Thursday, March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday: A New Commandment

Back in the early 90’s I was rector of a parish in the DC metropolitan area.  I had gotten to know a conservative rabbi through our interfaith alliance there.  We had talked about the festivities of the Passover and its relationship to the Christian Eucharist.  (That is what our readings for tonight are about.)  The rabbi invited me to celebrate the ‘second Passover’ at his home with his family.  He and his wife came from different Jewish traditions:  He was Sephardim—a Jewish lineage from Spain and Yemen and she was Ashkenazy, a Jewish lineage from the Middle European communities.  So in their family ‘first Passover’ was celebrated in the style of the Ashkenazim and the second day of the feast was celebrated in the fashion of the Sephardim.
The welcome to that celebration was incredible.  Rabbi Chaim welcomed us with such warmth. My mother was visiting with me at the time and she was welcomed as a long lost friend.  Also attending were several men from Latin America who were away from their homes on the feast. The conversation was centered on the questions of the youngest child:  Why is this night different from all other nights?”  Not only was it a time to get together, and a time to instruct the children in the story of the faith, but it was also a time of remembering how God had acted in our lives. It was clear that the feast was being celebrated as directed by the Law of Moses, but conversations around the table celebrated how each family represented had been saved by God.  The men from Latin America related how their families had escaped the Inquisition in Spain in the 16th century.  The wife described how her family had escaped the pogroms of Russia and Nazi Germany.  The rabbi described how his family had survived famine in Yemen.  The Passover was not just a tired piece of history that they were reliving.  It was vibrant, immediate and explained how they had survived by the grace of God.  It was salvation history at its most intimate.

That was what Jesus was doing at the last Supper---celebrating Passover with his disciples. His disciples were from every different part of Judaism.  There were Peter, James and John from the Galilee, there were Greek Jews like Bartholomew and Philip and there was Matthew or Levi who was both a traditional Jerusalem Jew but also a tax collector.  They represented those who followed the God of Israel from various different ethnic backgrounds.   They gathered as friends to celebrate the great feast of Passover in Jerusalem and to reiterate their salvation history.  Even in Jesus’ day the Jewish adage—‘next year in Jerusalem’ prevailed.  It was the pinnacle of a Jew’s life to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem in the shadow of the Temple and among other Jews who had been forced into the Diaspora.  All Jews wanted to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem.  Jesus was no different.

There is something so profound about gathering for a meal in the name of God. 
Feasting is a part of the glue that holds communities together.  When we break bread with one another it is a sign of solidarity; it is a sign of peace.  There are many passings of the cup of wine at Passover.   And it isn’t a matter of a quick sip either.  Passover is meant to be lively—not just a matter of remembering that night in Egypt.  The Passover that Jesus wanted to share with his disciples was not a matter of having dinner at the boss’ club, or minding one’s p’s and q’s at the professor’s house.  It was truly a gathering of peers to celebrate God’s presence among them.  And that was what Jesus was inviting his disciples to.

In Matthew, Mark and Luke as well as in today’s reading from First Corinthians, we hear Jesus instituting the Eucharist adding another layer to the remembrance of salvation at the Reed Sea.   “Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus says.  However, in
the Gospel of John which we hear in tonight’s Gospel, we find Jesus acting out the love which the Passover was supposed to engender.  During the meal---not before when it would have been customary to wash feet—Jesus begins to wash the feet of his disciples.  This was a common act of a slave in Mediterranean societies.  Like so many of us—we don’t want people who are peers to do such menial tasks.  But Jesus makes it very clear that if humans are so geared to class barriers, we cannot be one with one another. We cannot understand what the breaking of the bread means.
I was serving a parish in California. I had gone there to start a Spanish-speaking mission and had doubled the size of the parish in about 18 months.  One day the men of the English-speaking portion of the parish met to do some yard work on Sunday afternoon.  It was hot, dirty, hard work.  The matriarch of the parish came by and supposedly jokingly hollered at them:  “Hey, why are you doing all that?  Isn’t that what we have Mexicans for?”  It was obvious that she hadn’t understood the Eucharist that we had just celebrated.  I didn’t stay long in that parish. 

