Sunday, February 28, 2010

Lent 2 - The Good Bye Sermon

I think one of the things that hangs us up as Christians is how we envision God.  Psychologists have studied how we envision God and how that vision effects how we live our lives.  I think one of the biggest problems is that although we mature as people, our view of God, well, has some “difficulty” in maturing.  As we are growing, we tend to see God as Santa Clause, giving us things if we are good, or as a strict and intolerant dictator, keeping track of what we do right and what we do wrong.  And even though we may intellectually move beyond these categories, in our heart, we often get stuck. 
When we get stuck in these views of God, we can become frightened.  Often, we look around at our life and our world and things seem to be falling to pieces.  Sometimes, we look around, and it seems as if God is actually working against us!  We look around, and instead of the blessings that we were promised, all we see is punishment.
If we think of God as Santa, or as a dictator, we can’t help but think of God as cruel.  We look at the negative things happening in life and figure that this must be because of something terrible we did.  But if we think about it, this is a very self-centered way to view our lives.  It places us at the center of everything that is happening and doesn’t allow room for God to show any kind of love. 
So how are we to see God?  Aren’t we told that God is a God of justice?  God is a God who will punish the sinners as they deserve?  If we listen to the ones with the loudest voices, this is the general attitude that we hear.  However, Jesus gives us a different way of viewing God.  Jesus tells us in the gospel reading that we can, and should, think of God as a mother who is there to protect us.  As such, we need to think of God, not as Santa, but as a wonderful parent; the most wonderful parent we could ever imagine.  And hopefully, this image of the wonderful parent will help us to understand more about what is happening when life seems to go in directions we didn’t plan.  Our scripture for today gives us some examples of how God is a wonderful parent.
In our first reading we have a kind of weird reading.  My first thought about this reading is the image is of this pot of fire dancing down between the cut up pieces of animal kind of like some couple doing The Stroll at a 50’s prom.  Why a fire pot is doing The Stroll between a bunch of animal corpses, I don’t know.  But I don’t need to know the reason, or what it means; Abram knew what it meant and that is all that matters.  See, that is what is important to remember, God-- as the most wonderful parent -- knows what we need!  Now, what we need may not necessarily be exactly what we want, but because God loves us, God gives us what is best for us.
As adults, we know that sometimes our decisions are not the most popular with the younger folks around.  But if we were to give in just because the kids were not pleased, we would not be doing our kids a favor.  Part of our job is to keep the kids safe and to help the kids grow to their fullest.  Helping our kids reach their highest potential is a very noble calling!  And to our kids, we may seem to be doing all kinds of bad and nasty things, but we know that in the end, what we are doing is best for our kids. 
Also, hopefully, as we have grown, we can see the wisdom in some decisions our parents made.  We can see how our lack of maturity, or our impetuousness, or our stupidity, could have gotten us into a lot of trouble.  And hopefully, we can now see the wisdom in our parents’ decisions and are thankful that our parents cared enough about us to incur our anger and stand strong.
God gives Abram what he needs to continue on; even if that something is a dancing fire pot.  And God will give that to us to.  Through God’s actions, Abram, in his old age, was about to put his faith in God and to continue on in this faith.
When we allow ourselves to change our understanding of God, we can relax into life.  We can be assured that even though things may not be the way we would have them, that God, as the most wonderful parent, is watching over us.  Think of what it would be like to be a child and not be able to count on your parents to care for you.  It would be very scary; everything would become a danger.  But when a child knows that the parent is watching and protecting, the child feels safe.  Even though the child might not like the decision of the parent, the child knows that it is still safe.  When we can’t trust in God, our world becomes scary, dangerous.  But when we put our faith in God, the mother hen watching over us, we can be assured we will be safe.
We are entering a time of change.  And, speaking for myself, it is kind of scary.  It is not something that I would choose to have happen, but it is the way life is moving.  The important thing to remember is that God is still with us, even in this time.  As long as we keep our eyes to God, God will look over us.  Jesus uses the image of the mother hen, and we need to think of this hen spreading her wings and giving us the protection we need.  And if we keep our eyes open, God will give us the signs that we need.  It may not be a dancing fire pot, it may not even be a giant billboard, but the signs will be there.
Just as we as parents know what to give to our children, God, the most wonderful parent, knows what we need to keep going.  We just need to trust and to keep looking.
During this time of Lent, we practice our disciplines to help us to see the world in a new way.  We practice our disciplines to sharpen our perceptions.  We practice our disciplines to help us see the hand of God at work in our lives.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What's Happening?

