No es muy frio o muy caliente

“Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” (Matt. 5:37 ESV)

“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!” (Rev. 3:15 ESV)

Our Lord spoke quite a bit about the power of choices and keeping things simple.  Unfortunately, we have a way of complicating the obvious and trivializing the momentous.  One of the greatest ways we do this is by our presence, or lack thereof, in the church of our choice. 

Yes, I said it. While I would like to believe that the marketplace, or politics, do not rule which church we attend, they do.  We are truly American Post-Modern Individualist consumers and whatever we desire, we can find a church that provides it or teaches it.

The problem is that we treat churches like a brand of soft drink bought at the local convenience store, when it should be treated more like a house.  The soft drink is designed to be consumed in one sitting and meeting a single “need”.  The home is an investment in something solid. This requires constant investment and maintenance, but done properly it will last for generations.  I could not imagine changing a home as quickly as I do soft drinks.  Choose a home and stay as long as it meets your need for shelter. Feel free to choose based on the style and structure, and whether your family and all your stuff will fit in it.  However, once the choice is made, make a vow for a little stability, as far as it depends on you. Above all, resist the temptation to keep an alternative house always at the ready, for then you will never really be at home.

This  came to me as I was considering how to respond to a request to sojourn at St. M’s from a very nice couple, associated with another (not Episcopal) congregation in the area, who are at odds with the lead pastor. What they desired was not a respite period, but for welcome only on the days when this particular pastor was the lead in the service. In no way is this healthy, for either party.

So, my advice would be to make a choice to offer up their dislike in prayer through the power of the cross and continue to attend their current church, or make a clean break.  Taking a week or two off each month to attend another service to avoid that pastor is not healthy for them or the congregation. The Church is a place where real relationships exist, including bad ones that we need to work through, and where the Body is made poorer by our absence.  Be in or out. Don’t limp between two opinions. Let your “yes” be “yes”. Don’t be lukewarm.

That being said, there are times to make changes.  Not, all relationships can be healthy. Sometimes we want different worship styles, or more and different programs.  Sometimes a Methodist realizes he is actually an Anglican!  However, if you find yourself to be in this situation, or cannot reconcile your relationships, you owe it to your current church and your potential new one to make a clean break.  Anything else is unfair to your brothers and sisters in Christ. Then, if you are departing because of a broken relationship, go to confession for your own part in that break-up.

Any church is like a house, it is what you put into it that makes it a home.

NB—for clarity, I am speaking about church, or pastor, hopping in general, and not about part-time status in retirement or “snow birding”.

Oh the irony…

Obviously, I must not have had any thoughts since I have not posted since Good Friday.  Not, strictly true, but nothing worthy of recording or publicity.

Seriously, though, as I have been preparing for this Sunday’s homily, I noticed that the reading from Revelation has been cut in an interesting way.  According to the Revised Common Lectionary (of which I am not a big fan in any case), we are to read Revelation 22: 12-14, 16-17, 20-21.  Three verses are removed from the lesson.  Do you think this is done to simply shorten a long lesson, or could there be another reason?  I submit it is due to a penchant for not wanting to deal with uncomfortable verses, or simply verses we do not like.  This type of editing reminds me of Connie Booth asking John Cleese for The Standard Book of British Birds (the expurgated version, the one without the gannet, they wet their nests).

I have highlighted the removed verses below:

‘See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. 13I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.’

14 Blessed are those who wash their robes,* so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. 15Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practises falsehood.

16 ‘It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.’
17 The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’
And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; 19if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

20 The one who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.

So the editors decided to cut the verses warning about adding and taking away from the book?  Ironic, no?

Of course, I could be wrong.

For those who wish to see Monty Python’s bookshop sketch click here.  (Warning: language).

 

 

 

Good Friday

“The functional avoidance of Good Friday among many Christians is a heresy of long standing. Its tacit justifications seems to be that Easter Sunday signals a victory so complete that God effectively annihilated Golgotha. Such confusion makes for a theology that is not merely bad, but heartless and even dangerous. It…dares to attempt what even God refused: obliterating the wounds of Christ Crucified.”–Clifton Black, “The Persistence of the Wounds, in Lament: Reclaiming Practices in Pulpit, Pew, and Public Square (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2005), 57.  Quoted in The Crucifixion by Fleming Rutledge (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 65.

