Archive - May 2018

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May 23rd

Ember Letter, Pentecost 2018: Who Would Jesus Love?

Another semester has come and gone, as has Pentecost, at least in the western church, and so it is time to sit down and reflect on my journey over the past few months. I write this as a spiritual discipline modeled after Ember Letters, but I write it for myself, and anyone who is walking along side me in my journey right now.

Saturday morning, I woke up from a dream where we were singing

If you believe and I believe
And we together pray,
The Holy Spirit must come down
And set God’s people free

What if we really dared to believe that? What do we believe and are willing to pray together about, for our churches, for our denominations, for our communities, and for our countries?

…so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.

Who will dare to believe with me? Who will get together and pray with me?

The previous week had been rough; a tornado in the neighboring towns, another school shooting. On Friday night, we gathered at church for our weekly dinner ministry. We spread the word about it for anyone who was still without power and need a meal or companionship. During dinner we talked about doing a breakfast in the morning. I suggested we start off with a royal wedding watch party. I had heard that Presiding Bishop Curry would be preaching and I was pretty sure that it would be a sermon not to miss.

Saturday morning, about half a dozen of us gathering in the church undercroft. We watched the wedding, and then had breakfast together.

imagine a world where love is the way…
When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again. When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook. When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary. When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields down, down by the riverside to study war no more.

Who will dare to believe with me that God could use us to bring about a world where love is the way? Two weeks earlier, I had the opportunity to preach at church. My text was John 15. It was also the text that I wrote my final paper for New Testament in. In the farewell discourse, Jesus tells us,

This is my command: Love each other.

Who will dare to believe with me?

I love intellectual discourse. Comparing and contrasting a post-colonial interpretation of John 15 with Calvin’s interpretation is enjoyable to me. Yet at the same time, I love talking about God’s message to us with my friends on the street of Middletown. I spoke with my spiritual director about the challenge of taking a scholarly paper and making the ideas accessible to these friends and she observed, “You do this, because you love them”.

It is the sort of comment one might let pass with nod. But for me, it struck home. It brought back my memories of that conference on Poetry and Workshop a few years ago where God and I had a serious discussion about my life, and why I never got around to going to seminary and becoming a preacher. God reminded me, not only of that long dormant calling, but also that my whole life, my poetry, my politics, my work, my family, was all about showing God’s love.

The morning after meeting with my spiritual director, I drove to work. I let a woman cross a line of traffic in front of me and looked at her. I thought, for a moment, of that old saying, “What would Jesus do?” Perhaps, we’ve been asking the wrong question. Perhaps the question we need to be asking is, “Who would Jesus love?” Of course the answer to that is pretty clear; everyone. Can we see each person the way Jesus sees them?

Who will dare to believe with me?

I participated in services each day of Holy Week at the Episcopal Church I attend most Sundays and led one of the Holy Week services. After Easter Sunday, I then went to Holy Week at the Orthodox Church I attend most Saturdays. It was liturgical whiplash; Holy Week, Easter, back to Holy Week, and then another Easter.

The Orthodox Holy Week services were very powerful and I talked about them at a liturgical planning meeting at the Episcopal Church. A friend asked, “We’re not going to lose you to the Orthodox Church, are we?”

I don’t know. I feel very strong ties to both churches. A few weeks later, my youngest daughter was received as a catechumen in the Orthodox Church. A retired Episcopal priest who now attends that church said to me, “You know, the same thing happened with me. My daughter became Orthodox before I did.”

Do I dare to believe, if I asked the Father to lead both the Episcopal Church and the Orthodox Church to ordain me? Could I be bi-vocational and bi-denominational? Could I help bring love and reconciliation to two different branches of the Jesus Movement?

Yet at the same time, between the Church History course I took this past semester and my interactions with various ecclesiastical employees, my doubts about the Anglican Communion continue to grow, despite how much I love the Episcopal liturgy and the Presiding Bishop.

This weekend, I will make a pilgrimage to St Tikhon’s Orthodox monastery and seminary. Two weeks later, I will head out to Church Divinity School of the Pacific. Between the past few months and these coming trips, the metaphor of Camino remains crucial and an old hymn comes to mind.

I know not where the road will lead
I follow day by day,
or where it ends: I only know
I walk the King's highway.

Pray for me on my journey as I continue to pray for those around me.

May 19th

Backgrounder: #Pentecost2018 – From #MeToo and #EnoughIsEnough to @pb_curry at the #RoyalWedding

If humanity ever captures the energy of love, it will be the second time in history that we have discovered fire. – The sermon of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry at the Royal Wedding

(See the video or read the text)

When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. – Acts 2

Today in the western church, we celebrate Pentecost. We celebrate that day when the power of Love rested on each of the disciples as a divided tongue of fire. We also celebrate the power of the Spirit resting on Presiding Bishop Curry. God’s Love burst in like tongues of Fire in a world desperately needing to hear it.

With all the horrible news over the past few weeks, the whole wedding, with Bishop Curry preaching and The Kingdom Choir singing “Stand by Me”, was the balm that we all so desperately needed.