It has been a strange time around here.
Nick has been working 10 hour days, 5 days per week for the past 3 weeks, and as you can probably guess, he is totally exhausted.  I love the whole temp job thing; we work you to the bone and then offer you no job security.  Actually, Nick told me that one guy who had been temping there for three years got axed.  Nothing like putting the fear of God into everyone.  And with the job market the way it is in Michigan, they can get away with it.  Granted, the money comes in handy, but you have to wonder at what cost.

I have been moving things out of my office and can't help but compare the experience to the last time I moved out of an office.  This time is under a whole different setting.  I am going to be sad to leave.  (Well, mostly, I am not going to be sad to say "good bye" to the treasurer, but more on that later!)  I had hoped to just move stuff from one office to the other, but that is not going to be able to happen.  I want to leave the office in such a way that the new person can come right in.  And that may be sooner as opposed to later.  (Which is good for them!   They deserve it!)

I started doing my taxes and things were fine until I got to the church pay.  Thanks to my "Lovely" Treasurer, I owe the government almost $1000!  I talked to her about the money she was taking and she said everything was fine.  That woman has cost me (in one way or another) over $2000 over the past year.  Of course, she does not see how her actions have any bearing on my life.  I asked about how much money was being taken out of my check and she assured me it was enough.  Well, it wasn't.  So now, while trying to come up with deposits and first/last month's rent, we get to find almost a $1000 to send to the banking CEO's and war profiteers government.

Otherwise, this Sunday will be my last at my current congregation.  It will be sad, but I am looking forward to the next phase of life.

Ten Months to Go!

And frankly, with the snow we have been getting, it feels more like Christmas than it did at Christmas!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Lent 1 Year C

