The Ultimate Word

"The ultimate Word is not a paragraph but a person. If Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then the heart of proclamation is personal and relational, not propositional."

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki * God, Christ, Church, page 135

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

We're so proud!

I know this is already around, probably on dozens of blogs by this point, but it is worth sharing again!

The Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire, appeared as a guest on The Daily Show last night. It's a short segment, but our Bishop was stellar, as always!

Enjoy the clip!

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Baptisms of Gaines and Miles

**NOTE: This weekend I've been visiting family in Jackson, MS. The primary cause of our gathering was to witness and celebrate the baptisms of the two newest members of our family, Gaines and Miles. I did not preach at the baptism, but I did write a sermon for the occasion to give to my brother and sister-in-law and to my nephews to offer my reflections on the occasion of their baptisms. So, now I share it with all of you. I hope you have had a joyous celebration of the Baptism of our Lord and that the baptisms in your community made you all mindful of the great responsibility that we share in our Baptismal Covenant.**

11 January 2009
Epiphany 1B; The Baptism of our Lord
Genesis 1:1-5; Mark 1:4-11

Reflections on the Baptisms
Gaines Carter Richardson
Miles Samuel Richardson

“In the beginning…”

They may not be the most familiar words in the Bible, but they are at least pretty close.

Today we’ve heard them as a part of the story of creation: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep…”

Two weeks ago, on the Sunday after Christmas, we heard them again, in the opening verses of the Gospel According to John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

And even in the gospel lesson today, we hear resonances of “the beginning” even though the words were not said outright. In these opening verses of the Gospel According to Mark we hear that “Jesus came…and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” Before the 40 days in the wilderness, before the teaching, before the miracles, before the betrayal, denial, and death – before we are even told who he is, we hear that in the beginning, he “came…and was baptized by John in the Jordan.”

In many ways, we Christians are in the business of beginnings, and this is the beginning of the story of Jesus, the Christ. Sort of…

The thing about “in the beginnings” is that they aren’t quite as tidy as “once upon a times”. They leave much more to chance. In fairy tales we start at the “once upon a time” beginning and work through to the “happily ever after” end. It’s a comfortable and predictable pattern. We know that there will be bumps along the way, but we trust the formula to lead to a happy ending.

This time of year it can be especially tempting to allow the familiar beginnings of the story of Jesus to fall on us like a fairy tale – as though once upon a time a magical birth and its accompanying magical announcements might naturally lead to some “happily ever after.” But in real life beginnings, unlike fairy tales, the plotlines can be less clear. The same is true for the real life drama of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that we celebrate and in which we participate here today.

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ,” according to Mark, is not a tale of stars and shepherds and stables, but our own centuries-long story of preparation and waiting. In the few verses before we began reading this morning, Mark’s gospel opens with these words: “As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, ‘See I am sending my messenger ahead of you who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord…’’” After those ancient words are recited once again, we hear the story of John, one who was sent to prepare the way of the Lord, baptizing in the wilderness. It was not until then that history conspired to bring us the Christ: “And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.’”

We mimic that cycle of circuitous beginnings in the church. Advent, the beginning of the church year, began back in November. It was a season of preparation, followed by the excitement around the birth and the celebration of Christmas.

In our own lives during that season there was shopping, and cards, and lines at the malls, and time with families, and travel, and returns, and exchanges. It is not until today that we can finally move toward the “ordinary time” of winter. More than a month ago we began preparing to celebrate the life of Jesus, but it’s not until today that we can really move into the day-to-day living with Christ.

And today, as a part of that day-to-day living with Christ, we remember that the advent of Christ began ages before the birth of Jesus.

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day and the darkness…Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”

The conspiring begins.

Yes, real life beginnings can be a little messy. As people, who are in the business of beginnings, just where do we begin?

When I consider the lives of these two who are to be baptized today it can be tempting to think of this as the beginning. Their lives are so new. So much of the world lies in store for them.

But we all know that this isn’t really the beginning for them.

Their lives began back in September. They were born too soon and in a fog of anxiety. The early weeks and months of their lives were overrun with doctors and nurses and procedures. There were good days and bad days, but through each day thousands of prayers converged around them, willing them into strength and health.

But even that was not really the beginning. You might say that their beginning was on that sultry, August day in New Orleans, six and a half years ago, when their parents pledged to love one another and a new family was born. Or you might say that the story begins with the journeys of generations of aunts and uncles and grandparents and more. Or perhaps their story begins, “In the beginning God said ‘Let there be light’, and there was light, and God saw that it was good.”

