Peace Between the Outrages

After the 10:00am mass today a woman told me, “I’m back at church today for the first time in twelve years because I read the message you sent about the separation of families at the border. I’m here to stay and I want to get involved.” Social justice is evangelical.

It’s often easy to fall into a separation between justice and preaching the gospel. The simple truth is that Kingdom news is Good News for our souls as individuals and, if we live it, it is Good News for the community as a whole. The challenge, in a reactive time, is to figure out what is justice and what is anger. There is, of course, such a thing as righteous anger that can lead to movements for justice. There is also unprocessed anger that continues cycles of reactive blame and retributive lashing out.

Another path is harder. The path of the Church is one in which the whole community is shaped by the regular and rich encounter with Christ in Word and Sacrament and finds their voice in the message and voice of Christ. This takes longer. This requires not just preaching prophetically but listening prophetically – listening to what’s moving in our shared life, our shared burdens, our shared hopes. That sharing is not just between one Christian and another but between the gathered people and Christ. This kind of sharing can break the cycle of violent indifference and indifferent violence rather than feed it.

The discipline of the Daily Office is one way we find this shared voice. It’s amazing to me what will come up in prayers at morning prayer. Often it’s as if the still small voice raises things that I had no idea were there. Or if I did know they were there I find that I was burying them under the chaff of busyness. Yet, when we make the space to listen, the Spirit will move where the Spirit chooses.

I’m always mindful of the example of Jonathan Myrick Daniels who went down to the Deep South in the heat of the movement for integration. He went down because it was in hearing the Magnificat at evening prayer that his heart was warmed toward justice. I’m sure he’d heard those words countless times and yet something in the swirl of the day’s news and the Virgin’s song called him to action – and strengthened him to give himself away for the sake of justice.

It’s one thing to react out of a shallow and reptilian anger or fear. It’s another thing to respond from the deep well of righteous compassion (sharing in the passion, the suffering) that is Christ’s own with the world.

It would be easy, week in and week out, to preach or teach on the latest outrage or secular contretemps. It takes discipline to avoid those for the deeper work of being with the Triune God – to dwell with God in contemplation. It’s that very act of taking in the Word and the Self that enables us to find the courage and the hope to give ourselves away. Week by week we need divine assistance to face the inhuman. We need the strength of broken bread to risk being broken ourselves. We need the blessing of the shared Cup to risk being a blessing ourselves. We need inward and spiritual grace to be an outward and visible sign.

We get pushed week by week to respond to the latest outrage – especially clergy. We are pushed to shape the liturgy or preaching based on the world’s demands. Sometimes what the world needs though is for us to claim a space that is unworldly – that is set apart from the scrolling outrages of social media. Sometimes though the world needs us to step up – to step away from the Rail with renewed strength and to stand and say no more. Sometimes the world needs us to rise up from kneeling before the tabernacle and to lift up the broken Body of Christ that is the caged child and say, “This is His Body.”

If we don’t make space for the peace of God we will be consumed by the anger of the world. We will become numb to suffering because we will find that we can, literally, care no more. This is the devil’s greatest desire – that we get so caught up that we flame out and can care no longer. We need peace that we may make it.

Between the outrages of the world we need to find the peace which passes all understanding. We need that space of peace so that we can see, hear, and know where God is speaking to us. We need that peace to discern what it true, holy, just, and pure. We need that peace to see with the eyes of faith what is blasphemous, unholy, and evil. In an age of fake news we need that space to hear Good News. That Good News is prophetic. It is justice. It is peace. It is mercy. Make space for the Good News – make space for peace – that you may preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are closest to you.

Robert

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The Many Problems with Bishop Michael Curry’s Royal Wedding Sermon

There were so many mis-steps in Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon at the Royal Wedding that it’s difficult to know where to start. Despite the fact that a billion people saw it, major media around the world are sharing it, and Episcopalians took pride and found joy in seeing one of our own bring the word there are ways he could have avoided a number of serious blunders.

Let’s just start at the beginning.

1. He opened with the egregiously outdated Trinitarian formula, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” There are far more creative ways that he could have talked about the various workplace roles of the Godhead and the sustaining work of the Redeemer. It just seemed unwelcoming.

2. Way too much Jesus. Really. Do a billion people need to be reminded of who Jesus is and the ways we are called to follow? Did they need the reminder to love God and love neighbor given by Jesus? People know more than enough about Jesus and really didn’t need a sermon that spent so much time on him. Besides this was a room full of people of all backgrounds and it seems like Bishop Curry could have chosen selections from world wisdom – these are not all followers of Christ after all and it’s not like we have some commission or the like to “evangelize.”