I said on Ash Wednesday how I really didn’t like Ash Wednesday and how I really didn’t like Lent.  And having said that, I have continued to think about it.  I am a priest!  These things are part and parcel of what I do!  I should be looking forward to these events.  Yes, I like Easter and all the cheer and smiles and fun that comes with it, but I really don’t like having to go through Lent to get there.
While writing this, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just board a plane on Transfiguration Sunday and fly over all the nasty stuff of Lent right to Easter?”  It would be nice!  No Ash Wednesday, no Good Friday, no fasting, no repentance.  Just a quick jump from one happy event to another.  It sounds like it would be nice, but would that really be helpful to us? 
About seven years ago, I drove, alone, from Iowa to Spokane.  As you can imagine, it was a very long and a very tedious journey.  There were times while driving through Wyoming and Montana that I thought I was going to go totally crazy.  Mile after mile of road, and the only thing to keep me company was the radio and my own thoughts.  It was long and it was tiring, but it was not a totally bad thing.  Actually, there were some very interesting things that happened.  I met people who I probably would never have met.  I helped a homeless man get a step closer to finding his estranged son, and I even got to sit in a small town in Wyoming and chat with the locals as my flat got fixed.  (Having a Saturn with metric tires is NOT a good thing in rural Wyoming!)  But mostly, I had time to think, to pray, to contemplate what was going on in my life and what I really wanted to do with my life.  Granted, I could have flown out there and had gotten to Spokane much faster, but taking the time to drive was really a very good thing.
Anymore, in life we like to avoid the difficult things.  I think this ability to avoid the difficult has made Lent even more tiresome.  We have so many things to help us avoid the unpleasantries of life, why should we have this 40-day stretch to remind us of them all again?  I think there is a temptation to just avoid all the nastiness of life and just focus on the good things.  But I think in doing that, in giving in to the temptation, we deprive ourselves of the possibility for some radical, life changing, events.
In our gospel reading for today, we have Jesus being tempted by the Devil in the wilderness.  Now, we need to remember what has happened to Jesus; he was out in the desert for 40-days, which is “Bible Speak” for a “Very Long Time.”  I am sure he was very hungry, very thirsty, and very tired.  Oh, and he was alone during this time.  My trip across Wyoming and Montana only took about a day and I was a bit crabby, imagine 40 days of this!
So, after being out in the wilderness for a Very Long Time, the Devil starts to tempt Jesus.  And the Devil is very crafty about how he goes about doing this.  The first thing that the Devil does is tempts Jesus with food.  (Seems logical.)  After food, the Devil tempts Jesus with power.  And finally, the Devil tempts Jesus with being able to show off just how much power Jesus actually does has.  These would be difficult temptations in and of themselves, but to be tempted with them after being in the wilderness for 40 days, well…  But Jesus does not give in; Jesus stands firm and emerges victorious.  Jesus goes through the wilderness and emerges, perhaps a bit worn, but successfully emerges at the end.  Jesus does not avoid the temptations and difficulties of life, but proceeds through them and is stronger for it.
Now, one of the easiest ways to disregard this whole wilderness event is to say, “Well, Jesus was the Son of God.  He knew he was the Son of God because he had just had it broadcast from the sky.  He really didn’t suffer that much.”  But that would be to disregard the fact that although Jesus was the Son of God, he was also fully human.  And I am sure that the fully human Jesus was sorely tempted to make a couple of loaves of bread for himself.  However, to have done that to have given into the temptations, would have been to use the power Jesus had been given for the wrong purpose.  In traveling though the wilderness and fighting off temptation, Jesus, the Son, learned that he could, in fact, rely on God, the father, to care for his needs. 
If Jesus would have just taken a direct flight to the end of the story, I can’t help but wonder if Jesus wouldn’t have always had questions as to his ability to resist temptations when they would be present.  The human Jesus may have always wondered if he could do it.  But having gone through this testing and having emerged victorious, the human Jesus could have confidence not only in his own abilities, but also total confidence in the promise of God.
I am pretty sure Jesus would have like to avoid the whole roaming in the wilderness and avoid the whole being tempted by Devil thing, but it was these experiences that helped to prepare him for the other events in his life.  It was in passing through the difficult parts of the journey that gave Jesus the strength and courage to continue on the path the God had set out for him.
Our trip through Lent is very similar.  Granted, we probably won’t be wandering in the wilderness for a very long time.  And we probably will not have a face-to-face encounter with the Devil, but the disciplines we participate in during Lent give us the courage to trust in God and to trust in ourselves.  Avoiding the quick and simple ways to Easter helps us to truly understand the gifts we have been given in this life.  And sometimes when we take the way that is more difficult, we are gifted with something truly miraculous.  And then when we get to the final destination, it is that much more enjoyable.
When we skip right from Transfiguration to Easter, we are missing the work that goes into the journey.  We fail to appreciate the price that Jesus paid.  When we make that jump, we experience what Dietrich Bonhoeffer would call “Cheap Grace:”  The grace is given, but when we avoid the discipline, we really don’t know what to do with the grace.  Just like the dulcimer, if I don’t take time to practice it, it is not really ever going to sound good.  Lent is one of those times that we set aside to practice our faith.
Yes, we can fly right to Easter and pretend that Lent never happened.  Yes, the promise of Easter will still be there, even if we don’t go through the depths of Good Friday.  Yes, we can try to avoid the time in the wilderness, but we do it to our own detriment.  Jesus shows us the way and begs us to follow.  I may not like Lent, but I have come to appreciate the journey.  There may be faster ways to get to the end, but when we follow the way of Jesus, the gift is so much more richer.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday Sermon