Wherever the story begins, it is not until today that history has conspired to bring us to this moment – the last breath of the advent to the ordinary time of day-to-day living with Christ. And even so, this ordinary time is yet another advent to some other beginning not yet seen.

As “in the beginning” people, we celebrate this beginning as our own. We stand with the soon-to-be baptized, and with their sponsors, and with the whole company of the church throughout time to reaffirm our own beginning again. We reaffirm our desire to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship and to persevere in resisting evil. We pledge once again to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. We renew our promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, and to strive for justice and peace among all people.

It’s a tall order – this business of beginning. All the more so is the business of beginning the Christian life. It is not now, nor will it ever be as simple or as predictable as any “Once upon a time”. But none of us stands alone. We stand with the living Christ who is preparing the way. Through the love of that One, the fallacy of the world’s “happily ever afters” gives way to the truth of Christ’s “hopefully ever after.”

That hope proclaims that we are not alone in this beginning. And neither will be these two newest members of the household. We stand in this community gathered today and with the saints of the ages. We begin again, with God’s help.

Friday, January 09, 2009

The exam has ended, and now we shall laugh!

So yes... I'm shamelessly stealing this from the Rev. Susan Russell, but I've just taken the GOEs and I've had a rough and exhausting week, so I shall steal without so much as an apology.

But I felt the need to share this with all of you, because it is the union of a few of my very favorite things in the world: politics, laughter, John Stewart, and mostly RACHEL MADDOW!!!!

For those of you who may have somehow missed it - start watching now! The election is over, but the fodder for fabulous cable news reporting will never end. At least not as long as we have Rachel Maddow at the helm!

So celebrate with me as I finish my grueling week, and have a few laughs. They're on the house, courtesy of your good friends at "The Ultimate Word" (with support from all of our friends at the "An Inch at a Time" establishment...)

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

On the third day he rested...

Sure, I know... God rested on the seventh day. But those of us who sit for the General Ordination Examination rest on the third day.

So, mostly this post is to take a moment to thank all of my friends, family, coworkers, and parishioners who are supporting me in prayer through this week, and to give you all a quick update.

We've now completed four of the seven sets, so we're more than half-way done! So far I've felt pretty good about most of the sets. One threw me for a loop, but I did my best. We'll just have to see how it all comes out.

The picture above is my work space. I've taken over the dining room table for the week. I have the books collected that I expect to need and plenty of space to spread out for note-taking, reading, and sketching out my responses.

The picture below is my lifeline. :) Two varieties of Starbursts, peanut M&Ms, granola bars, post-its, and Advil! They've all been coming in quite handy, and quite often, at that!

Thank you all for your continued prayers and support. Pray for all of us who are sitting for the examination, and pray for the readers, that they may faithfully discern all that we are hoping to communicate!

Three more sets, and then I get to reward myself with a visit with my awesome nephews!!!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Sure and Certain Hope

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

January 4, 2009
Christmas 2B
Matthew 2:1-12

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

One year ago, on the Feast of the Epiphany I preached on this text. I talked about the journey of the Magi toward Bethlehem, but more significantly, the journey of the Magi to their epiphany with Jesus. I compared that to my own experiences in Jerusalem, and my own journey to Bethlehem, and again, more significantly, my own journey to epiphany.

When I was in Bethlehem, my eyes were opened. I “saw the light”, if you will. When I saw the harsh conditions under which the Palestinian people were living my heart was opened and I saw their suffering with new eyes. I knew in a deep way, like the Magi of the tradition, that I, too, would be called to go home by another road. I couldn’t go home and continue to ignore the plight of the people that I had seen. I couldn’t live as a Christian leader without bringing attention to the injustice that I had seen.

After that sermon, several of you came up to me to tell me that it had been important to you. You told me of your own experiences in the Holy Land or you told me of your own dreams of going or your own compassion for these all-too-easily forgotten people.

I wish I could preach that sermon again.

Better yet, I wish I hadn’t preached it a year ago. Because, in light of the ongoing strife between the Israelis and the Palestinians, it needs to be preached today, perhaps even more than then.