3. Too much love. Really. I think people have plenty of evidence these days that religion is about love. He could have spent time on any number of other topics without resorting to telling people that God is Love. Again, like with the Jesus thing, people can see everyday in our culture and news that Christianity is, at its heart, a movement of love.

4. Too personal. It’s weird when preachers show us how faith has reached them at a deep level. People need more information about God and these kinds of shows of deep devotion and conviction are confusing. It’s almost as if he was trying to say that Jesus (there he is again) can change who we are and how we see the world and not just tweak how we think about it.

5. Too political. I found it off putting that Bishop Curry wanted to bring uncomfortable things like slavery or Dr King into all of this. Why mix politics and faith? Jesus (oops, too much) rarely if ever mentioned these kinds of issues. If politics is about working out issues in community then it’s a little frightening to have someone say that Jesus (there he is again) has anything to do with the way we treat other people. Shaking hands at the Peace is about as political as we should get.

6. Too long. Really, if you are only preaching the Gospel to all nations then that could be creditably accomplished in four or five minutes.

7. Too predictable. It’s annoying that we can expect the Presiding Bishop to hammer, day in and day out, on Jesus and love. I wish he’d get more creative.

I’m sure that when time passs and the heady rush of the day wears off then people will be more appropriately critical of this personally convicted, Trinitarian, Jesus-proclaiming, socially conscious, and predictable sermon on the power of Love.

Feel free to watch and prove me wrong!

The Torture of Our Souls

On my drive to work today, as I do most days, I was listening to various podcasts.  Today’s was a Slate interview with the author of the Rolling Stone piece, “An Open Letter to Gina Haspel From Someone Who Was Physically Tortured.” The author was held for two years by Al Qaeda in Syria.  He writes, “I began to wonder: What had happened to the young men who bore the weapons in the torture room to make them willing to induce such suffering in a helpless person?”

I wonder this now in our national culture.  What has happened to make us so willing to induce suffering in the helpless?  What has happened that we are, again, debating the merits of strapping people who are in our custody to boards and simulate drowning them.  This is not a simple matter of getting information.  This is a matter of triggering primal fear in a soul in our custody – it is a matter of subjecting human beings to emotional, spiritual, and physical horror.

These details are from the Intelligence Committee’s report on what happened at Gina Haspel’s black site in Thailand:

“…walling, attention grasps, slapping, facial hold, stress positions, cramped confinement, white noise and sleep deprivation—continued ‘in varying combinations, 24 hours a day, for 17 straight days,’ through August 20, 2002. When Abu Zubaydah was left alone during this period, he was placed in a stress position, left on the waterboard with a cloth over his face, or locked in one of two confinement boxes. According to the cables, Abu Zubaydah was also subjected to the waterboard ‘2-4 times a day … with multiple iterations of the watering cycle during each application.’

The ‘aggressive phase of interrogation’ continued until August 23,
2002. Over the course of the entire 20-day ‘aggressive phase of interrogation,’ Abu Zubaydah spent a total of 266 hours (11 days, 2 hours) in the large (coffin size) confinement box and 29 hours in a small confinement box, which had a width of 21 inches, at depth of 2.5 feet, and a height of 2.5 feet…”

crucifixionThere is a point at which a people lose their collective soul not through actions they commit but through the actions they willingly allow to be committed on their behalf.  We are fast reaching that point.  We are reaching the point where our leaders are mortgaging our soul for the sake of cheap points scored in political gamesmanship.  We are reaching the point where an inveterate liar who is now our commander-in-chief is appointing people to high position who have broken not the will of the enemy but the souls of barely-eligible-to-drink-and-vote men and women by making them shatterers of bodies, minds, and spirits.
At some point or another we will pay for this.  We will be judged because we have turned away from seeing Christ in all people.  We will look in a mirror collectively and see the Devil looking back – smiling and complacent he will tell us, “At least I kept you safe.” The cost is too high.  The cost is too bloody.  The cost is too much pain.

When a people reach the point of sanctioning the degrading and violent abuse of prisoners then we have reached the point where we can see them thrown to the lions.  We have reached the point where we can force them to fight for our amusement.  We have reached the point where we shout Crucify.  We have reached the revolting apex of civilization in the pursuit of smashing the uncivilizable enemy and, thereby, become utterly and disgustingly tamed by evil.

