray, as Paul prayed for us, that we may grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. AMEN.

Proper 11 Year B (BCP lectionary)

Isaiah 57:14b-21
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-44
Psalm 22:22-30


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

At the beginning of today’s Gospel reading, The Twelve Apostles have just returned from their mission of preaching and teaching in the villages of Galilee. Jesus instructed them to go with little provisions for the road-- no bread, no bag, no money-- and to go on foot, from town to town, totally dependent on the hospitality of whoever they met on the way. In Matthew’s gospel, before sending them out Jesus prays: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Now, after exhausting but amazingly successful work, the Twelve are returning to their teacher. They are
footsore from all the walking,
weary from the heat,
dusty from the road,
thirsty and hungry.
The Gospel says that, with all their comings and goings, they hadn’t had enough leisure to even to eat!

Jesus, in his love and compassion, recognizes how tired the Twelve are. They could use a retreat from the busy-ness of their work, to refresh themselves. He tells them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”

However, when Jesus and the Twelve reach their destination, they find that their fame has preceded them. Many people noticed where they were going, by the time they arrived by boat to a deserted place, they found a large crowd already there, waiting for them!

It’s almost as if Jesus and the Twelve look out at this crowd and see two different things. Jesus, filled with the same love and care he showed towards his Apostles, “had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Immediately, he begins to teach them, to guide them, to care for them.

The disciples, however, looked out and see a logistical nightmare. What in the world were they going to do with all these people? Where had they all come from? This was supposed to be a chance for them to “get away,” to relax, for goodness’ sake! Here they were, in the “deserted place” that Jesus spoke about, and it was as crowded as the villages they had just come from! And how, most importantly, were all these people going to find something to eat out here in the middle of nowhere?

Jesus looks at the crowd with the eyes of compassion and love, and sees sheep in need of a shepherd, children of God in need of care and guidance. His gaze is colored by faith in God and hope in God’s care for us. The Apostles, however, look at the crowd with the eyes of anxiety and doubt. They don’t see “sheep in need of a shepherd,” they see a crowdful of problems!

How can they look at the same crowd and see two such very different things?
Jesus looks out and prays,
“Thanks be to God! The harvest is plentiful!”
The Twelve look out and grumble,
“Oh my God… but the laborers are so few!”

Now, let me admit right now… I’m a pessimist. My wife, who’s more of an optimist than me, points this out to me often. When she notes that a glass is half full, I retort that the glass if half empty. When faced with a challenging situation, I find myself full of reasons why this or that solution won’t fly, why this or that idea won’t work.
And so I can admit, I can definitely sympathize with the Apostles’ objections here. They ask, “Should we go and buy half a year’s wages’ worth of bread?” Remember, the Twelve, fresh back from their mission of itinerant preaching, had no money in their belts, no bag, no food: They have no resources with which to get food for these people! They are hungry and tired themselves, and travel-worn. Their objections seem to make real, good sense to me.

We need to see a little bit more with the eyes of Jesus. The first thought to pop into Jesus’ mind when confronted with those is need wasn’t
“Why he can’t help,”
but “How he can help.”

Confronted with a huge, hungry crowd in the middle of nowhere, the Apostles may have had plenty of good reasons to think that there was nothing much they could do for these folks. But if their mindset had been just a little more like Jesus’, this wouldn’t have been the first thing to go through their heads-- first they would have looked on their neighbors with compassion. Only second, after they’d already rolled up their sleeves to help, would it occur to them that this might be incredibly difficult work-- indeed, almost insurmountable short of something miraculous. But with the mindset of Jesus, they would have the faith to hope for that miracle.

We’re presented constantly with situations which seem far beyond our capacity to make a difference in. The number of homeless who live near our church may seem like a far greater problem than we could help with. The problem of an unlivable wage or unjust working conditions may seem outside of our grasp. Confronted with the destruction and wreckage of Wednesday and Friday’s storms, with up to 60% of the city’s residents without power on Friday, we may wonder what in the world we could do to help in such a mess.

We may also, like the Apostles did, have excuses as to why we can’t help. I may be more worried about my mortgage payments than the homeless. I’m having enough problems making ends meet in my own household-- I don’t have time to worry about a just wage for others. My own power is out-- what can I do for others hit hard by the storm?

I’m happy to say, Jesus does not abandon us to our own doubts. What our own pessimism declares impossible, the faith of God declares possible-- even hopeful. When we protest, “Send these people into the surrounding villages to buy something to eat,” Jesus tells us, “You give them something to eat.” When we cry in despair, “What can be done about this or that problem?,” Jesus challenges us, “You do something.” Just think how freeing, how hopeful that challenge is! Jesus tells us that we, with all of our good reasons why we can’t , actually can.

If believe we can’t do anything about anything, it’s easier-- much easier, not to notice others’ need. It’s much simpler to pay no attention to who is hungry, who is grieving, who is suffering. But armed with the knowledge that Jesus says, “You can do it,” we can have the courage to take notice, the courage to have compassion. Instead of despairing, we can step up and meet the challenge, helping out how we can.

I read an article in the Post-Dispatch about a restaurant owner who lost power after the storm. Without electricity, he stood to lose several industrial-sized freezers full of meat. Instead of simply despairing, or throwing it out, the restraunteur began cooking everything and feeding anyone who came by. He cooked up steaks, wings, burgers, pork-steaks, and gave them to whoever was hungry. During that day, his restaurant was a favorite hangout of the police officers working overtime in all the storm-related commotion. This man had the imagination and the compassion for others to turn his own loss into a feast-- almost block-party, really-- for others.

Poking through the newspapers a little more, I happened across another story, very similar to the first-- a family with a large standing meat freezer holding a barbeque for their neighbors when they lost power. No sooner had I told this to our own neighbor-- who had come over to offer a few hours in his air-conditioned house to whoever on our block didn’t have power-- than he told me that someone just up our own street had done the very same thing-- hosted an impromptu cookout for anyone who happened by!

When my own home town of New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, I was amazed and awed by accounts of how churches and volunteers-- many of them themselves refugees from the storm-- banded together and helped each other escape, or get water or food. I have heard stories from my friends who still live there, of how roving bands of do-gooders, many of them groups of churchgoers or youth-groups, go from neighborhood to neighborhood, wielding hammers and wearing facemasks against the mold, patching up peoples’ homes and clearing our peoples’ yards. Or stories of how, when refugees were fleeing the storm, strangers wherever they went gave them meals, money for gas, or help when they heard that they were from New Orleans.

We’ve all seen the images on television of how whole neighborhoods of New Orleans were literally demolished by Katrina. My wife and I went back to New Orleans to visit my family recently, and I can tell you, these sights are even more powerful in person. Just think of how these images must have confronted the volunteers who traveled from around the country to help with the restoration efforts! Think how, confronted with the ruins of block after block of empty homes under dead street lights, they must have wondered what sort of a difference they could make in the midst of all this.

We, on a smaller but still very painful scale, are faced with these same sorts of images all around us here in St. Louis.
God grant us the courage to face the need of others, and ourselves, honestly, and with love.
God grant us the compassion to acknowledge that those in need are our brothers and sisters in Christ.
And God grant us the hope that allows us to step in and do what we can, in whatever way we can, to care for our neighbors; may we even dare to hope that, through our modest hands, God may even work miracles.

Blogging Episcopalians
Join | List | Previous | Next | Random | Powered by RingSurf