Sunday, April 29, 2007

God Must Be Crazy

The following text is the skeleton of the sermon I preached this morning. It is not all of it, but captures the shape of it. You can listen to the sermon in full at Many thanks to my friend Father Jones, who is always a helpful conversation partner.

Easter 4C

There is often more going on, in a particular text, than we fully realize. Sometimes the simplest little vignette is far more profound than it appears. This short text, from the Gospel of John, is a prime example.

On the surface, Jesus is walking through the Temple. He is approached by groups asking him if he is the Messiah, and he says yes, but you won’t listen. My own know me, and I will care for them.

There is certainly nothing wrong with that reading. There is hope and comfort, for us, in knowing that we are part of the flock, and that we will not perish. I like hope and comfort, but there is much more here than a promise of care, for those that belong to the flock that Jesus shepherds.

There are many layers in operation.

First of all, Jesus is in the Temple on the feast of the dedication. It is Chanukah and the crowds are remembering historical events. About 165 BCE, Israel was conquered and ruled by a fellow named Antiochus Epiphanes 4th. Antiochus was no barrel of laughs. He erects a statue of Zeus, bearing his own face, in the Temple. Antiochus also commands a pig to be brought to the altar and sacrificed. So, we are talking about idolatry, and the desecration of the holy symbol of God’s presence.

A family, named the Maccabees, slay the man that is preparing to kill the pig. The Maccabees start a revolt, and eventually retake the Temple and purify it. The feast of the Dedication is the celebration of all of that.

As Jesus perambulates around the Temple, as a Messianic contender, the fact that it is on this feast commemorating the Temple being restored and purified, means everything. His presence, on that day, connects him with God’s authentic presence, and echoes restoration.

Of course, Israel was conquered and occupied again. One of the main hopes for the Messiah was the reversal of Israel’s fortune. But, it wasn’t long until this Messiah came and went, and Israel was still occupied.

Even worse, by the time the Gospel of John was written, the very Temple itself was destroyed for some thirty years.

The Dedication does not last; Israel is still occupied and treated as a minor vassal; Jesus is no longer physically present, and the Temple is gone. Why, on earth, does the Gospel bother to highlight this story?

It must be what Jesus says about the nature of the community, He has created. It is as if, he warns that community about the places they will seek redemption and fulfillment, and will not find it. Autonomy and political authority will not endure. Even Jesus’ literal presence, in body, will not continue. The massive and strong stone of the Temple will not stand as the presence of God.

Jesus does what he almost always does. Jesus points to the community, or the flock as He calls it. He teaches that we are one in him, and in some mysterious way, we become the presence of God, and we will not perish.

So, it’s not about politics. It is not about place. It is about people. God must be crazy, depending on us to be the Divine presence.

As individuals, we are God's people. As a community, we are God’s presence.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

It Doesn't Take Much

In reading through Episcopal Church news, I came across an interview with Katharine Jefferts Schori, our Presiding Bishop. The conversation came around to the current tensions within our denomination. The very frightening word, schism was used. When I hear the word schism, I think major split.

The PB indicated that we are talking about a very small percentage of actual parishes leaving or threatening to leave. She says we are talking about less than 1% of the 7500 Episcopal parishes in the country. We, however, should not minimize. Some of these parishes are very large in average Sunday attendance. Some of the parishes exiting are, in fact, approaching the size of the Diocese of Nevada that Bishop Schori served before becoming PB. But more than that, we are talking about the Episcopal Church losing real people of faith, even if we are not always in agreement about the shape of our faith. An exodus, no matter how large or small, will make us all poorer.

Yet here is the kicker, this group of less than 1% of parishes deafens us with the noise they create. This group has dominated the conversation and the media coverage. This has me thinking. Can you imagine what the Church could do, if it harnessed the intensity and commitment of 2% of the parishes in the country? What if 2% of the parishes in this Episcopal Church demonstrated a passion for ministry and mission in Jesus' name? I hope and pray that we see a new day. I long for a day marked by mission and ministry, rather than fighting about authority.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


Gerald May, M.D. wrote a thin, but deep book published in the late 1980's titled, Addiction and Grace. The focus of the text is primarily chemical addiction, and the experience of grace that one can encounter in the recovery process, but Dr. May is also very clear that addiction is about more than substances. Addiction involves drugs and alcohol, yes, but all individuals demonstrate addictive thought and behavior.

As human beings, we discover compulsive stratagies that alleviate the emptiness we know. Our compulsive need for the consumption of new goods and services is a fine example. There is that little fleeting high that is experienced with the purchase of a shiny new widget. Many compulsively seek to be liked, and avoid situations where they might feel conflict or rejection. Many seek fulfillment in their own competency. Some seek fulfillment through their own autonomy. I could go on, but you fill in the blank.

The point is that we allow ourselves to inflate the importance of our coping behaviors to the point that those behaviors consume us. At that point, we seek solace and peace artificially. We seek solutions in temporary means that close us to real and sustainable answers.

The pain and uncertainty of the human condition are real and ongoing. No amount of anesthesia of any type will change that reality. The only real hope resides in a spiritual conversion. The only real hope is the recognition that I am bowing down to an idol. Prestige, power, strength, certainty and material will not fill the hole that is at the center of existence. Fashioned steel, gold or green paper will not satisfy our thirst.

The life of Jesus is the example of placing ones ultimate hope and faith in God, and exercising the same in relationships with one another. Jesus claims that our worth comes from being beloved of God, and that is enough. Jesus is willing to stake all on his belief and trust in the Love of God. He bows to no idol.

What idol must be toppled in our lives that we might live? What addiction to falsehood has made me a slave? What must I put down that my hands and heart might have room enough to receive.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


One of the devotional manuals, I use in my private prayers is the Benedictine Daily Prayer:A Short Breviary. It is a useful volume that preserves the older scheme of various hours, rather than the condensation of the BCP into Morning, Noon, Evening and Compline. I also like the fact that theBDP offers some of the writings from the early Church into the readings for Vigils (a time of prayer that originally occurred during the night as a watch). During the First Octave of Easter, the second reading for Vigils is from the Mystagogical Catecheses of St. Cyril of Jerusalem. Cyril became the Bishop of Jerusalem in 349, and developed his 5 Mystagogical Catecheses for the use of the Church in Jerusalem.

In a nutshell, the Mystagogical Chatacheses are the teaching of the mysteries of the faith. These lessons were not part of the pre-baptismal instruction of converts in the early Church. The teaching of the mystery of the sacraments took place after baptism at the Easter Vigil and the days following.

This pattern speaks to us here in the Great Fifty Days. It is the "Way" of the apostolic Church. We become followers. We seek to understand, and embody what we believe. Yet, on the resurrection side of Easter, we must admit that the Risen Lord is simply beyond our ability to fully grasp. It is on this side of resurrection that we with the Prophets, Apostles and Martyrs live the mystery of new life from death.

"You have been brought to the holy fount of baptism, as Christ was carried from the cross to the tomb. Each of you was asked if you believed in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. You uttered the saving profession of faith and were three times immersed in the water; three times you came forth. In image and sign you thus symbolized Christ's three-day burial. When you were submerged in the water, you dwelt in the unseeing night; when you came forth, you entered the light of day. Thus you were dead and reborn, and the water was both your tomb and your mother."-Cat.20, Myst. 2

Alleluia, He is Risen....and so are we.

Saturday, April 21, 2007