Sunday, August 26, 2007

You'll fill to expand the space you're in.

This little snippet was given at tonight's evening service. Enjoy.

Do you remember the second law of thermodynamics? If you ever knew it, if it didn’t go in one ear and out the other, if you aren’t one of those poor souls who never that the opportunity to experience the Joy of Physics Class.

The second law of thermodynamics is ostensibly about the games that gasses play.

A gas will expand to fill whatever size container it finds itself in. You can squish a lot of gas into a really small container and sure, there’s some high pressure in that little jar, that small canister, but it’ll fit.

You can suck out all but a tiny amount of gas from a really big container, and sure, there’s some really low pressure air in there, which is to say, something like a vacuum, but it works. The gas evenly distributes itself over that large space…

Physical sciences aside, there’s an existential implication to this observation about the natural world. This little bit of wisdom can apply to our lives.

The human mind is a bit like a gas in that second law. It fills, it expands it finds all the nooks and crannies of the box it’s in, the series of boxes it’s in all throughout life. And if we try to cram our minds in tiny boxes, the most amazing things happens, contrary to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.

Habit. Habit happens. (Previously unaccounted for in any law of thermodynamics.) And comfort sets in, and before we know it the tiny box to which we’ve relegated our minds feels like a cozy little cabin by the sea (to say nothing of the fact that we keep tripping over our own feet inside of it) – and who would want to leave such a comfy little place?

But, if we dare to shed that small container and find ourselves in a bigger one, there is a moment of crisis. A moment of extra-low pressure, something almost like a pure vacuum. And this can be a liberating sensation, or a deeply troubling one. We’ve all seen people, and sometimes we’ve been the ones who, when confronted with the possibility of stepping out of that mental headspace, stepping out of that imaginary and tiny seaside cottage… we take only one, perhaps two steps out into the wider world before turning around and heading back in again.

Others take a step outside and experience that same moment of crisis but for whatever reason, and it may be simple obstinacy, they stay outside, despite the discomfort, which eventually dissipates.

Still others take a step outside and let out a happy yell – they always suspected there was more than just the cottage…

Now, we say, take time to live.

And we say, get acquainted with yourself.

Most people are saying, enjoy life.

And even say, get to know God.

But it may be that there is something we need to do before these things, because there’s something like a prelude that has been going on in the background all of this time, and it’s so familiar it’s easy to dismiss – it’s easy to ignore.

Perhaps the first step is really the step that takes us out of whatever tiny mental headspace we find ourselves, whatever imaginary seaside cottage we find ourselves in, whatever tiny little box we’ve stuffed ourselves in, or found ourselves stuffed in.

It’s a metaphor, and really, it only goes so far. But it is a place we can begin – a place where we can all meet, and begin. And so the question tonight is this:

What does it look like? What does that box that encases your mind look like? What is the shape, the texture, the feel? Where are the nooks and cranies that feel so comfortable? Where are those spaces that feel ‘outside the box’ while affording the comfort of never having to leave it? And once you’ve got this, or some idea of it, there’s one last question to consider:

What would it take for you, here, right now, to take a step outside that box that you currently find yourself in?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Gorgeous Pictures


So, as a part of our website redesign, we're getting some new pics done of the church. The photographer, who uses a new and funky technique to get the most out of the shots, put a few of them up on her flikr site, and they are just gorgeous.

...Though, a slight word of warning: While most of the comments on the pictures are unstintingly kind and generous, both to the photographer and the location, some are not. Some are cynical, and some are immature. So please, feel free to leave comments on her site and let her know what you think of the pictures - and the location, if the Spirit so moves you.

There are a set of five pictures - one of which is a closeup of a hymnal and BCP, which is stranagely ironic, as of course, at Trinity we don't use either one. That made me laugh.

So go, check it out. It's really quite beautiful, annoying commentary aside.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

"Never argue with a guy with a chain saw"

"Never argue with a guy with a chainsaw," person A said with something like astonishment.

"I didn't argue," person B said with a totally straight face. "I turned the hose on him. But he sneaked back three days later when I was not at home and he chopped the tree down, anyway."

...This was a conversation that actually occured during staff meeting. Identities have been sheilded to preserve the innocent. You see, the city cut down the wrong tree in front of our church. As reported to us by person C, when the gentlemen who were working on our rose window, and up in one of those bucket crane things (and who, by the by, had an impeccable view of the entirely healthy crown of the tree that is no more) when those same lovely stained glass workers asked the city's workmen why on earth they were cutting down this obviously healthy tree instead of the clearly pathetic one that did not weather the October storm well that was just three trees down, the city's workmen said, and I quote:

"Never argue with a guy with a chainsaw."

