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

Thursday, April 22, 2010

O. M. G.

You know how sometimes you stumble across something that just brings you such unexpected joy that you don't know how to react?

Well, that's how I felt when I found this little video today.

Again I say, O. M. G.

I LOVE Girlyman!  I've seen them in concert twice now and I'm just holding my breath until I can again!!

And here they are interacting with one another (as only they can...) and discussing the mechanics of harmony.  It may be about the best joy I've experienced all week!  I hope y'all enjoy it, too!

Now go buy all their records! :)  And don't forget to read the article about "risk" in which they're featured in Slate Magazine.  You can find it online HERE

Sunday, April 11, 2010

It's not about Thomas

But here's a pic of him anyway :)

11 April 2010
Easter 2C
John 20:19-31

In the name of God: our life and our hope. Amen.

Every year, on the second Sunday of Easter, we hear this text: the story of Jesus’ Easter Evening appearance to the disciples. Well, to most of the disciples, anyway. That’s usually what we remember from today – “the one that got away”, as it were: “Doubting Thomas”.

On most years and in most churches, today’s attendance is expected to be about the lowest of the year. Perhaps it just feels that way because the church was so filled with visitors and the usually-abeyant members last week, but the fact remains: after the disruptions of Lent, Holy Week, and Easter Day, the second Sunday of Easter can feel something like business as usual; and, it’s easy to coast a little bit on a “business as usual” kind of day.

Yesterday I heard a friend of mine gently bemoaning the fact that he was preparing to preach on this text for the twenty-fourth time. Even though most of us haven’t had exactly that kind of familiarity with this story, there’s a degree to which I think we can all relate to that initial twinge of exhaustion as we approach today. Do we really need to hear about Thomas and his doubts again and again each year?

Feel free to follow up with me in another twenty years or so, but for now, I think I’d have to simply say, “yes”. We do need to hear this text every year – and maybe more often than that!

But before we see this story, we need to help Thomas shed some of his baggage.

It’s really unfair to label him “Doubting Thomas” – as if he were the only one who doubted! Just last week we heard the story from earlier in the day of today’s story: the story of Mary and the other women finding the empty tomb and being the first to learn of Christ’s Resurrection. When they returned to the other followers of Jesus who had gathered together in fear and told them of the Resurrection, those others also didn’t believe. They doubted. They thought the women were simply telling an “idle tale”.

So to label Thomas as “the doubter” among them simply isn’t fair.

It’s even more unfair if we’re the ones doing the labeling.

The Resurrection is certainly our hope. And on our better days, I think many of us actually do believe. But even the most faithful among us would, I believe, if we were to search some of the most honest and private recesses of our hearts, find at least a kernel of doubt. I know I do. While I do believe in the Resurrection, I also have my own kernels of doubt. I’d be lying if I tried to say I didn’t.

We have all, after all, seen death. We have felt the absence and the sense of loneliness that is its product. We have mourned. How could we not doubt when death, in our experience, is so real?

Doubt is nothing to fear or to be ashamed of. Doubt is a sign of living faith. Without doubt our faith would be static and our relationships with God would seem bland.

So before we can really think about “Doubting Thomas Sunday” there are two things we need to clarify: it’s not really about Thomas, and it’s not really about doubt.

So what is it about? Many things, to be sure. But at the very least, it is about the Resurrection of Christ and the apostolate of Christ’s followers: the sending out into the world of Christ’s followers to continue the mission of Christ. In short: it’s about Easter.

The thing about seeing Christ is that it is a very personal experience. I can talk all day about those times and places in my own life when I have seen Christ. And while such talk could possibly help to inspire faith in another, it almost certainly won’t show Christ to another. We don’t show Christ to others. Christ reveals himself.

In all of the Resurrection appearances about which we hear in the Bible there is some measure of disconnect – even if only a moment – between seeing and recognizing. Christ appears, but something has to shift before the interaction unleashes revelation. That shift occurs in the interplay between faith and doubt. As faith and doubt dance in our hearts, therein lies the opportunity for openness. It is in the midst of that dance that Christ breaks in.

So while we can’t show Christ to others, we can work to inspire the active and living faith of others.

But we can’t do that while we’re sitting here in the church.

Among Jesus’ first words spoken to his followers after his Resurrection were these: “As God has sent me, so I send you.”

In their fear and grief in the days surrounding the crucifixion, those who had followed Jesus suddenly stopped. John tells us that they were gathered together in a house with the doors locked.

During Lent, we as a parish began to explore the concept of creating a “missional church”. Our Lenten education series centered on this idea. We brought in guest speakers and had weeks of discussions about the different ways that we could fling wide the doors of the church, and perhaps, even be so bold as to walk outside.

That wasn’t just a Lenten discipline of study or simply an academic exercise. While the education series may be over, the calling persists. As God sends Christ into the world, so, too, Christ continues to send us into the world.