How many times have you not allowed someone else do some act of kindness because you can’t stand to be ‘beholden’ to them?  How many times do we fight over who pays the check when we have had a meal out with another?  Being ‘beholden’ is part of the
glue that holds Christian society together.  We cannot play one-up and be a Christian.  That is what Jesus is teaching in the Foot-Washing.  Eating and serving are part and parcel with one another. 

Eucharist and Foot Washing cannot be separated.  If we come to the altar to receive Christ in the Body and Blood, we also have to accept the service of washing our feet.  In order to know the grace of the sacrament, we must also know the humility of receiving the grace.

Part of the reason that Jesus got into so much trouble is that he sets the comfortable pigeon-holes we erect for ourselves on their ear.   All the class lines, all the ways we would control people are nothing in Jesus’ theology.  Love requires equality.  Love requires service.  Love requires a way of seeing the world that turned the whole of society upside down---or as one of my colleagues was fond of saying.  Jesus demanded that life be seen ‘right side up.’

Tonight Jim will wash feet.  I will not simply because I can’t get down on my knees to do it any more.  But I will wash feet in my heart.  I hope you will wash the feet of those you might feel a bit superior to, those who you might supervise, those who you might be angry with, those from whom you are estranged in your hearts.

  I hope when you receive the Body of Christ you will try to remember the ways that God has acted in your life—or the ways that your family has been saved over the centuries by God’s redeeming love.  I hope when you feel the water on your feet that you remember the meals that have glued you together with Christians everywhere. 

What we do here tonight is what reminds us of the incredible love of God ---that love that God has for us and all Creation—the kind of love that Christ mandated 2 thousand years ago that we love one another.  The word ‘Maundy’ comes from the word for commandment. Tonight is the night that reminds us of that Law of Love Christ gave and acted upon.  He acted upon that love not merely by washing the feet of his disciples.  He acted upon it by emptying himself and giving himself up to a death on a cross.  The love that he showed is the kind of love that we are called to---a self-less love.  It is the kind of love that says that there are no barriers between us, no class-levels, no reasons to claim one is Christian over another.  For he said to us:
“For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

Friday, March 22, 2013

Friday Five: How to 'Breathe' During Holy Week

Friday Five: Deep Breath

Deb at Revgals has given us a really good way to slow down during the week before Easter.  These are some of the things that I have done over the years.
There are places and spaces where we all find a deep sense of peace and renewal. When we are busy and in the midst of ministry, sometimes it's a little hard to just leave work and GO there. So I try to keep a practice of stopping and praying, remembering the peace that comes when I sit here on this porch swing:

It's the week before Holy Week. Even if you are the non-preaching type, there's plenty going on in most of our homes religious. I think we all need a collective deep breath. :)

This week's Friday Five is simply a moment to BREATHE. Stop and tell us five ways that you "catch your breath" and then move on in the work God calls you to do.

Are these five things people? places? music? hobbies? chocolate? Or perhaps a memory?

1.  During Holy Week my tradition has a blessing of Holy Oils and a renewal of ordination vows that while it is just 'one more thing to do' has gotten me out of the parish and into a bit more contemplative mode.  It is a service that reminds me of the call I live and reminds me of why I do what I do.  Of all the things that I do during Holy Week, I look forward to this the most.

2.  When I was still a lay person and a Roman Catholic, I would meet on Maudy Thurs.  with a number of friends for a lovely dinner at a local restaurant before going to the Maundy Thurs. service.  I am sure we broke all the fasting rules, but it was a special recognition of the gathering that Jesus had with his disciples in the Upper Room.  Last year I was in St. Louis for the first time in years and we gathered that group of friends for a wonderful meal of catching up with one another.  I want to gather a group of people like that for the future.  It is a wonderful way to celebrate the table communion that Jesus had.  It has been difficult for me to do this as an ordained person because I am usually 'on' for the Maundy Thurs. service.  Now that I am retired, I need to figure out how to re-institute this gathering to celebrate more profoundly that night in Jesus' life.