Excuse me?

That sounds like the sort of threat a bully would use. Or a mafioso enforcer. And, call me crazy, I'm fairly certian that it goes against the ethos encouraged by our dear mayor, Byron Brown.

"The Grand Secret"

This little something-something was offered in the evening service on Sunday, August 12, 2007.

I have a secret to share with you
It is the way to enlightenment
It is the path of righteousness
It is the key to the kingdom
I have a secret to share with you
And it is
That there is no secret.

Just do whatever is in you
To do
Because there is something
In you that yearns to
Do this thing
Because you’d be so bloody
Good at it.
It’s like ice cream for the soul
Doing whatever it is you’re
Meant to do.

So seek it out
If it’s not already
Glarringly obvious to you
Know it
Acknolwedge it
Own it
For it is yours to use
In the service of humanity

In the service of humanity
That would be our caveat
Our bit of disclaimer
Because as much as the
Wants you to live
Your potential
That can’t happen in a really
True way
If it happens at
The expense of someone else

So, acknowledge the goodness
Of whatever it is you’re here to do
Acknowledge the sheer beauty of it
The usefulness of it

And do it.

There is no secret,
You see?
Just do what is in you to do
Be who it is you are

But perhaps that is the part
We make into a secret
Since so often we
And those around us
Seem to refuse to do, to be
What we know we are.
We seem to refuse even
To seek out in a meaningful way
Our purpose
Even as we suffer for existing
Without it.

So I prose a challenge to you tonight:
Ask yourself:
What am I here to do?
What unique talent to I have?
How can I be a help to humanity?
All the while keeping yourself
Open to hearing the response
That WILL come.

And to those who already know,
I challenge you:
Are you doing it?
Wouldn’t you be happier if you were?

"Made to Last"

This sermon was given on Sunday, August 12, 2007, which was Proper 14, Year C.

The excerpt from Psalms today that we heard was only part of one whole psalm, Psalm 33, which really, is all about God: how wonderful God is, how God made everything there is, it’s a psalm of praise. Somebody was pretty happy about God when they wrote this. But it’s got some subtle digs in there, too. More than once it points out that while no matter what we do to it, this world we live in is a wonderful world, when we do what God calls right and good (and while right and good as defined by God is not included in this particular psalm, the prophets are happy to help us out with this definition)… when we do what God calls right and good, this wonderful world we live in works perfectly. Perfectly.

I’ll quote that particular bit of the psalm, since it appears before our excerpt:

God takes the wind out of Babel pretense,
He shoots down the world’s power-schemes.
God’s plan for the world stands up,
All his designs are made to last.

God takes the wind out of the pretense?

God shoots down the world’s power-schemes?

God’s plan for the world stands up?

All God’s designs are made to last?

Now this, this is a compelling vision of God. And perhaps for many of us, this is a completely new understanding of God. The question we might be asking ourselves right now, even if this isn’t a new understanding of God for us is this: Who is this God and where can we find him?

Well, that’s the point, isn’t it? God is everywhere. But if we want to deepen our understanding of this idea of God, we can certainly look to the prophets, who as I mentioned earlier, are happy to help us redefine God. So let’s take a look at what the prophets have to say about the God that shoots down the world’s power-schemes.

Eugene Peterson, the gentleman whose contemporary translation of the old and new testament we sometimes use, and have used today, describes the prophets this way, and it may help us to put the situation into context this morning. The Rev. Peterson says this:

Over a period of several hundred years, the Hebrew people gave birth to an extraordinary number of prophets – men and women distinguished by the power and skill with which they presented the reality of God. They delivered God’s commands and promises and living presence to communities and nations who had been living on god-fantasies and god-lies.

God-fantasies. God-lies.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t find much wiggle room in that description of the prophets. In his description, the Rev. Peterson goes on to point out that the prophets, down to the last one, weren’t known for their people skills, either. Which is to say that their condemnation was as absolutely scathing as their comfort and hope was powerful and transformative. These were not people who left you wallowing in a morass of guilt from the things you’d done, the lifestyle you’d participated in along with everyone else in your culture. These were the people who, after pointing out that God’s plan looked considerably different than your life, went on to give you a vision of hope for the future:

Isaiah did it. In my little study bible, Isaiah spends 66 pages, full solid pages of pretty small print, sending a message of judgment to the people of Judah. And if you’re ever looking for some good insults, there are some humdingers in there. He then spends 32 pages sending a message of comfort to those very same people. And then he spends 21 pages sending a message of hope.