A friend of mine, a former classmate in seminary, said something very interesting today on Facebook.  She said that Ash Wednesday is possibly the most honest day in the Christian year.  It made me stop and think.  And you know, I would have to agree with her.
Ash Wednesday is probably my least favorite day of the Christian year, and it is probably that because it is so honest.  Ash Wednesday tears away all the trappings of our life and makes us look our life square in the face.  There is no “prettying up” Ash Wednesday, it is what it is.  It is a reminder of death.  Walking around with a big black cross on your forehead is not very attractive, but it is what we subject ourselves to.  We leave the church with this sign of our mortality prominently displayed for the whole world to see.
But this is the honesty that we need as humans.  We need to know that death is the great equalizer.  One of my professors in seminary would say that no matter who you are, it is still the same:  one death per person.  From the richest person to the poorest beggar, we each get only one shot at life and we each have one death waiting for us at the end.  And so often I think we all would just like to forget about the “death waiting at the end” part.  But when we forget about death waiting for us, it is then that we get all caught up in the silly trivialities that can steal our lives away more quickly than a drunk driver at a busy intersection.  We may not like to think about it, but it is our death that gives meaning to our life.
What are the things that we most treasure in life?  Do we treasure snowflakes?  Do we treasure grains of sand?  Do we treasure every blade of grass?  I would guess the answer would be “no.”  We do not treasure these things because they are exceedingly common.  What we do treasure are those things that are rare and special.  We treasure works of art because they are rare.  We treasure our children, our friends, and our family because they are rare.  We treasure our life here on earth because it will not last forever.  In being reminded of our death, we are once again reminded that life is fleeting and life is rare.  In being reminded of our death, we can once again honestly face what we are doing with our life.
I also do not like putting ashes on peoples’ head.  The reason I do not like this is because of the honesty that is involved.  One of the first times I put ashes on peoples’ heads, I almost started crying.  These were people I loved!  I didn’t want to think of them as dying.  I wanted them to stay alive and live in joy and wonder!  I didn’t want to think of them as dead.  But I had to continue placing ashes on these wonderful peoples’ heads and saying those horrible words.  These wonderful people were not going to live forever.  Death was going to take them too.  And each black cross was a reminder.
And continuing in this path of though could become unbearable.  The honesty of Ash Wednesday can tear us down and leave us a sobbing mass.  And it would if it weren’t for another thing that was stated on Facebook.  Another of my classmates said that Lent is one of the greatest gifts we could be given.
Being reminded of our death is usually not seen as something that we would claim as a gift, but if we think about it, it truly is.  In recognizing my our death and the impending deaths of those around me, it challenges me to live our my life in truly radical ways.  It challenges me to say the kind word that I could have left unspoken.  It challenges me to do the kind act that could have been allowed to be unperformed.  It challenges me.  When I do something, I am challenged; if I were to die, is that the impression I want to leave?  Do my behaviors reflect the image of Christ that I want to show to the world?  If this person I am dealing with were to die, would I feel I did what I could to help this person know the love of Christ?  If my life were to end right now, did I do all I could to spread Christ’s love to a hurting world?  Knowing that our time on earth isn’t eternal helps us to see how rare each life is and to know that this rarity makes each life truly special.
Now, being human as we are, we cannot possibly keep this frame of mind at all times.  Try as we might, we get angry, upset, impatient, and in some cases, downright mean.  We might try, but we are humans and we will fall short of the mark.  And if this were the state of things, then Lent and Ash Wednesday would be more sadistic than a gift.  If this were all there was, we would be left with this rare gift of life and the guarantee that our one shot at life would end up as a miserable failure.  But this is not all there is!
The ashes of Ash Wednesday point us to Christ’s death on the cross and the world placing his body in a tomb.  The ashes remind us of the futility of chasing after the things of the world.  The ashes speak honestly to us of our limitations.  But the gift of Lent does not reach its conclusion until its very end.  It is at the end that we see the honesty of a focus on death:  In Christ, death is not the final word.  In Christ, we have more to the story than just dying and having it all be over.  In Christ we see that the death we see in the world is not the final end and that there is still something more incredible to come!
It is also in the truth we find at the end of Lent that we find freedom.  We find the freedom to live life to the fullest because we know that sins we may make along the way are forgiven!  We find the freedom to try the scary because we know that we have a Savior and Redeemer who walked through the darkness, even the darkness of death, and emerged victorious!  At the end of Lent, we find the strength to look at ourselves honestly and to make those changes that we realize need to be changed.  And we can make those changes knowing that our loving God has already forgiven us for our sins and shortfalls!
Yes, Ash Wednesday is probably the most honest day in the Christian calendar, but it is also a day that is full of the honesty of forgiveness and redemption!  It hurts to have our shortcomings made plain, but if we do not see our faults, how can we ever fix them?  If we do not see where we have gone astray, how can we ever return to the fold?  And if all we had to look forward to at the end of this life was an angry, judgmental God, it wouldn’t be much of a gift.  But we have the promise of a God who came to be one of us and experienced life as we experienced life.  We have the promise of a judge who brings forgiveness even when the world calls for payment.  We can look at our shortcomings because we know that we have a God who will welcome us with open arms, even when we fail!
Yes, Ash Wednesday is honest, but it is also a promise.  It is the promise of a rich and fulfilling life here on earth, a life filled with true blessings, not just fleeting fancy.  And a promise of a welcome home when our time here is done.  Christ calls us and then leads us.  And even though the path may be dark and scary, we know we can trust and follow because Christ has already passed this way and has emerged victorious! 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Let Your Light So Shine!