Evil is a taming force.  It is a force that domesticates the passions because it numbs our ability to stand in the experience of others.  It numbs us to their fear – so we build a wall against those fleeing violence and oppression.  It numbs us to their heartaches – so we gut social service programs.  It numbs us to their loss, their misery, their depression, their hunger, their thirst, their very humanity.

The embrace of the horrors of torture is an embrace of the demonic.  Full stop.  No amount of practicality (and there is no demonstrable practical value) with regard to getting information can make this morally right.  It is immoral.  It is ineffective.  It is an abasement of all that makes us whole, human, or especially Christian.

No person who wants this country to engage in “enhanced interrogation” should ever, ever again call this a Christian nation.  Call it pagan.  Call in an empire.  Call it whatever you want but to call it Christian if it is to torture captive bodies is a vile slander of the name of Christ.  If we call it Christian while it tortures then it becomes the vilest of masquerades hiding our shame, violence, and fearful need for so-called security beneath a mask of self-deceit.

To call us Christian Torturers is to put us at the foot of the Cross hurling one more insult as we shout, “Hail, King of the Jews” while wielding the spear against the captive God.

When our compassion (our sharing in the passion, the death-dealing pain) with the world is psychically, emotionally, and spiritually ablated we are not safe but utterly and completely obliterated as functioning human beings.  That evangelical Christians are supporting this kind of revolting return to Dark Age tactics of soul-shattering abuse of captives by supporting this President and his nominees is a stain from which Christianity as we know it should not recover.

The world should know that we are the most grotesque of hypocrites and demand that we return to the example of Christ.  We follow a tortured God.  We follow a broken Savior.  We follow a God who cried out “I thirst” who thought himself forsaken by his Father at an Empire’s spear-tip.  This is the God who demanding, pleading, and praying that we repent and return to the Lord.

If we do not recoil in horror and cry out at the senseless cruelties that are being condoned and embraced in our name then we are lost – and worse than lost.  We will be worse than lost for we will have condemned a generation to reject Christ because we Christians have blasphemed and held as worthless the very thing which Christ held so dear – the souls and bodies of our enemies.

Father, forgive us, for we know not what we do.

A Catholic Future: Universal Discomfort

We have had many discussions over the last couple of days about the meaning of Catholic. The common usage, in Episcopal circles, is universal. This seems like a dodge. The meaning seems deeper. Perhaps it is more akin to whole or complete. Is the whole of our life shaped by the encounter with the cross and tomb – not intellectually but by kneeling, crossing, smelling, and weeping?

Is our whole self brought to our whole awareness of the whole grace and mercy of God or is this a fragmented and Balkanized hobby that we consign to Sunday out of either malign intent or benign neglect? Catholic is not a team mascot but an encompassing reality in which what is universal is not our consumer opprobrium based in class distinction but our whole, obedient, quiescent and rebellious self making due with the perfect wholeness of Christ made known in the other, in the self, in bread made Bread, in wine made Wine, and in self made Us.

Catholic is less an adjective than a verb. It is the being of beings striving to be one in Being. This sublimates the urge for tidiness and gives way to the messiness of heartbreaking reality – it is allowing oneself, in death, an open casket so that mourning may be complete rather than insisting on a premature Immolation that we may avoid the discomfort of life ended or avoided too soon – or of appearing less than our best self rendered in the perfectly framed portrait.

Catholic is not a label but an algorithm of animating automation. It is an automation that presumes attenuation with Holy Will whether we realize it or not. It assumes that the brain-dead and the brilliant alike are one in peace and a piece of the Body. So, to cross oneself is not a marker of pride but a reminder of the soulful solidarity with an end and a beginning. To use incense is not an annoyance for the restrained but a restraint on the restraint that limits the senses to only those which are dignified and appropriate. To bow or kneel is not a flagrant act of self abasement that degrades dignity but an act of ultimate dignity for it gives honor to our choice to accede to the Primacy of the Holy One.

So much more is there – just beyond the labels, divination, and the devices and desires. So much more is there waiting for the end of labels that give comfort so that the heart of it all may be laid bare in a universal, uncomfortable, eager, and halting holiness.

Fr Robert

Priesthood is a Pack Activity

In 2009 a number of fellow clergy and I worked to start a North American branch of the Society of Catholic Priests which had begun in England.  It is a group that seeks to follow the traditional Catholic faith of the Church while being open to the insights and movements of the Holy Spirit along the way.  This meant that unlike many Catholic societies within Anglicanism we welcomed women who are priests, LGBT people, and others.  Our goal was not to question anyone’s priestly ministry but to affirm the Catholic heart of priesthood however it is understood.