Now, the book of Isaiah is pretty long – it’s a rather solid 66 chapters, and heaven help you if you read a translation of it that isn’t a contemporary one, because it’s chock full of obscure cultural and geo-political references that can be daunting, but for all of it’s length and density, Isaiah is the biggest, baddest, most transformative prophet that the Hebrew people ever produced.

Isaiah was Jesus’ favorite prophet, if the number of times he quoted him is anything to go by.

Isaiah features pretty strongly in all of our images of Jesus as Messiah, Jesus as the one who was foretold – because it was Isaiah that was doing the foretelling.

John the Baptist and all of his intentions to ‘make straight the way, for the coming of the Lord,’ that’s Isaiah speaking.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and his brilliant oratory skills demanding that justice flow down like waters, like a mighty river? That’s Isaiah.

It goes on. There’s more than just that. But the point in all of these things was that the nation of Judah (the southern chunk of was used to be a united kingdom of Israel under David, and then Soloman) was so caught up being wealthy and corrupt that it forgot the basic tenets of what it meant to be a people of God, which Isaiah spares no words in reminding them:

To love God with absolutely everything you’ve got: your heart, your mind, your soul, and your very being.

And, in case you do get caught up in silly piety and forget the implications of actually loving God, not just saying that you do, (says Isaiah) know this now and clearly: you have to love your neighbor as yourself. Love meaning: treat fairly, not gaining at their expense, honoring their dignity as a fellow human, including and not limited to anything else you can think of.

This is, in a nutshell, what all the prophets say. They attached specifics to the circumstances, because after all, they’re sent to a particular people at a particular time. And so, they do their best to point out where that particular people are failing miserably, and once they’ve pointed that out in great detail, they get on to the business of reminding them, for the people do already technically know, the prophets get onto the business of reminding those people what they are supposed to be doing. How they are supposed to be living – and not just so God can play control freak, no, that’s not the point.

The point is that we can make our world a more beautiful place, a more hospitable place, a place kinder to those who have less by some simple choices of our own. Or, we can make the world an uglier place, a cruel place, a place full of suffering for all but those who have the most, and we can do this through simple choices of our own.

That was the message to the people of ancient Israel, and ancient Judah.

It’s still the message today.

Since I do have people skills, and so am clearly not a prophet, I will refrain from insulting us all, but the pertinent fact of the day is this: Even the poorest among us have access to more resources than a heafty percentage of the world’s population. The ladies and gentlemen of Buffalo who will be dinning tonight at Friends of Night People have access to more resources than a hefty percentage of the world’s population. Now, that aspect of the wealth of America is to be commended. But other aspects are not so commendable, and I’m fairly certain you already have an idea of what they are, so I’m not going to go there.

But I will say this: there are prophets among us. They are sociologists, they are economists, they are politicians, and the UN has listened to them. Seven years ago, the UN set the Millennium Development Goals – eight goals in which, understood from a Christian standpoint, we are able to fulfill that need, that requirement of ‘loving our neighbor as ourselves’, and in doing so, we help to change our world, we help to change the very face of our world, altering it from the uglier, cruel place full of suffering for so many to a place that is more beautiful, more hospitable, and considerably kinder.

We are, in case you were wondering, half way in the timeline to the Millennium Development Goals – It is 2007, and the target date for these goals is 2015. But we are not halfway there in terms of progress. Some of the eight goals has seen considerable progress, some of the eight goals has not only see no progress, but the situation has gotten worse. And of all of the UN member nations that have completely fulfilled their pledge of monetary aide, only three member nations have actually paid that pledge. It may not surprise you to know that neither the US, nor Great Britain, nor Canada are among those three nations.

And yet, supporting these goals – these very achievable goals – that the UN has set out, not just for the governments of the UN member states, but for their citizens as well – that’s you and me – supporting these goals is like listening to the prophets of old, and not just listening, but hearing, digesting that information, and changing (this is key) changing not only our attitudes, but our behaviors as well.