Transfiguration Year C    Feb. 14, 2010   Exodus 34:29-35     The Rev. Benton Quest

        Have you ever allowed yourself the gift of watching very young children?  Have you just watched?  Watched them play?  Watched them encounter the world?  Watched them encounter their own body?  There is just a magic about them.  I think the magic we see in little children is their knowledge that they are loved by God.  Some of you may think I am going crazy to say that little children can know that they are loved by God.  For the little tiny baby, they don’t even know that their foot is their foot!  How can they know that they are loved by God?
        In some ways, I think it is in childhood that we most deeply know God’s love.  When we are little, we have to rely on others.  We have to rely on parents, siblings, relatives, and God to take care of our needs.  We are so enthralled with the new things of the world that we don’t really think what is around us, we are just enthralled in the act of living!
        And when you look at a baby, they just seem to radiate a light about them.  They have a smile and at the same time a determination about them.  But it is in this joy in life and the exploring of life that we see the how children reveling in the love of God.
        Eventually this light starts to go away.  Children go into the world and learn that some things are acceptable and others are not acceptable.  Children learn that to be cool, they need to talk in certain ways, wear certain clothes, do certain things.  They begin to forget that they are wonderful, lovable, special creatures of God.
        This process continues on throughout life.  We hear that we must succeed to be valuable.  We are told that unless we use Fabreeze or our house will be avoided by others.  We are told that in polite company one never discusses politics or religion.
        Often, by the time we are “all grown up” our light has been almost totally hidden.  We have forgotten how special we are.  We have forgotten how loved we are.  We have forgotten that God is there for us and has been there throughout our lives.  The shining face of awe and wonder we had as children gets hidden behind a veil.
        In today’s first reading, we find Moses hiding behind a veil, too.  Moses had been in the presence of God.  Moses had been talking with the Big Guy.  Now, although Moses didn’t get to see God’s face, just the sight of God’s back caused Moses’ face to become so shining that others were afraid to look at him.  So in deference to the people around him, Moses kept his face covered and only removed the veil when he was in the presence of the Lord. 
        I wonder why Moses covers his face.  The Bible tells us that it is because people are frightened by Moses’ appearance, but is that it?  Were the people really frightened?  Or was it that Moses didn’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable?  So instead of proudly displaying the light of God, he hid it behind a veil.
        We are similar in our hiding.  As I stated earlier, as children we quickly learn how to bury our joy of God’s love.  And as we grow we continue to keep the light behind a veil.  Unfortunately, I think after a while we have hidden our light for so long that we get to the point where even we forget that the light is in us.  But never doubt the light is still in you!  Although Moses hid his shining face, it was still there, under the veil.  Although we may have hidden our light for so long that we cannot remember what it is like, God still knows it is there and God still sees it!