In John 20, we read about the disciples huddling in fear on the Sunday of the Resurrection.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!"

In many ways, it feels like in recent days we’ve been huddled behind locked doors in fear of the racists, misogynists, and PussyGrabbers. In many ways it felt to me like Bishop Curry was saying #MeToo and #EnoughIsEnough.

At one point, Bishop Curry talked about “some old slaves in America’s antebellum south who explained the dynamic power of love and why it has the power to transform”. They knew that “If you cannot preach like Peter [and here, I would add, or like Michael] and you cannot pray like Paul [and here I would add or like Archbishop Angaelos and The Reverend Prebendary Rose HudsonWilkin], you just tell the love of Jesus how he died to save us all. Oh that’s the balm in Gilead. This way of love is the way of life.” His words were the balm we need right now.

To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have a dream that one day on the green hills of England the children of former slaves and the children of former slave traders will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

A friend of mine put it this way on his Facebook page.

I am filled with gratitude that, in a season when American Christianity is too often represented by preachers who have pledged allegiance to the current administration in Washington, we heard a sermon from an American Christian leader, a wedding homily proclaiming love, not hate, inclusion, not judgment. It fills me with hope. Thank you, Bishop Curry, for showing us what the Jesus movement looks like in the world today.

He, like many of my friends has recently shared what I refer to as “The Barmen Declaration 2018”. If you don’t get the reference, watch the video and then read up about the Theological Declaration of Barmen 1934.

For those who want to know more, I encourage you start by watching Bishop Curry’s video about The Eucharist and about The Jesus Movement.

Finally, if you want to experience this Love, this Fire, get to church. Today, the western church (Protestants and Roman Catholics) celebrates Pentecost. If you miss it, next week, the eastern church (Orthodox) celebrates Eucharist. Not every church will be as beautiful as St. George’s Chapel. Not every church will have a choir as powerful as The Kingdom Choir, not every church will have a preacher as gifted as Bishop Curry; they might not even be fully living into that power of Love that Bishop Curry preached about, but it’s a good place to start.

Come, Holy Sprit, Come.

May 10th

Bestowing Order

Below is a post to one of the discussions forums for my New Testament class as Church Divinity School of the Pacific. It is partly shaped by events going on with ecclesiastical organizations around where I live, and particularly about the exclusion of a friend of mine from a church organization ostensibly because of where she chooses to worship on Sunday mornings. It is a topic close to my heart since I was excluded from the same group for different reasons a few months ago.

A recurring theme through this week’s readings about 1 Corinthians has been bestowing order and emphasizing ‘what is more advantageous in building the church” (Ajer, 1). Schussler-Fiorenza refers to 1 Cor 14:40 in emphasizing that Paul “is concerned that everything 'should happen decently and in the right order'”. (Schussler-Fiorenza, 1). Boring describes the issues saying “What they [the Corinthians] failed to discern was the nature of the church as the body of Christ.” (Boring Kindle Location 8314).

Indeed, Boring sums it up nicely with “This problem of elitism carries over into the following discussion of the spiritual gifts”. The issue of women speaking in church or having their heads uncovered was an issue local to Corinth where such things harmed the efforts to build the church. Over the past few decades we have had the mirror of this, not letting women speak in church harmed the efforts to build the church. Likewise the exclusion of homosexuals today harms the efforts to build the church.

This becomes most pointed in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord”. What is this unworthy manner? It is a manner that does not bestow order, a manner that does not build the church, and perhaps most importantly, a manner that does not treat everyone at the table, Greek or Jew, rich or poor, gay or straight, male or female, white or black, progressive or liberal, Orthodox, Episcopal, or non-denominational as equals.

I suspect that we all eat the bread in an unworthy manner much more often than we are willing to admit.

May 6th

Sermon: Locating The Vine

Below is the text of the sermon I delivered Sunday, May 6, 2018 at Grace and St. Peter's in Hamden, CT. As described in the sermon we had switched the Gospel lessons between last week and this week, so the text was John 15:1-8. I did vary a bit from this draft as I presented it, but the ideas and framework remained the same.

[From the center Aisle]

Good Morning. Bob is out of town today and Dexter has graciously given me the opportunity to preach. In today's lesson were going to talk about about location and I’m going to do something a little bit differently. Bob has been preaching from the aisle, Amanda used to preach from the pulpit. I’m going to do a little bit of both and maybe bring in a little bit from my studies in seminary. I also invite you to think pay attention in a different way. I want you to pay attention to all that is going on here. Look around the sanctuary. Look at the altar. Look at the light coming in through the stained glass windows. Listen to my words. Listen to the sounds of people shifting around in their seats, rustling papers, and the sounds of the world outside the church, the traffic, the birds, and so on.

[pause… Walk to the altar and then to the pulpit]

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, oh Lord, our strength and our redeemer.

Today, we hear the lesson about Jesus being the vine and us being the branches. We’re doing things a little bit out of order. Our lesson last week about God’s love should have been the lesson for this week and vice versa, but Bob wanted to change the order so that youth Sunday would have such a great passage to preach from and that fit in with their song. We need to keep in mind that today’s lesson comes before the lesson we heard about love last week.