That Resurrection on that first Easter was not just a magic trick meant to show us that Christ really is of God. It does that, but it also does much more. The Resurrection on that first Easter was a precedent – in line with the precedents all the way from the creation of the world even unto today. Resurrection is God’s way of doing business. God is and always has been about bringing forth life. And we are called to go out into a world that is preoccupied with death to plant the seeds of faith and hope in the fields of doubt.

So while today may feel like something of a return to “business as usual” in the life of the church; and, while the work of Resurrection is certainly “business as usual” in the life of God, it is anything but “business as usual” in the experiences of the people we are called to serve. We owe our callings more than complacency. It’s not yet time to rest or to lock ourselves in our houses or churches. Now is the time to get up and get out. Now our real work begins.

As God sends Christ, so Christ sends us. Amen.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Waiting for Life

3 April 2010
Easter Vigil C
Luke 24:1-12

It was the early morning hours. Just after the sun had begun to peek over the horizon. In the first functional moments after the Sabbath: the first moments when the women could return to the work that in the rush before the Sabbath had been left undone.

The words of the messengers that greeted them seem sort of harsh: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” In the midst of their mourning, they were being chided – teased, even.

The truth is, they weren’t looking for the living among the dead. They were looking for the dead. They were looking for their friend, and teacher. They were looking for their brother, their son, and their Lord. And they knew that he was dead. They had seen him laid in the tomb in the early evening.

But it was morning.

I’ve always experienced the early morning hours as a kind of mystical time. There’s something soul feeding about watching the night be overtaken by the day – watching the vulnerability of darkness give way to light, watching the stillness begin to stir. Somehow God seems more accessible during those times. Things that seemed imperceptible in the night gain unexpected clarity in the morning.

That’s how it must have felt for those women on that morning. In the nighttime of their grief there were so many questions and so few answers. The events of the week that had preceded must have seemed like a flash as they recalled them.

It must have seemed to come from out of nowhere. One day they were following this wandering Galilean – following his teaching and his miracles. The word had spread and his celebrity had grown.

Then into Jerusalem. He was greeted as a king – hailed and applauded. The people had come out to cheer him.

But somehow there was a shift. The crowds of admirers seemed to become angry mobs. It had all happened so fast. How could it have happened so fast?

They must have been filled with questions and bewilderment as they approached that tomb. But there would be one more shift. The light would win out over the night. Perhaps there would be no answers. Perhaps there would be more questions and confusion. But there would also be life. Where they had expected to find death, they would find life.

This is why we keep vigil. This is why we sit up and wait through the telling of our stories for the new fire to shed its light. We wait in the sure and certain hope that through the darkness of death, a new light will begin to shine. We wait, not for answers, but for life. Amen.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

I hate Maundy Thursday. So there.

1 April 2010
Maundy Thursday C
John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Today marks a shift. During most of Lent we are engaged in a recreation of Jesus’ wandering in the wilderness before he begins his earthly ministry. We submit ourselves to an annual season of spiritual wandering – examining those ways in which we have grown separate from God, and hopefully marking those separations with occasions of repentance, turning ourselves ever more God-ward. It’s in the context of that repentance and reconciliation that we can enter fully into the joy of the Resurrection.

But today, our focus shifts. We enter the Triduum – the final days of preparation for Easter. Where we had been wandering, we now press forward – toward a certain goal.

It’s remarkable that our first stop along the way is what it is: the washing of feet and the institution of the Lord’s Supper.

I have to admit – I love being an Episcopalian three hundred and sixty-four days a year. I love and am fed by our liturgy almost every day. But there’s one day each year that presses me so far outside of my comfort-zone that I have to struggle each year just to endure it.

That day is today.

On one level, today should be one of my favorite days. It’s the day when we honor the institution of the sacrament of Holy Communion. One of the reasons that I most love being an Episcopalian is because I am so fed by the centrality of the Eucharist in our liturgies.

But before Jesus gathered with his friends for his last meal before his trials, he engaged in this act of profound humility: he washed their feet. That’s the part I never can seem to get over. I wouldn’t quite understand the significance of it if we didn’t reenact it liturgically. It’s in the act of occupying the spaces of both washer and the washed that help me to feel just how humbling this act is for all of us involved. It’s uncomfortable. It’s a level of physical intimacy that most of us don’t encounter with each other on a day-to-day basis. Even for those of us who are fairly familiar with one another, this pushes us.

And I think that’s exactly the point. We are meant to push ourselves into those deep places of discomfort. On Maundy Thursday, certainly, but also throughout our Christian lives. Only then can we rise to new life.

Every year I find myself hoping that this will be the year that I learn not to hate Maundy Thursday and our foot washing ritual. So far, every year I have found that it’s not. Truth be told, if I didn’t hate today, I’m not sure it would work for me.

So I’m back. Opening myself once again to being pushed just a little farther than I’d like to go. I hope you’ll join me.