I won’t go into detail about the Millennium Development Goals, or the MDGs here, but please be aware that the latest edition of the national church’s newspaper, EpiscopalLife has a special edition this month, all about the MDGs – the progress we’ve made or not made, what the Episcopal church has been doing, and what we can do as individuals, and there are extra copies of this paper that you can pick up after the service. If we run out, we can get more.

"The Ordinary Life"

This little something-something was offered at the evening service, circa August 5, 2007.

This was a day when nothing happened
And yet it was so full of
A nameless joy
But other than that, it had no destination
I woke up early and
Got the day started
All the normal, predictable things happened
I went to work
Was completely prepared
Did all the things I needed to do
Came home to eat and daydream
Return messages and a dozen other
Little things I like to do

And it reminds me
Of Professor Tolkien’s stories
Not of the great battles,
Or the kings and heroes,
But after great adventures,
After felling dragons
And negotiating the political chaos
That ensued,
Little Bilbo Baggins spent something like
A month
Just hanging out with the elves,
Dwelling in Rivendell,
Experiencing, perhaps, that nameless joy
That he tries do describe
By pointing out
That while great battles
And tales of suffering and woe
May make a fine story
That lasts for hours
Days spent in safety, peace, and contentment
Don’t make for good stories
Because there is no drama
No suspense, no plot, only a simple beauty
That is hard to replicate
In story form
Indeed, nearly impossible
Save to evoke memories
That we each carry
Of moments from our own
Beautiful lives

And then all we can really do
Is point and say
“There! There, do you see?
It was like that time
When you were in Maine
Walking along the coastline
And everything was quiet
Except for the ocean
Which roared
And it was so beautiful
So profound
So something-you-don’t-even-have-a-word-for
That you felt something shift
Inside of you
Like a giant puzzle piece
Plopping into place
And then you felt something
If beauty, peace, and contentment
Had a physical sensation
Like hot and cold do,
That would be it,
What you felt,
Right then
Except you didn’t consider yourself
A poet, a dreamer, a sage,
A celebrity who can incite
World Peace by simply releasing
The next album.
Because yours is the
Ordinary Life.
You never thought that
Your profound moments
Could touch anything like
Gandhi’s or Buddha’s or Jesus’
But that’s what I mean,”
You say as you point to that time
Your friend stood on the coastline of Maine
Feeling both Ordinary & Special at the same time.

You point to it, and say
“Remember that?
It’s just like that.”


This sermon was preached on Sunday, August 5, 2007, which was Proper 13, Year C.

I want to talk today about greed. Greed. Examples of it, how to recognize and why to avoid it is what all of the readings today touched on. And yet, there was no clear definition that would help us along in our own lives. And since it is sometimes helpful to look back on a word that is so common to us, to take a moment to think about what it actually means, this word that we all use, with greater or lesser frequency, let’s do that.

We hear a parent say to a child whose hand grabs for too many cookies, “don’t be greedy” and we know what that parent means – don’t take too much, don’t take more than your share, make sure everyone has a cookie before you take another, only take what you need, or in this case, the two cookie maximum that you know you’re allowed.

Don’t be greedy. In those three short words, that parent manages to pack a wealth of meaning that the child will only fully understand a bit later, though it’s never too soon to start.

There’s another way to think about greed, though – maybe more than one other way, but here’s one I’ve been thinking of. I find it helpful sometimes to think about the opposite of something, when I really want to get to understand it. And the opposite of greed could be… generosity. But I don’t think so. I think generosity is part of the opposite of greed, but I think it’s too specific. I think that the opposite of greed is really a way to live in the world we hold things lightly. Holding things lightly, meaning that we’re happy to have things (whatever those things are) come to us, and we’re happy to let them go. We literally, don’t hold on to them tightly. Our friends the Buddhists have a term for something like this, and it is non-attachment. And maybe that term, succinct as it is, will work for you, but I like the thought of holding things lightly.

And so, if holding things lightly is the opposite of greed, then that would make greed grabbing on tightly to those things that are yours and those things within your grasp. And not letting go. And by things, things in your grasp, am I just talking about money, about finances? No. Think, grabbing on tightly to possessions, to love, to attention, to power, to fame, to prestige… and sure, to wealth.

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I think, am I greedy? My instant answer is, ‘no, of course not.’ But if I rephrase the question, ‘do I grab on tightly to things in my life? Is there something, or some group of things that they would have to pry my cold, dead fingers off of to get it out of my possession?’ My answer to that is less bold and confidant. And yet, that is exactly what we’re talking about. It’s what the wisdom we heard read is talking about. Because what God teaches about greed is pretty clear.