        We can begin to feel the light when we come before God.  In our first reading we are told that although Moses kept his face covered when he was with the people, he did remove the veil when he was in the presence of the Lord.  Moses could again reclaim the light in his life when he went before the Lord.  We also hear in the gospel reading that Jesus was transfigured while praying.  When Jesus came before God in prayer, the light that was in him then showed through not only Jesus’ face, but also in his clothing.  When the world causes us to forget our light, we have a way of reclaiming that light.  When we come to God in prayer, we can begin to let down our veil and begin to reclaim the light that is within us.
        When we think about seeing the glory of God and the light in our lives, we have an even greater experience of God than did Moses!  Although Moses had the opportunity to speak with God, Moses only had the opportunity to see the back of God.  It was said that a human could not see the face of God and live.  But we are here to claim the opposite!  We have seen the face of God, we have even looked into his eyes!  In looking at the person of Jesus, we have seen the face of God!
        While they were on the mountaintop, Peter John, and James were able to see Jesus glorified.  This experience changed their lives.  Once they had this experience on the mountaintop, they could never go back.  Even if they wanted to ignore what they saw, they couldn’t.  In biblical times, three people are all you need to prove the veracity of an occurrence.  So since there were three people there to witness the transfiguration, the truth of the occurrence cannot be questioned. 
        We first stood on the mountaintop in our baptism.  It was at this time that we first experience Jesus as the Son of God, the Glorified Christ.  It is at our baptism that we first experience the light of Christ.  It is at our baptism where our light first shines! 
        Then our light is replenished by when we come together as a community to worship and when we pray alone.  These practices help to ease the power our world has on us and the tendency to veil our light.  When we are together as a community we can let our light shine!
        It is also this light that the world needs to see.  We are coming to the end of the season of Epiphany, the season of light.  If you remember, Epiphany began with the light of the star in Bethlehem and it ends with the light of the Glorified Christ.  We may want to keep this light to ourselves but this is not why the light came into the world.  In the gospel reading, Peter wanted to create three tents or booths so that Jesus, Moses, and Elijah would stay on the mountaintop.  But we are told that Peter did not know what he said.  They cannot stay on top of the mountain, they must go down into the valley.
        We need to go out into the world also.  We cannot stay here in our beautiful church and keep the light for ourselves.  We need to go out.  But we also need to keep our light shining!  People will be looking for the light.  People need to see the light.  God wants to use us to be that light to other people!  My dream is that we can let our light so shine that people driving by will wonder what is going on inside.  That we will be so bright in the light of Jesus that people will look at our face and wonder where the light has come from.  My hope is that we will let our light shine and not put a veil over it.  We are in the presence of God.  We have been given this light.  Let’s use our light to be that Epiphany star, that transfiguring light, to lead others to Christ.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Feelings on Leaving

I was just packing up stuff from my office. 

I noticed as I was packing that even though I was with this congregation for over a year, I never felt like I was "part."  I never felt an ownership for the congregation.  Maybe "ownership" is the wrong word.  But I never felt like I was their priest.  I always felt like I was just a visitor.