A Parable

There was a corporation that was known for being the best in its business.  It was one of the premier steakhouse chains. It was well-known and beloved and many of the leading citizens used its services.  It was old and venerable and respectable.  It had a structural model that divided the territory and set up districts for its business. Each district offered local franchise opportunities when enough people asked them to move a franchise into the community.  Many districts were set up and headed by strong managers. Some early managers went out and organized local franchises.  The franchises felt a strong connection to the district and even the corporation. 

So the corporation grew as the franchises and districts grew.  Great profits were had, and many people felt that the product sold by the corporation through its districts and franchises was the best available in the market.  The customers were loyal and ate there once a week, often inviting their friends.  Their children enjoyed keeping the tradition alive.

               Over time, the corporation rested on its laurels. It came to see its business model as merely keeping the doors of the franchises open. Attention to quality diminished and it began to feel entitled to its customers.  It was believed that the customers owed the corporation loyalty and their needs began to take second place.  Service began to suffer.

 In fact, many of the managers of the districts and franchises began to doubt that the steakhouse should even exist.  Some thought there was no real steak, others that it was a metaphor and still others that there were many paths to steak, so they wanted the ability to change the menu at their own initiative.  Many even removed steak from the menu.  Customers, their friends, and families began to drift away.  This was not blamed on the need to serve what the corporate menu promised, but on the fact that the districts and franchises were not innovative enough.  New managers needed to be brought in who would do this. Those who thought this began to scheme for advancements in the corporation. One district manager publicly stated that steak did not exist, and the corporation did nothing about it.  One manager even wrote articles claiming that the menu needed to change or die. Again, the corporation did nothing and allowed this manager to do talk shows in his managerial uniform and publically represent the corporation. This despite the fact that the corporation till clung to the idea of steak as its core business.

               Eventually, these district  and franchise managers began to move up the corporate chain.  No one thought about truly reinvigorating the business in caring for customers and providing quality by restoring the essential menu that people had come to expect.  Instead they gathered in the boardroom and turned the steakhouse corporation into a buffet.  No longer would customers be expected to order off the menu, but they could have whatever they wanted, even if it was an imaginary steak.  The corporation announced this new model to much fanfare. It developed a national marketing strategy to brand the corporation and sell its new buffet approach to current and future customers.  Only those who agreed to this new branding would be allowed to serve as district managers.  Any who did not would be allowed to retire gracefully if they wished, but their successors would have to swear loyalty to the new buffet model.

               Unfortunately, this did not help the market share, but the corporation did not seem to mind as it had done the right thing and changed from being that stodgy steakhouse. Buffets were the future.  Of course, a few buffet fans did begin to use the corporation, some loyal customers were loyal to their local franchise, some just liked the name of the corporation and its atmosphere, but many current customers started eating elsewhere and some districts and franchises left the corporation.  This was a time of turmoil. 

               Some districts and their franchises, and some franchises in buffet districts, did not like the new buffet model, but still stayed with the corporation.  They were laughed at and derided and given second status in the boardroom as they were outnumbered. They were the tolerated minority of districts and franchises, and many believed in just a generation or so they would get with the new program.

               Now, the districts and franchises that wished to serve the old menu struggle to announce that they have not changed, but continue to serve the steaks that made them famous.  However, most new customers have only seen the nationwide advertising campaign for a buffet and do not want steak.  These feel that they have fallen for a “bait and switch” and do not become regulars.  Others, who do want steak, also have seen the national advertising and refuse to even try the local franchise.

               So, what happens?  Will the steakhouse districts and franchises simply become boutiques or even survive?  Will the buffet corporation? How will the market decide?

               Let the reader understand.

La Diva

Today started rough.  It was quite difficult to be mindful at Morning Prayer, and I actually found myself repeating the salutation and Lord’s Prayer when I should have been moving on to the suffrages.  Too much on my mind, I guess.  So, I did do a little Benedictine kneeling for my unmindfulness.