In England this has meant a good deal more striving for the ordination of women bishops while in the United States this has meant a good deal more striving for apostolic continuity of faith with regard to Sacraments, Creeds, and more.  When the Bishop Visitor from the United Kingdom arrived for our first annual conference in New Haven he expressed surprise and dismay (in a restrained British way) that we were arguing for the proper Trinitarian invocation at Baptism.  He was dismayed not because we were arguing therefore but because we had to make the argument at all.  The same was true of the relationship between Communion and Baptism.

One of the choices we made when starting the American chapter was that we would welcome not only priests (those ordained to the priesthood) but lay religious and deacons as well to full membership.  This was a departure from our mother province’s practice but one that I think was well grounded.

The-Mass-of-St.-Gregory-feathers-on-a-wood-panel-68-x-56-cm-Mexico-1539The grounding, for me, has come in hindsight.  I am not sure that I could have articulated why we made that choice when we did.  My Rector, the first Convener of the Society might have been able to but I only know that I concurred.  I was not a priest yet when we started the Society.  It was an odd position to be starting a Society for priests when I was only eligible to be a provisionary member.

Having been a curate, sub-dean, and now rector I can now say with more certainty what was only an inchoate notion then – we admitted lay religious and deacons because priesthood is a pack activity.

Tomorrow is our annual meeting.  It is my second in this congregation.  I am reverently aware as I put together the “Rector’s Report” that the work I do is simply to create the boundaries of healthy habits and help till the soil so that a verdant and fully alive ecosystem of faith, hope, and love can take root and grow.  It would be easy to think that a Rector does something by force of charisma, faithfulness, charm, or intellect.  It would be easy but deleterious.

When I worked in retail we used to joke, “This would be a great store if it weren’t for the customers.” Of course, the customers were completely annoying and exhausting.  This was because they were consumers and we were there to facilitate their consumption.

Our parishioners are not here to be consumers – they join us as fellow ministers – as those who work, pray, and give that more may come to the Font and to the Altar.  They join us as friends and witnesses of the faith that is in them.  They are walking Sacraments – sign and outward manifestation of grace so deeply welcomed.  Our priesthood is theirs insofar as they invite, by word and inspiring service, those they meet to see and know that abundant life is waiting at the foot of the cross and beyond.

Our fellow ministers are not consumers but are being changed by the Holy Spirit as they offer their selves, souls, and bodies for the work of ministry – for the work of spreading the Word and making the fruits of the Sacraments visible and known.  This is why we welcomed deacons and lay religious to the Society of Catholic Priests – not because all are priests but because all make the priesthood worth living and worth the calling.

We celebrate a priesthood of all believers – this is manifest most fully in some sinner pouring water, some lovely widow filling the ewer, some tearful usher guiding the family forward, some bored acolyte trying to look too cool, some deacon worried about when to pass the paschal candle, and some Lord looking on and welcoming a child into the household of faith.

Fr Robert

The Women

Like so many I am seeing the steady scroll of “me too” on my social media platforms.  Woman after woman (and some who identify across genders) are making so many aware that their daily experience is rife with the common experience of the devaluing of their identity to a commodity for comment, caress, or worse.  What I keep thinking as I read these is this – it is a very real shame that we have lost our conversance with the language of sin and evil.

Greater_Poland_Sacra_ConversazioneIt is easy to dismiss so much of this as locker-room antics by boys being boys – it is less easy to dismiss when we ask ourselves what level of verbal degradation, abuse, or humiliation that Christ would consider acceptable.  Would he have tolerated the abuse of women who were too easy to ignore in his own time?  We know that he would not.  We know that the longest recorded conversation of his is with the woman at the well – a woman whose testimony is called “the word.” We know that he chastised stone throwers.  We know that he drew near to him women of means and of none.

The problem with our culture – with misogyny and sexism – is that it is death dealing.  How many dreams and hopes are smothered along with the self-worth of women who find themselves reduced to their look-value or use-value by men who dominate not by dint of their ability but by the inheritance of unearned privilege that their gender accords them?

One of the most poignant and painful memories from seminary was that of a classmate telling me that she was glad that her daughter was not in the chapel the day I told a harmless joke.  Obviously it was not harmless – it was isolating and shaming in a way that I was utterly blind to.  This is the devious nature of privilege – it gives us an excuse not to care.  It gives us a fig leaf to cover our unexamined ignorance.  It gives cheap cover for costly sin.