These two lessons, together come as part of the Jesus’ great Farewell Discourse in chapters 14 through 17 of John. They are preceded and followed by Jesus telling the disciples about God sending the Holy Spirit.

In Biblical Studies, a lot of attention is paid to the location of various texts. When and where were the texts written? Who wrote the texts and how did they fit into the society of the time? What about the location might shape what got included and what didn’t get included in the text? Finally, how does our location today shape how we think about the texts?

An important question that the early Christians at the Gospel of John was written were struggling with was the relationship between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. Would Gentiles have to adopt Jewish customs? If so, which thread of Jewish customs, the customs of the Greek Jews spread out across the Middle East, or the customs of Hebrew Jews in Jerusalem? This was about more than things like keeping a kosher kitchen or being circumcised. It was about the very understanding of who they were.

What role did Jerusalem play to these Jews and early Christians? Jesus’ comments about being the vine need to be thought about in terms of Old Testament scriptures about Vineyards.

In Isaiah 5:7, we read:

The vineyard of the LORD Almighty
is the nation of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are the vines he delighted in.

Deuteronomy 28:30 echoes this theme but with an ominous warning, “You will plant a vineyard, but you will not even begin to enjoy its fruit.”

Various commentators have suggested that what Jesus is saying here is that what matters is our relationship with God instead of any specific physical location. In this light, John 15 fits very nicely between the discussions of the Holy Spirit coming in Chapters 14 and 16. The physical body of Jesus cannot possibly be with all people in all locations at all times, but the Holy Spirit can be.

As we continue to think about who we are as a community, I think this is an important perspective. We have a beautiful church building at a great location. Its purpose should be to draw each of us closer to God and to one another as we bring God’s love to the greater community. We, as a community, can bring God’s love, as we experience it here to people in our daily lives, wherever our paths take us.

In the Gospel, Jesus calls us to remain in him, as he remains in us. An older translation of this is ‘abide’. What does it mean to remain or abide in Jesus? The same word is used in Matthew when Jesus sends out the disciples. “Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay [or remain or abide] at their house until you leave”.

This location here in Hamden is where we are sent out from. It is where we abide as we show God’s love to those around us, through programs like Dinner for a Dollar and Abraham’s tent.
Another place where the word ‘abide’ is used in the New Testament is by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. In Matthew, Jesus says to his disciples in the garden, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here [abide or remain] and keep watch with me.”

Our location here in Hamden is also where we abide in times of grief or sadness as we say good bye to loved ones and comfort one another. We abide with those we love when they are grieving or troubled, whether they are with us here at Grace and St. Peter’s or far away from us. It is part of what makes us the community we are.

And what is the result of our abiding in Jesus? Jesus tells us, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

What is this fruit? We find the word used many different places. Many of my evangelical friends think of these fruits in terms of the number of new people we bring to church. That is part of it, but that is much more. In Galatians are told that the fruits of the spirit are “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”.

In the story of Jesus birth, we get another view of what these fruits. In the beginning of Luke when Mary visits Elizabeth, Elizabeth shouts out, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb”.

This is the fruit we are called to bear, to bring God’s love into the world. It is what the children of our Sunday school spoke with us about last week. It is what we show through ministries like Dinner for a Dollar, Abraham’s Tent, Arden House, Older and Wiser, and simply showing God’s love to those around us.

Finally, we come to the type of fruit that grows on vines. The grapes used to make wine; the wine which will become for us the mystical blood of Christ in the Eucharist in a little while. We are the body of Christ. We are the branches of vine, bearing the fruit that will bring hope, love, and joy to those around us. Let us keep all of these things in mind as we consider our location, here in Hamden, and as branches connected to the vine of Christ. Amen

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May 3rd

First Look: Inspired by @rachelheldevans

When the famous German theologian, Karl Barth was asked to summarize the millions of words he had written, he reportedly responded, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so.” These words come back to me as I finish my second semester of seminary. I have been studying the greatest love story of all time and it isn’t just some academic pursuit, it is a story I am caught up in the middle of.

There is the story of the burning bush and the comment about how the miracle is not that the bush was not consumed, the real miracle was that Moses noticed. In the turmoil of our daily lives, we often don’t notice how God is telling us that he loves us. We get caught up in the drama, the conflict, or simply the academic studies.

Yesterday, I received a reminder in an unexpected way. I received an advance copy of Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans.

In between my class assignments, I’ve started reading it. The introduction starts off with personal stories of Evans struggling with what the Bible means in our lives today. She starts off from the perspective of growing up in the Bible belt, going to a conservative Christian college, and struggling with how to make sense of the Bible in our post-modern milieu.

At least a little ways into the introduction, this seems like a really important book for our age. It is important to those trying to figure out their relationship to God and stories about God. It is important to those trying to figure out what Jesus would do and how we should then live. Yet it is perhaps even more important to anyone who is trying to struggle with devastating polarization in American politics today.

Hopefully, over the next few weeks I’ll have the opportunity to write more about this book. I look forward to other people’s comments about the book as well.