Yet, that was not the worse.  I realized I had not taken my medication (prophylactic antibiotic after a run in with a cleaver on Monday), so I left for home in my “trusty” 1500.  Not a good move.

A week ago my RAM 1500 with 40k miles was in the shop for warranty work on an oil pump. I get that problems develop and am thankful for warranties on new vehicles.  Today, however, it flooded out.  Upon restart, it went 100 meters then did it again.  Realizing I was developing a new problem, I resolved to take it to the dealer about 1/2 mile away.  Well, we never got there.  After a series of thunks and thuds, I pulled into a local business and saw a trail of gas/oil behind me.  So, called for a tow to the dealer.

I do not believe in coincidences, so am betting there is a connection to the repair work from last week.  I was pleasant with the service folk, but will be pushing for more than just a warrantied repair.

Anyway, since they won’t give a rental unless kept overnight, I was forced to cancel a few appointments and return to my study for the day.   I confess it did take me a bit to wind down from my frustration.

After finishing some admin work, I then sat to catch up on a couple of journals and read some Martin Thornton (B/T to Matthew Dallman).  For this, I thought a good cigar in order.  Thus, I delved into the depths of my humidor for one of my last La Divas.

This cigar has been discontinued for years, and the stick I chose was purchased in the fall of 1998 at the PX at Ft. Jackson, SC while training as a Chaplain Assistant.  I still remember purchasing a half-box for “victory” cigars with a good friend in the class.  We smoked a few the day of graduation and went our separate ways. The rest went into the private stash.

After 17 years this cigar did not disappoint. This is a natural wrapper 7.5×49 cigar.  It burned well, and after two hours was palatable to the end.  The tasting notes included cream and coffee with a slight peppery finish. Room note was quite pleasant, reminding me of a sweet campfire.

It was a joy to read a classic work on ascetical theology while enjoying a classic cigar and reminiscing about the good old days.

Relaxing indeed.

Now, I should probably go for some penance for my uncharitable thinking this morning.

The smoking lamp is lit!

 

 

 

 

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany 1016

Luke 4:21-30

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

 

Notes:

On my home cable remote, there is a magic button that says “On Demand”.  Push this button and a world of entertainment opens up, when I want it, as I want it.

Notice that one of Jesus’ objections is to the attitude of the people in Nazareth.  He understands that they have an “On Demand” attitude.  He has done great things in Capernaum, now he must do them in Nazareth!  It is only fair, and since it is his hometown he must do them for us! The people of Nazareth have an attitude that assumes they are entitled to the great things of God.  They want the “On Demand” button pushed.

But notice Jesus response.  He irritates them by pointing out that though there were many widows Elijah was only sent to the widow at Zarepath, and though there were many lepers only Naaman the Syraian was cleansed.  This is more than Jesus being counter-cultural, or pointing out that gentiles are worth saving, or tweaking the beards.  He is saying something entirely profound if we will but listen.

Jesus is not about doing things “On Demand”.  He is about doing things for those who truly desire.  The difference between the people of Nazareth and the Widow of Zarepath and Naaman is one of obedience and faith.  When presented with the words of the prophets, even if they did not understand or if they argued, the Widow and Naaman, believed and obeyed.  This is why the Nazareans are so upset, Jesus is calling them out on their faith and obedience.  This is what drives them to attempt to drive him off the cliff.  He is to be scapegoated for their lack of faith and obedience.  They are not getting the great things of God to which they feel entitled “On Demand”.

Today, as we read this lesson, we are faced with the same choice.  Do we think we are entitled to the great works of God?  Do we believe that God is at our demand? Or do we recognize the need to trust and obey?  Are like the Nazareans or the Widow or Naaman?

If we desire to see great things, if we desire to see miracles, if we desire to see God’s blessing upon our lives the life of our congregation, then we must have faith and live in obedience.  Jesus says that if we love him we will keep his commandments.  If we love Jesus, we will obey Jesus, and in that faithful obedience we will be blessed.