I cannot speak to the experience of my female friends, colleagues, and relatives.  That is impossible and presumptuous.  I can only offer silence as they tell their story.  I cannot understand it – nor will I ever.  I may, however, give space for the telling that I might find within their stories some part of my own salvation.  If this sounds like too grand a claim then consider that we are to seek and serve Christ in all persons – this cannot mean that I see a fraction of that fullness of glory in the women around me.  It cannot mean that I stop my ears when they tell the story of their abuse at the hands of a callous and corrosive patriarchy.

I used to get annoyed when I heard the word “patriarchy.” I got annoyed because I felt that it was the rampart of angry women who resented the world.  Then I started to take confession seriously.  I started to take sin seriously.  I started to take the gospel seriously.  Then I realized that I was the angry one – I was the one angry that the very thing that had so benefited me was being named as an agent – a power and a principality – of oppression.

I remain angry – but I am angrier that it is a system that seems to have no end.  It is a system that robs not just the women I care about or whose identity is tied to my own of their dignity but robs human beings of the chance to be fully alive – aware of their promise and potential.  I am angry at my complicity and complacency.  There is a kind of anger that is holy – it is table-flipping and boundary destroying.  I can only hope that this is the kind of anger that I can give voice to – an anger that sounds like voices found and hope renewed.  An anger that sounds like a still small voice giving word to that very basic hope that in Christ all are one and One is all that we hope to find together.

Robert+

Story by Story: from Generation to Generation

I have relatively recently finished my first year as Rector of Saint Philip’s.  To say that it has been a busy one is an understatement.  We have called a new music director, communications director, assistant rector, and two curates in that time.  We have restructured financials, tried a new stewardship program, made adjustments to liturgy, added the daily office and daily mass to our rotation, welcomed a massive art installation that has transformed our space, we re-configured Holy Week, we created a new website, and much more that I have forgotten that seemed the most important thing in the world that day (I am sure).  The urgent has squeezed the important and the important has pressured the necessary.

This is a warm congregation.  It is a thoughtful, engaging, and faithful congregation.  It is the epitome of a place that is formed by tradition but not bound by traditionalism.  They have born with many changes that a new rectorship always brings.  Other than a hiccup now and then (such as when we introduced a new bulletin format) there has been generous patience with change and adjustment.

19424006_10158845728880632_7751479846928014923_nIn the midst of so much change so much more has remained the same.  We have buried treasured friends.  We have married couples new to the Church.  We have baptized, fed, and taught.  We have consoled, healed, and cried.  We have done so much that so many have done over the centuries and millennia that has made churches the Church.

I am struck not by how much is different in the past year but by how much is the same.  People come to me with the same longings, fears, hopes, dreams, heartaches, and inchoate yearnings that I have heard in my office and in the confessional for years now.  One bleeds into another.  This is not to say that each individual’s need or offering is the same but to say that each so mirrors another’s that we find our hope and consolation in the gathered Body.  We find in our brother’s sorrow our own and in our sister’s joy the same as we have celebrated.

Today we transferred the Feast of Saint Luke to Sunday (a heretical practice to many of my sisters and brothers in ministry).  We do this so that many can engage the lives and lessons of the saints in a place where the practice of festal masses on the proper days has not been a long nor deep custom.

The Epistle today was one of my favorites – and our preachers did not only rightly by the text but splendidly.  The piece of the text that draws me in the most though is this line, “Do your best to come to me soon, for Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful in my ministry. I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.”

I love this passage because of the names and the utter quotidian details recorded.  How many times do we get caught up in the grand schemes, the sweeping narratives, and the theological debates while forgetting entirely that Mrs. Wambly’s lost jacket is as important to the narrative of the Church as is righteous exactitude over Transubstantiation?  That is no exaggeration.  Each and every story of the faithful is a gift of God to the people of God.  We only know that what once was lost is now found because the lost and found told the story of a Good Shepherd who cared enough to patiently wait as the lost and lonely one truculently, and by fits and starts, made his or her way home to the One.

The cloak and the books and the parchments – and Demas, Crescens, Titus, Luke, Mark, and Tychicus are all essential details in the sweeping arc of salvation history.  They matter because each of us matters – this is what it means to have a savior born in a stable, taking our form, lifting us to his stature, imbuing us with his voice, and equipping us for Resurrection ministry.  I watch lectors and preachers and lecturers and pastoral care-givers and more with a sense that they give voice to the sometimes lonely hope that there is more – that there is more of Christ waiting to be heard and seen and known in the stories we might ignore and in the homely biographies that get lost in the shuffle of the hagiographies of saints and angels.