3.  Power Naps!  Just a 20 min. rest in a hectic day often revives me so that I can be about the craziness of life.

4.  Music:  Music restores my soul.  I have finally found out how to get
Pandora on my Iphone!  I can listen to instrumental music while I am writing sermons, or doing seat work in the office.  I can walk to the Mozart Requiem or Gregorian chant or Taize.  If I am in the car I can sing which always revives my soul.  

5.  The Cenacle Retreat in New Orleans has always been a special place for me.  If I can bring up those memories in my mind, I can also breathe the spiritual air of that place.  It returns me to the openness with God that I knew there pre-Katrina.

Prayers for us all this coming week!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Writing is not a difficult thing except at times when you don’t have much to say.  I have not been writing as a regular event for the past 6-8 months.  It bothers me when I can’t write.  I like to write.  I like to think and then find ways to put it on paper, but if anything this period has been more of a Thumperism.  It is rooted deeply in the Disney-formed childhood ethic when Thumper says to Bambi, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nuthin’ at all.” 

I must admit that at times I have found the words to say things that aren’t nice.  In fact, now that I think about it, I have often found ways of saying things that aren’t what in the South is considered ‘nice’.  But that is a different topic.

We have had the election of a new pope.  Normally I don’t think much about popes.  And mostly since the 1960’s I haven’t had much nice to say about them.  And yet, and yet I can’t quite just pass over the papacy because it doesn’t pertain to me.  Just yesterday, the Spanish-speaking gardener who does my yard asked my opinion of the new pope.  We have a new Archbishop of Canterbury too.  Nobody seems to care about him.  I know less of him than I do of Francis I.  But what can they do about the state of the Church in my neighborhood?  Nada!  And as they said in River City, “They just don’t know the territory.”

The nature of the Church is local ultimately.  As much as various governments have used and abused the faith of apostolic succession is still very near to us.  Church is about gathering in the name of Christ to spread the word of how to live like Christ.  We are to live locally.  We are to worship locally.  We are be Christ-like locally so that others can know the love of God. 

When I write like this I really sound a bit like a Baptist or a Congregationalist.  But I am not.  I am still catholic with a small c.  I do understand the universality of faith deeply.  I remember standing in the crypt of the shrine at Santiago de Compostella, Spain and being overwhelmed, not with the Baroque Cathedral or all the pomp and circumstance, but by the wear on the steps of that shrine that had bourn the weight of millions of pilgrims over the centuries.  Those dished-out marble steps told me that I belonged to something so much greater than my feeble faith could conjure. 

The faith isn’t about popes or archbishops.  The faith is about that mysterious connection that we have with the universe and beyond.  Faith is about that incredible relationship that leads us to travel to places to know their connections with that Single, Whole, Utter Oneness of God.  To watch the election of the pope is a touch with that unity.  To watch the installation of the Archbishop of Canterbury is a touch with that unity.  But at the same time, it doesn’t make me any more confident that the universal Church can ferret out what to do in my little corner of it.  It just means that there are others out there trying to do the same thing I am trying to do.  It is welcome company for a difficult job.

The scandals will continue.  The mismanagement at the top will most likely continue.  Like the milk of my youth, the fat and richness always floats to the top.  I am quite content to try to make the little homogenized 1% where I live the best it is in my power to be.  The Church will continue.  Those who tread upon the new steps of Compostella and I will continue to try to proclaim a simple rabbi who knew the Holy One of Israel.  