That is the choice that lies before us all.  Our way? An “On Demand” religion? Or the way of faith and obedience? The way of Love.  God has opened this way through Jesus the Christ, by loving us first, may God give us the faith and love to obey.

Homily Notes for 2 Epiphany 2016

Homily Notes for 2 Epiphany 2016

John 2: 1-12

 

               The wedding at Cana enjoys a special place in Anglican tradition.  It is referenced every time we celebrate Holy Matrimony in the Charge to the Couple indicating the special blessedness of marriage by the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at the event, and the performing of his first miracle there.  In our nave we even have a window in our East Wall, in the series of the seven sacraments, commemorating the event.

               But what is this passage really about?  What is the point?  Is this a party trick?

               Well you might think it is the latter, as every priest, at some point, makes the joke when handed a glass of water.  But, I will let you in on a secret.  No, it is not a party trick.  If you want to know a deeper secret, this passage is really about wine! Seriously, wine, vino, is the point.  Not to go to Sideways, but it is not so much a conversation on Merlot v. Cab v. Malbec v. Chardonnay v. that pink wine that calls itself white.  It is about wine and what wine communicates in the history and theology of Ancient Israel.  It is about Wine and God.

               Note the setting.  A wedding where wine runs out.  What is important here is not that the wedding cannot continue, but there is no more Wine.  See here is the clue, Mary is upset that there is no more wine and she confronts Jesus with the fact.  “They have no wine”, she says.  Jesus’ response seems at first to be cruel, “Mother, what does that have to do with me, my hour has not come.”  He is asking if she really understands what she is asking.  This is not about cultural embarrassment, or saving face.  He is asking if she knows just what she is asking of him.  Her response, “Do whatever he tells you” shows that indeed she does understand.

               So what is she asking?  She is asking for, wait for it, wine!  Wine is a metaphor of both God’s blessing and judgment upon Ancient Israel.  When the people of Israel keep God’s covenant they are blessed by God as those with wine.  When they fail to keep God’s covenant the wine of God  becomes sour to them. Psalm 4.7 tells us that contemplation of “God puts joy in the heart more than when they have wine.”  Provers 3.9-10 tells the young that if they honor God with their first fruits their vats will be bursting with wine.   Isaiah 24.11 tells of people crying out in the desolate city because there is no wine.  As that passage continues into Isaiah 25.6 the Lord will provide on his holy mountain a feast with well-aged wines, and it will be declared (v.9) that Behold this is our God.

               “They have no wine”.  They have run out of blessing and only God can provide the richness and fullness of the blessing that is sought.  If Jesus blesses the marriage with wine, it will be a statement of who he is, and Mary knows full well what she is asking and commands the servants to listen to her son.

               Jesus commands them to fill the purification vats with water.  The ritual purification rites are hereby transformed.  What will cleanse is not the ritual of the law, but the wine of Christ.  In this we see a foreshadowing of the Eucharistic cup that it taken, blessed, and transformed into the Blood of Christ, or the New Covenant, which is shed for the forgiveness of sins.  Wine the blood of grapes is a sign of the blood of Jesus Christ through which comes our purification.

               In this miracle we see the glory, the presence of God, made manifest.  This is Jesus’ first sign as he heads to his hour the ultimate revealing of God with us in the crucifixion and resurrection.  This is the hour for which he has come, and he reveals himself in the context of a wedding, a prefigurement of the wedding supper of the lamb, which we celebrate with each Mass.  This is the good wine of God’s blessing.

               Yet, notice one thing about this short passage, there is a synergistic element here.  Jesus does not draw the water, rather the servants listen to Mary’s instruction and then follow Jesus’ commands.  They fill the jars, Jesus makes the wine.  They fulfill Jesus’s commands and the people are blessed through Jesus’ work.  So too with us.  We are blessed to be a blessing.  When we follow Jesus’ commands, not only do we receive the blessings of God, not only are we purified, but we are then sent to be a blessing to the world.

 

May God grant us the grace and will to follow Jesus, and may Christ always give us his new wine.  Amen.