The Church heals us with the story of Christ and we heal the Church with the stories of our salvation.  It is too easy for the capital-C Church to lose its way amidst the changes and chances of centuries and it is too easy for each of us to get lost in the shuffle of the day-by-day grind of the life of our churches while losing sight of the thing that has shaped us since before the foundations of the world.

Recently a parishioner of ours, Fr Gene Connely, died.  He went to God remembered by many.  He left a candle-stand for the parish that is used daily.  His story matters.  Another parishioner died not long ago with no one to mourn – with no one who felt the strength to face the tragedy of his death – his story matters.  Another died with the praise of God on his lips – his story matters.  Another died last year and legendary tales of her hospitality and loving-kindness are told daily – her story matters.

If every church is built of stones then we know that the living stones of the Church are the stories of each member who goes on to his or her reward sure of nothing but the loving call of a savior whom we know only story by story, by word, by deed, and by example.  May God continue to enliven the Church with the living witness of saints and sinners who give life and breath to the theology, debate, and decisions that seem so decisive one day and so lost in the shuffle the next.

Robert+

This Very Night: A Sermon for Maundy Thursday

Preached on Maundy Thursday 2017 at Saint Philip’s in the Hills, Tucson

On Palm Sunday – I mentioned in the sermon that it was really the first of four parts.  Tonight is the second part as we officially begin the Great Three Days also known as the Triduum.

Jesus has ridden into Jerusalem in triumph – Palm Sunday has us hear the Passion – though mostly, it seems, out of a concern that people won’t be able to come to Good Friday services so the Passion of Matthew is in the rotation so that one Sunday each year we would hear the Passion sung or read.

Chronologically though – and spiritually – we arrive at this night as though we do not know the end.  We are as clueless as Jesus’s disciples.  We are given signs and portents and, perhaps, if we have been listening closely and watching with the eyes of faith then we may have gotten glimpses of the agony to come.  Jesus has told us before that the hour was coming – when he would be betrayed, when he would be offered up.  He has told us that he goes to prepare a place for us too.

We have sat with a mix of awe for we have seen the miracles.  We have heard him preach and teach with a fierce compassion and a bold humility.  We have watched in amazement as he healed on the Sabbath, as he sat with sinners, as he talked with a woman at a well and heard her testimony, as tax collectors came to know him, as children came to him, as men dropped their nets to follow him, and as women cried out to him for healing and salvation.  We have heard him talk of living water and true vines – and we have dreamt of the Kingdom he promises and proclaims.

Tonight we are at the Last Supper.  Jesus has sat at the table with his friends and followers and with his betrayer, Judas.  This service is also often called Maundy Thursday or the Institution of the Lord’s Supper – and we learn that Judas earns eternal infamy because he is the first person in human history to leave mass early.

We arrive at this room to pray and Jesus proceeds to impart some final lessons, some preparation for what is to come, and finally to offer a new way of coming together in his Presence – with him – for all time.  He tells his disciples – those whom he has baptized, taught, and who have been shaped by being part of this community of the faithful – he tells them that this Bread and this Cup are for them.  That his Body and Blood are for them.

Then, that very night, they desert him and flee.

For fear they run.  For fear they hide.  For fear they deny.  And we will too.  We too will take this Bread and drink this Cup and we will run.  We will hide.  We will deny.  We all will fail sometimes at this being Christian thing.

Jesus knew this and yet poured out himself in a cup and on a cross that we might know ourselves restored in him and by him each and every time that we gather.  For we drink not just his blood but his forgiveness – we take not only bread but become a body formed on this very night when Jesus was betrayed.

The terrible truth of just what it would take to give birth to the Kingdom was revealed as Jesus is handed over, lost, to the forces of Empire through the frailty of human greed.

Yet – Jesus offers them this new way of finding him and being found by him in this Eucharist –in this Thanksgiving that he invites them to.  This community will be formed by water and blood and fed by the living Bread and it will be marked by what?  What will this new Kingdom be marked by?

chalice and ciboriumLove.  Pure, simple, kind, generous, honest love.  The kind of love that is manifested not by the grand gesture of the Cross alone but by seeing their Lord who will rise again fall down on his knees and wash their feet.  It is love and it is pain for love is always hard – love is always sacrifice.

Mary washed the feet of Jesus – and foreshadows the preparation of his body which will come after the Cross.