Friday, March 15, 2013

Friday Five: Technology

Jan has given us a current Friday Five:

Although you won't know this, I am pre-posting this ten days ahead of schedule, because my husband and I are going to be in Washington State during his spring break (from teaching at a local community college). His parents have very recently moved into a senior living facility. We will be staying at their home, which will not have some of the furniture and supplies like we are used to. What I am dreading is no computer, tv or telephone, which also means no wifi connection. This is showing my dependence upon these technologies.

For this Friday Five, let us explore our use of and desire for such items.

1. What types of technologies, like cell phones, computers, tvs, etc., do you routinely use? How frequently?

An old laptop, 1st generation kindle and an Iphone with most of the bells and whistles which I am never quite sure how to work.  We have one tv in the house that stays off most of the time.  The iphone usually doesn't leave my side except when charging.

2. What social media and/or games do you like to play? How often? On which device do you occupy yourself? Which method of social media do you prefer?

I do facebook and email of course.  I play Bedazzle but not on line.  I play various forms of solitaire and mahjong.  I spend too much time playing games when I could be outside and enjoying the sunshine. I seldom play games on my phone because it runs the battery down.

3. Do you separate online activities between home and work? Or is it all the same everywhere?

I'm retired.  It all seems to bleed into one.

4. Do you have a smart (or I-) phone?

Yes.  And on this recent trip, I finally learned how to use the email app!!! (It is hard for me to go to the iphone classes because the young teachers us a language I don't understand.)  

5. What do you wish you had--or do not have--in relation to these devices?

I badly need a new computer but I don't know what to get.  My 'apple' friends want me to go that way rather than learn Windows 8.  Learning curve is about the same, I am told.  I would love to have a notebook or ipad but I need the larger device and can't afford both.  I would like to have a desk top again.  It is more comfortable to work at. Any suggestions?

Bonus: What is the difference between your attitude towards these means of technology and a generation older or younger than you?

I am definitely part of the  long-tooth crowd when it comes to technology.  I remember when my now 80 yr old brother showed me the first computers that played ping-pong back in my early college days.  He was a sales rep for Univac in those days.  At the time I was a music student.  He warned me that by the time I was an adult, the life of a musician would be obsolete.  He was almost right.  What is interesting is that even the role of the preacher/pastor is almost obsolete now.  Hmmm.  I am not sure that it is a better place because of it.  

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Lent 3: Jesus and the Fig Tree

Luke 13:1-9

Today’s Gospel reading is not the easiest to understand.  It seems as though there are actually 3 unrelated stories here.  One was about those who had contributed to the defiling of the Temple by Pilate and another about those who had perished due to Herodian mismanagement.  And then there is the story of the fig tree.

  Sometimes reading Scripture seems like walking through a mine field with unrelated stories packed against other stories.  But the Gospel of Luke isn't like that.  Luke’s Gospel is fairly well written with a design to lead the hearer from one incident or parable to the next to give the hearers of the Gospel an idea of who God is.  That is the case of these stories.  Jesus uses these stories to get his point across that repentance is the way that one needs to approach the events of one’s life to understand the gifts God has for us.

In the years of my ministry the question that I get the most as a pastor and priest is “why did this happen?”  I generally get from someone who has come to a funeral or in the face of some tragedy.  Or the other question equally related is “Where is God in all of this?”  This is more or less the same questions that they were asking Jesus in this passage:  “Who sinned that this tragedy came upon us?” 

In Jesus’ day, as in our own, one of the commonly held beliefs was that if something bad happened it was because of sin--someone must have sinned that God would punish them so.  We have religious pundits today that say that Katrina was the result of the sin in New Orleans, or Sandy due to the wickedness of the people of NY and NJ.  (I keep wondering why guys like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell were made the ‘go-to’ guys when major disasters come about.  It is clear that they don’t know jack about Christian theology!)  Because in this passage Jesus side-steps the causal issues, the ‘whys’ of Pilate’s injustice or the fall of Herod’s tower just as surely as we should.  Disasters happen!  Period! Full Stop! They aren't the work of God even though insurance companies call them that so they don’t have to pay out. “Why?” just isn't the question we need to ask of events like this.  The question we need to ask of these events is “what do we do now? 