Part of this may have been the way that I came into the situation.  I just presided on Sundays for almost a year.  Then I had the Archdeacon sitting in on the vestry meetings with me for about six months.  All of this lead to the feeling of just being a supply preacher.

Also, having an almost full time job in addition to the church position did not leave me time to really feel like I was their priest.  I was always so tired from the job that the congregation felt like an imposition.  My first priority should have been for the congregation, but after working 40 hours on all kinds of shifts, the only thing I wanted to do on Sunday is sleep.  And since most of my contact with the congregation is on Sunday morning, walking into the situation with disdain for them is NOT a good way to develop a warm bond with them.

I hope that this new congregation will represent a new start.  I will be going into the situation as the priest.  I will not have someone constantly looking over my shoulder.  Hopefully I will be able to be rested enough on Sundays that I will see the congregation as my calling, not as a hindrance to my life.

I pray that I will be a blessing to the people I will be serving and I pray that there is someone out there who can shepherd the people of my current congregation to grow to their full potential.  I pray that they will find someone who will view them with love and not as a stumbling block.  This is my prayer and now I need to let them go and trust that God has something in store for all of us.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

A Conservative View on Same-Sex Marriage

This is from one of the more conservative pastors out there.  Thankfully, conservative does not have to be equivalent to bigoted.
All of that to say, God cares about injustice and so should his people.  So if the issue at hand is one that is related to justice, we absolutely should spend time, money, and resources on it.  Anything less would actually be unchristian.
A  very good article and worth the read.  Just because you don't morally believe in the laws that are proposed does not mean they are bad.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Tell Your Story!

Epiphany 5 Year C

You know, one of the problems that the denominations generally referred to as “Mainline Denominations” have is that of decreasing attendance.  While there are some denominations that are gaining people, the “Tried and true” denominations seem to be losing members.  I have always wondered why?
One reason that is often given can be summed up by a snide comment that is often attached to the mainline denominations.  I am sure many of you have heard it.  So often, we, and other mainline denominations, are referred to as “The Frozen Chosen.”
Unfortunately, I don’t think that title is too far from the truth.  If we were to walk into one of the growing churches, I am pretty sure we would find anything but frozen.  We would find people lively and moving.  But so often when we walk into a mainline denominational church, ANY mainline denominational church, what we find is lots of “nice” people, but hardly an experience of the living Christ.
I think some of the reason for this may be because of me, and others like me.  Within the mainlines, we have clergy who have a lot of education and have worked vary hard.  The amount of education that goes into a Masters of Divinity degree is equivalent to that of a Ph.D.  For me, that would be three years of full-time school along with a one-year internship.  That is a lot of school!
Now, one problem with a lot of education is it tends to drive all the passion out of things.  In psychology, I learned how speak and write dispassionately about things I would not dare mention from the pulpit.  In seminary, we learned how to take scripture readings apart and how to analyze the words and the phrasing to understand what is being said.  This is great if you want to write a thesis or a treatise or a book; but as far as bringing the living love of Christ to the people, it can be a little daunting.
You see, I think that one of the problems that face the mainlines is we have lost what it means to have a head-on encounter with the Living Christ.
In our gospel reading for today, we see what happens when everyday people run smack-dab into Christ.  Simon was doing nothing out of the ordinary; he was cleaning up after a day of work on the sea.  And in the midst of his daily life, he got a job to take some guy out onto the sea.  When it came time for the man to pay up for the job, the man told Simon to drop his nets.  Now, this would be a silly thing to do, especially after spending hours fixing and preparing the nets.  But Simon dropped his nets and found that he was catching an unprecedented amount of fish!  Luke does not say this is a miracle.  Could have just been that a mighty big school of fish happened to be passing by.  But even if it wasn’t a miracle in the sense that the laws of physics weren’t broken, it was enough to bring Simon to his knees.  Simon saw what happened and knew that he had come face to face with something that he could not explain.  The fish could have been explained by simple random chance, but Simon knew that there was something more.  And this “something more” would change his life.
I was brought up with the idea that you didn’t talk about religion in polite company.  And then, upon becoming a priest, I had to be careful of sounding too fanatical.  Besides, I had all of this education to hide behind.  I could preach sermon after sermon and never have to admit to a head-on encounter with the Living Christ.  Besides, to admit to the world that something happened, is to open yourself up to all kinds of speculation about your sanity.  But when we, the clergy, don’t share our real life encounters with Christ, we aren’t setting a good example.  I would hope we could all be like Simon and allow our encounter with Christ to move us to not only speak out, but to change our lives.
There is something to be said about making ourselves vulnerable and telling our story.  My cousin once asked why I wanted to be a priest.  She also asked how I could believe in God.  I gave her some deep theology and some book answers, and then I finally said, “My belief in God and in Jesus is the reason I can get up in the morning and the reason I can face another day.”  When I finally said that, her response was, “Thank you.”  The theology was great, but she wanted to know what it meant to run smack-dab into Christ.  So I am going to do something I normally wouldn’t do; I am going to tell you about an encounter that brought me to my knees, at least figuratively.