Jesus anoints the feet of the disciples and foreshadows just what the life of faith might mean.  It will mean humble service – and it will mean their own suffering too – and it will mean being living sacrifices for one another and for the sake of Christ.  The washing of their feet is as much an act of preparation as it is an act of service.  Perhaps it is also an act of thanksgiving for what is to come of following him.

Priests, in their ministry, prepare sacrifices.  On this very night our Great High Priest prepares his disciples.  Each of these followers except one will be martyred.

Paul was beheaded.  Andrew and Peter crucified.  Thomas run through with four spears.  Matthew was stabbed to death in Ethiopia.  Bartholomew lost in Southern Arabia.  James clubbed to death in Syria.  Simon sacrificed to the sun god in Persia.  Matthias, chosen to replace Judas is burned to death.  John, the writer of Revelation, is thought to have died of old age though not before he was boiled in oil and lived through it.  And our own patron, Saint Philip, was put to death in Asia Minor by a Roman consul after Philip converted the consul’s wife to Christianity.

Each of these whose feet were washed by Jesus found themselves testifying by blood, fire, and sword to the faith they denied on this very night when they were first given this Bread and this Wine – when they were served by a kneeling Lord.

Each of those whose feet are washed tonight are disciples too – friends, sinners, and saints alike who testify by love.  We wash those who sacrifice themselves caring for ailing loved ones, those who visit prisoners, care for widows and orphans, those who have gone to war and those who have fought for peace.  We wash the feet of those who have carried crosses and those who mourn.

Tonight we priests prepare each of you for service and witness.

Each of those first, washed disciples went out into the world and shared this same meal – this same holy mystery with those who would listen.  The seeds planted on that night – the meal shared – would become more than a miracle of Bread and Wine transformed.  The feeding of the five thousand was multiplied time after time as one meal, the one shared this very night, became another and then another as disciples went and said, “take, eat” as they did this in remembrance.

And community after community.  Believer after believer.  Friend after friend.  Son after mother.  Daughter after grandmother.  King after priest.  Beggar after queen.  Foe after orphan.  Widow after slave.  Teacher after student.  Disciple after betrayer.  Generation after generation.  Day after day.  Week after week. Century after century.

One Millennia upon another – for two thousand years – from generation to generation the Bread and Cup has been passed from the hands of sinners and saints alike down to this very Altar.  Out of Love that night were we brought together not as strangers but as friends – we who have all been so very lost now find our home here because on this night, this very night, one man turned to his friends and said, “take, eat.”

So we take this bread and we are washed and we become a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God.

This Kingdom of Love was born of Bread and Wine that night for Jesus would leave these common men and women transformed by love – just as much as that food and drink became something more – something set aside for holy purpose.  For the Holy Spirit was sent upon them and they went out into the world and said, “This is my Body, given for you” and they would be taken and broken for the sake of the Gospel – and for our sake.

Tonight we break bread because tomorrow a body will be broken.  Tonight we are fed and washed for holy service – tonight we who are many eat this bread and drink this cup because we are one body anointed, marked, and made whole to be given for the sake of the world.

Tonight we too become the gifts of God for the people of God.

Midnight Evangelism

So this will be a short post as we are in the throes of packing and the movers come later this morning – but I had one of those experiences that puts a few things in perspective.  At 11:30 in the evening I ran to Walgreen’s to get some last minute essentials for our trip to Tucson.  I have spent the day packing, cleaning out the garage, cleaning off lawn furniture, throwing away lots of trash, and more.  So after 15 hours of that, I was not looking my Sunday best.

When I went in to the store, a young woman was at the counter.  She was in soccer shorts and a t-shirt and seemed to be having a pretty animated though convivial conversation with the man working the counter.  I got my few items and went to stand in line while wondering why her transaction was taking so long.  I overheard her say, “It’s a great church!” It turns out she had been telling him all about her church – that’s what was taking so long.  When she noticed that I was listening in – she asked me “Do you want to know more?”

everydayI was taken in by her energy and said that I would.  She explained that she goes to the Upper Room Church which was started in Dallas but has branched out to Denver.  She loves it because it is focused on “The work Jesus did.” When I asked what that meant, she said, “Well, for example, we’ve all been out tonight going to places where the homeless gather at night and inviting them to breakfast tomorrow morning.  No strings, just a meal and a conversation partner.”

So, at nearly midnight, she was out inviting those in need of a hot meal and companionship to come to her church.  More than that, she was talking to two unlikely candidates, the night-shift guy at Walgreen’s and a sweaty random customer in a tank-top and basketball shorts (that would be me), about how great her church is.  She said, “It’s small and authentic and I love it.” She asked me if I was interested in visiting and I came clean.  She said, “That’s awesome! I hope Jesus blesses your ministry!”