The stories that Jesus speak of in this passage doesn't have to do with Divine Justice—they have to do with how we know God.  It isn't about blaming the victim; it is about knowing about God’s embrace when disaster comes.  Loving God is not an insurance policy assuring us that we are covered and protected against all adversity. It isn't about ‘being good’ and nothing will happen to you.  That isn't what God is about. God is about soothing the hurt and helping us to trust again.

All too often we understand that the primary act of faith believes that God exists.  Belief really is only an act of the brain.  What we are called to do in faith is to love God.  We are called to love God and others as ourselves.  But we don’t really understand God’s love until we know God’s mercy.  And it is through repentance that we first experience that. 
It is the reason that John Baptist preached a message of repentance to herald the coming of the Messiah. It is in repentance that we allow ourselves to experience real forgiveness—the kind of forgiveness that washes us totally clean, or removes the guilt that we carry, or restores relationship without any strings.  It is a feeling of unmerited freedom and joy.  

In this story Jesus refuses to get caught up in the stories of the disasters.  He stops the speculation of the condition of the souls of those who died.  Jesus says that is a waste of time to speculate on the whys of these disasters.  He gets right to the point---“unless you know the love of God—the mercy of God-- you are going to end up in the same unloving place where you are now.”  Jesus didn't mince words. 

When we experience God’s mercy; when we have been forgiven, we recognize what we have been missing in life.  And when we have experienced that mercy we understand how undeserving of that mercy we are.  In fact, if mercy is deserved, it isn't mercy.  (Please remember that when you are giving alms.)

Jesus was teaching us of the very nature of God in a very profound way.  And if God is merciful, we are to be merciful too.  That is what it is about.  If God can forgive, we can forgive too.

In the Near East the principle of vengeance and blood feud was one of the most deeply ingrained concepts of the society.  It still is.  Jesus makes the strongest rebuttals of that theory in these stories.  Forgiveness was considered weakness--unless of course it was your transgressions that were being forgiven.  In this parable Jesus makes a case that in God's forgiveness we are to find mercy and it is in mercy we are to find God's way of living in society.
The story of the fig tree is a parable about how God finds value even in the unproductive.  God is always giving us a chance to be fruitful in life.  In many of the parables that Jesus taught, God is the gardener.  And the gardener offers to tend the fig tree, to prune it, to stir up the ground around it, to fertilize it so that it will grow into production.  And until we too have experienced this kind of nurture we don’t know how to be the kind of Christian that our baptismal vows call us to. 

When we have felt the unqualified, completely gratuitous mercy of God we begin to live the kind of love God is calling us to—the kind of mercy we are called to give. 
When we understand how forgiven we are, how embraced we are by a God who would give His life for us, we begin to understand the kind of sharing that we are invited to.  When we comprehend the depth of freedom that comes with God’s gift of mercy, the only thing we can do is be awed.

Many of us think that either we don’t need mercy or that we don’t deserve mercy.  Both of those poles are lies.  All of us need to know the mercy of God because we humans become toughened by the realities of life and forget the abundance of God’s goodness.  There is nothing---NO-THING, no sin, no act, and no thought that can keep us from God if we are willing to accept the total freedom of God’s mercy.  This is why repentance is the theme of Lent.  It isn't a matter of paying for our sins; it is the way to deepen our walk with God. To know God’s love intimately and to learn to imitate God by also being merciful.
 I would like to challenge you this 3rd week of Lent to allow yourself to think of those times in your life when you failed, when you were unproductive, those times when you were pretty stinky in the manure of life, when you did not chose ways that would further your life in the goodness that God has given you.  Take time to offer to God your failings and your desire for amendment of life.  And then allow yourself to know the freedom that comes with forgiveness.  Drink deeply of that mercy of God.  It changes your life.  You will know that you never EARNED that mercy; it was freely given. And that is the kind of mercy that we all are to give. It is what real mercy is about.