Once again, the Palestinian people are suffering. Their life under Israeli occupation continues to be incredibly harsh. In recent days Palestinians living in Gaza have been subjected to ongoing air assaults. More than 430 Palestinians have been killed, including many women and children. Yesterday, Israeli troops on the ground invaded Gaza, and the death toll is likely to begin increasing rapidly before a resolution is found.

I have to admit. All of this news surprised me quite a bit when I first heard about it. Just a week or so ago I was reading news reports from Bethlehem that told of more safety and stability in the region. Tourism had begun to return and the Bethlehem economy was slowly revitalizing. The very Christian groups who often fight amongst themselves about the use of shared holy spaces even had an ecumenical worship service on the first Sunday after Christmas in the Church of the Nativity. There seemed to be some genuine cause for hope.

Unfortunately, that’s often the way it is in our lives. Just when hope begins to peak through, something on the horizon seems to be threatening it.

Just think of the story that we are engaged in right now. The new year has begun. We started back in December with the season of Advent – a time set aside for the cultivation of hope. We spent those weeks rehearsing the story of God’s role in our lives throughout human history and at the last, on Christmas, the baby was born. The hope that we had been working at cultivating had become flesh and dwelt among us.

But today, in the story of the Magi, or the Wise Men, or the Three Kings, we hear that hope, even in its infancy, is threatened. The Savior of the World has been born, but the story that we hear today tells us that the power-hungry forces of the world wanted him dead. Rather than the Incarnation of Hope that he was meant to be, we hear that King Herod feared that Jesus might interfere with his own lust for unfettered control. In their wisdom, as the story goes, the Magi left by another road. They didn’t want to collude in Herod’s agenda, so they avoided him after leaving Bethlehem.

In the episode that follows what was read this morning, the writer of Matthew’s Gospel tells us that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus fled to Egypt as refugees to wait for the threat to pass.

Just when hope comes into focus – just when we begin to get comfortable – something comes along to unsettle things. And it’s then – when we’ve dared, often against our own first instincts, to allow ourselves to settle into the hope – it’s then that the unsettled times of life can seem the most piercing.

It just seems unfair.

Christmas is such an unnatural state for us. It makes sense that we would enter it gradually – cautiously, even – but why must we leave it so abruptly?

It’s the way life is. There is hope. There is love. There is indescribable joy. But there is also pain and suffering.

Later in Matthew we will hear that Jesus said of the law, “I have not come to abolish, but to fulfill.” Though that statement is about the Christian responsibility with regard to Jewish law, I think there is something of a truism in that about Christ’s role in many aspects of our lives.

We might sometimes wish it were so, but the stories of our tradition and our own experiences in our lives have proven again and again that our understanding of God’s interaction in human history is almost never about God swooping down from on high to wave a magic wand that would fix the problems that we humans have gotten ourselves into.

The same is true of Jesus. We don’t celebrate that Christ lives among us because the problems of our lives have somehow been magically abolished. We celebrate that Christ lives among us because through Christ, we see the God who creates us and the Holy Spirit who nourishes us a little more clearly. Through the clarity offered in Christ our earthly troubles are not abolished, but we are, nonetheless, more fulfilled.

With all of the ways that hope-filled moments in our lives are interrupted, it can be tempting to begin to believe that the interruptions are always the end of the story. We might begin to believe that the cycle of human experience is centered on suffering with only moments of hope merely breaking through.

But the message of the Gospel, and the story of Christ in our lives, turns that upside down. Through Christ, hope is at the center of our experience. It will undoubtedly be true that interruptions of suffering will be a part of our experience, but it is the hope that abides.

In the Christian story, even death could not interfere with the persistence of hope.

Throughout the season of Advent we worked to cultivate our awareness of hope in our lives – not just as a preparation for Christmas, but as a preparation for the Christian life.

The hope that encircles us is real.

It is as real today in Gaza as it was in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve.

Hope is as real for us today in the midst of all of the uncertainty in our lives as it ever was. Think of your most hope-filled moment. Was it at the start of a new job? Was it the first time you held your newborn child? Was it in the early days of a new love?

The interruptions of life may well have distracted you from that hope, but hope is still very real. Even through the interruptions and distractions, we are a people of “sure and certain hope”.

I ask your prayers for the people of Israel and Gaza. For those who have died and for those who will die. For those who mourn and for those who live in a season of uncertainty. May we, in renewed awareness of the cycles of hope, find a way to end the cycles of violence that keep us from knowing the deep and sustaining hope that God imagines for us. Amen.