I told her that he already had and that it had been through her energy tonight.

Sometimes evangelism seems like a scary proposition – but here was a woman in her mid-twenties gushing about doing the work of Jesus and sharing it with strangers and those in need.  In the midst of packing and a bit of domestic chaos, I was in some need too.  The funny thing was that the Walgreen’s employee and I were not annoyed at all – we were not put out by her enthusiasm – indeed both of us were genuinely touched.  Part of what made her so compelling is that she was not just sharing Good News but living it.

I wonder just how the Episcopal Church could be changed and change lives if we were so willing to go out and tell whomever we meet, however they’re dressed, wherever they are that we have a Church that we love that is small but authentic and is about the work Jesus did – and still does in so many ways.

Robert

Is it Nothing?

I sometimes wonder what those who had heard little of Jesus or had never encountered him made of seeing another young, probably rebellious, defiant, poor man lifted up on a cross as punishment for his crimes.  It was a gruesome affair – this we know.  Yet, it was probably common enough to elicit little comment and minimal reaction from those who happened to see it.  It was probably a common enough occurrence for an empire, bent on security, to whip and humiliate a man for claiming that a higher power than theirs commanded his allegiance.

Was it nothing to them?

I find myself wondering now, is it nothing to us?  Can we watch the video?  Can we hear the names?  Can we hear a girlfriend’s plea?  Can we see a child sitting in the backseat?  Can we see a bloodied badge held in a friend’s hand?

Those videos are a gruesome affair.  They are painful and heart-wrenching.  Is it nothing to us?

I can’t imagine why so many African-Americans are Christians.  I can’t imagine the children of slaves, watching their parents humiliated and sold, then claiming the owners’ God for themselves.  I can’t imagine the sharecropper singing the same hymns as the Klansman.  I can’t imagine singing “We Shall Overcome” knowing that what must be overcome is a hate too often laden and weighted with religious sanction.  I am privileged enough to not need to imagine it.

For some, the response feels as if it must be blood.  So innocent blood is shed in revenge’s desolating cycle – in the streets of Dallas and in so many places.  Yet, for the Christian, the answer is always Blood.

There is the enduring power of the Cross – not an event fixed in time and pinning one man’s life to the Earth – but an event still unfolding that still lifts our hope heavenward.  In the vile paroxysms of an empire’s fear was born the freedom to look hatred in the eye and say, “we shall overcome.” In the Cross, those who know the fear of empire and the casual cruelty of a disinterested crowd, can just see the crown upon a pierced brow.

The-Cross-and-the-CrucifixIn the sweat of the Son of God was mingled the sweat of a sharecropper grandfather.  In the tears of Mary were the tears of a girlfriend mourning a shot boyfriend with the tears of the world.  In the blood of the Son of Man was mingled the blood of every man who has ever had to fight, and rage, and cry out that his life mattered.  All those who are acquainted with sorrow and who are afflicted can see in the Cross the God by whom they are counted as worthy of unending, never-failing love.

Like Pilate, it would be convenient to simply think that this has nothing to do with us.

It may be easy for it to be nothing to us – but it is everything to God.  So it must be everything to us.  It must be everything to us to say, “That is our neighbor.” It must be everything to us to say, “That is a child of God.” It must be everything to us to say to the powers and principalities, to the demonic hold of violence and racism, “Go, Satan.”

It seems to me that the madness that is now gripping us is as sure a work of the Devil as anything – we kill one another, we see one another as deserving of killing, and we look away distracted by the next new thing.  Can the Devil plot a more sure ruin for lives and souls?  Yet, at the end of the path of violence, is an open tomb.  Standing before us is a risen Savior who can show us his wounded hands as if to say, “Look at what you have done” even as the quiet echo of “Father, forgive them” still rings.

Can we see Christ there though?  Can we not just look – but can we see?  Can we see Christ selling a few compact discs?  Can we see Christ serving and protecting though it may cost him all?  Can we see the Christ who knew the names of so many kids and even knew their food allergies?  Can we see a Christ who may have sold a few loose cigarettes?  Can we see Christ on the playground?   Eating skittles?  I think we can – for we certainly see a Christ slain because of the fear of those who were so, so ready to say, “Crucify him!”

Can we see through fear to the very sacred heart that is in each of us?  Can we see the Blood pouring from the wounds of those who are being broken and bled by fear and revenge?

And if we see, is it nothing to us?

Robert