Friday, March 1, 2013

Friday Five: Sequestration Edition

Sister Pat has come up with an interesting Friday Five.  I don't think I know what 'sequestration' means ( I KNOW that the Congress doesn't know what it means either), but I am willing to play.

Well, it's here. For better or for worse, automatic spending cuts in the federal budget are due to go into effect today. It's call "sequestration," which, when I looked it up in the dictionary, seemed to have something to do with "isolation," as in isolating a portion of the budget and making it unavailable. Or something to that effect. 

There are wildly different ideas swirling around about how the cuts will effect the economy, the employment rate, and the services we are accustomed to counting on from the government. Here at the Friday Five, ours is not to prognosticate... let's leave that to the politicians and the pundits. Instead, let's all agree that there are some things that it would be good to have less of, some things that could use a nice trimming.

I invite you to name five of them here! The possibilities are endless, from the pruning required for the health of a tree to the hair cut that makes us feel fabulous. What are you planning to cut in the near future? And in what way will those cuts improve someone's life?

Well, hey! It's Lent and we need to be cutting out stuff anyway.  I am glad she reminded me that I need to get my hair cut today too.

1.  The omnipresent CALORIES, or at least intake of food.  I didn't do very well last night but I will work on it again today.  I finally finished off the biscotti that I have had hanging around for months.  One more plastic container to recycle. Less clutter in the kitchen  But they were still caloric but so would the tasteless cereal alternative.  Sigh!

2.  In Lent I have been trying to deal with ANGER--at least the display of anger that is so readily available to me.  I want to know when I am angry but not be manipulated by my feelings.  This has ever been my issue because it was an issue in my family of origin.  But I have to cut out the bellicosity that is so familiar and find ways of living more calmly.  

3.  I am still cutting 'STUFF' as Geo. Carlin used to put it.  When I get back from my trip next week I need to attack the garage once more to 'sequester' (read: throw out) the junk, trash and the too much of everything that we have gathered over the years.  Besides, I still can't find my office chair since the move!  I live with one who is deathly afraid of losing paper.  She has been part of an incredible part of American and Episcopal history.  And she has the paper to prove it!! but it isn't in any form of organization so that we could find it in a pinch.  I don't think that such material CAN BE organized but I will continue to try.

4.  At this point in my life, I have been 'sequestering' many of the 'HAVE TO'S' that have cluttered my faith for years.  My relationship with God is becoming simpler.  There are lots of things about the Church (universal) that are the accretions of historical eras that no longer serve.  I think I can do without the Athanasian Creed even though it is in the prayer book.  I can do without the various 'buzz words' of theology such as 'salvation', 'redemption', 'theodicy', 'atonement' and the like.  And if I never hear the word 'hermeneutic' again, it will be OK with me.  All that 'seminary speak' may have given me a vocabulary but it was one that the people in the pew didn't know, so it really didn't serve me very well. Now I just want to talk about the friendship I have with the Holy One and share that love.  Trying to develop a new vocabulary to share the unexplainable is hard indeed.

5.  It is time to start putting in the garden.  This is a new house and there are no beds in the back yard, so I have the unenviable task of 'cutting' a new bed for my herbs.  I will have help to turn the soil and will be limited to a 4'x4' plot.  This year there will only be herbs and perhaps a couple of tomato plants.  I don't know if this is a sequestering event or not but it still is WORK.  I used to garden when I was in the DC area and in CA but gardening in TX is a whole different endeavor.  We are mandated by our lease to water the grass so I might as well as have a bit of a garden. Just getting outside is a chore in TX heat though.  There is no shade in our back yard which makes it fairly unfriendly.  Yes, all you Yankees, it is warm enough here to dig but it is still too chilly to plant.