Could this have just been a coincidence?  Could have.  Am I afraid that you will make fun of me?  Yes.  Did this experience change my life?  Definitely!  My standing here today is a direct result of it.  Will my relating my experience convince you that Christ is alive?  Should my experience convince you that Christ is alive?  I don’t know, but that is not my worry.  My job is to tell the story and then to trust that God will stir your heart to have your own experience of God here and now.
I think what we lack in the mainline denominations is that we do not share our experiences of the Living Christ.  We may know the story, but do we tell the story?  And if we tell the story, do we live the joy of the story in our lives?  Simon’s life was changed by his encounter with Christ and he lived out that change.  And through living out the Christ in his live, Simon went on to become the foundation of the church.  From a simple fisherman to the founder of the faith: quite a change!
I am assuming that we are all here because we have had a face to face encounter with the Living Christ.  It may not be as dramatic as what is often called “Born Again” experiences.  It may seem to the casual observer to just be a coincidence.  It may not seem to be anything great to others.  But to us, it was the experience that changed our lives.  And it is this joy and energy that brings us back every week.  And it is this joy and energy that we need to show to the world.
Christ shares his story and his life with us in the sacrament of the Eucharist.  This is not something that is restricted to “the few.”  It is given, as Christ says in the scriptures, for the sins of the many!  And it is this joy in forgiveness that we can share.  It is this joy, this forgiveness, this energy that we want to share!
I am not asking that you all go out and back someone in a corner and tell them that they must give their life to Christ or be damned to Hell, no!  I have had that happen to me and it didn’t do much to increase my faith.  What I am suggesting is that we embrace our story and our place within the story of Christ and that we again feel the joy and love of that moment.  Then, we allow that energy to pass through us and allow the Spirit to work through us.  We allow the Spirit to use our unique gifts and talents and spread that love into the world.
Simon may have just seen the fish as a happy accident of life.  He could have just been pleased with the catch and been done with it all.  But he saw it as a face to face encounter with the live changing love of Christ.  And through Simon living into that life changing love, the whole world was changed.  We are called to be fishers of people, not keepers of the aquarium!

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Look By The Guy's Left Ear

Last Night's Meeting

The meeting went very well! The congregation has been through some tough times, but now seems ready to heal. I think it will be a good thing.

I am beginning to think that my ministry in life is going to be going into congregations and loving them back to health. I seem to have been in congregations that have had some "difficulties." I hope I am able to have learned something at each of the places and will be able to bring that learning to the new places that I serve.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010


I am going to meet the folks from the congregation tomorrow. This isn't an interview, unless something TERRIBLY BAD goes wrong, it is a done deal.

Thanks for the kind thoughts and words. More information when I can share it.