God says don’t be greedy.

God says be generous.

God says greed is utterly pointless. Pointless. Because what you have doesn’t matter, it isn’t the point, even if what you’ve got is a lot – so getting more is besides the point. (And God help you if you get more at the expense of others who have less. None of the prophets have anything good to say about that.)

So, okay. Clearly we’re not to be greedy. We are to hold onto things lightly. But that, as perhaps you have noticed, certainly I have, is sometimes easier said than done. So, perhaps in trying to figure out how on earth we go about living out this teaching (which I think is an important part of any teaching – how we’re supposed to do it), it’s helpful to consider briefly what it is we might need this teaching to begin with.

Why are we greedy in the first place?

Now, there are several answers to this, I’m certain, and I’m equally certain that they’ve all got some measure of truth in them. But try this one on for size, and keep it if it seems to fit.

If you’ll think back with me through the bible, especially through those ancient Hebrew scriptures we call the old testament, there are a few resonating themes that, regardless of what story we’re in the middle of hearing, whether it’s about creation, or Noah and the ark, or Abraham and the promises of a great nation, or Moses and the delivering of that great nation, or Samuel, or David, or the judges, or the prophets – throughout all of it, there’s this theme, this refrain, echoing over and over again, and this theme says: God is enough. God is enough. God is enough.

And there are variations on that theme:

If you have God, you have enough.

If you trust in God, you don’t need to trust anything else.

…Now, there could be several understandings of this theme. Certianly, a popular, but I think, wrong interpretation of the idea that ‘God is enough’ is that all we have to do is ‘believe’, and nothing will ever go wrong, life will always be nice, we’ll never get sick, we’ll never be hungry, and nothing bad will ever happen. This is what is prayed for, and this is what we believe will really occur, if only we believe enough. And if it doesn’t occur, it’s because we didn’t believe enough. This, I think, is a rather simplistic view of the complex universe that God has created, and knowing that this is how some people, some Christians approach religion makes me understand what Marx said when he accused religion of being the opiate of the masses.

Because let’s face it, faithful people in ancient Israel knew full well that life wasn’t nice, lots of people got sick and died, or worse, got sick and continued to live on, sick and outcast from society, half-starved and reviled for the rest of their lives. People in ancient Israel knew that if you wanted to eat, hard work was required. And yet, their stories were filled with a theme that says, God is enough.

I think the theme ‘God is enough,’ while a simple phrase, is incredibly more complex than all of that. I think it has to do with abundance, priorities, and some of the inherent laws of the universe.

Or, we can think of it this way, since what we’re really trying to understand is greed, and how to avoid it. The only thing we should be holding tightly to is God. Cling to God. Think to yourself, you’ll have to pry my cold dead fingers out of God’s hand, because I’m not letting go.

And, just to be clear, I don’t mean an image of God. This is not license to go beat up someone else because we’re holding tightly to an image of God that someone else disagrees with, or understands differently, no, no, no.

But to hold tightly to God, rather than possessions, attention, power, fame, prestige, wealth, or even love, but to God… Knowing that these other things will come. These other things will come because the nature of the universe, one of the yet to be enunciated laws of the universe is abundance. Abundance, the concept that there is not just enough, but plenty for all – and greed disrupts the balance and flow of abundance. When we are not greedy, intentionally and however fully we can manage to be not greedy, we are then active participants in God’s abundance that flows to us, through us, and to other people. Now, we don’t get all the credit for that abundance to other people, because that wouldn’t be right and it’s not ours anyway, but we become part of the system that works, we become part of the solution, instead of being part of the problem.

So there you have it – Greed. It’s like saying to God, “No, actually, I don’t trust you. I don’t believe you can provide enough when it’s necessary, so I’m going to grab on tight to everything I can reach, and to hell (maybe literally) with the consequences.”

And when we live without greed, it’s like living with an open hand that easily accepts and easily passes on, and hand that helps the flow of abundance come to us, and go beyond us.

It’s the work of a lifetime, perhaps, but I’ve always thought that it’s best to start those life lessons now.

"How to Pray"

This sermon was preached on Sunday, July 29, 2007, which was Proper 12, Year C

Teach us how to pray.

That’s what Jesus’ friends and students asked him. Teach us how to pray. But of course, not just a simple, no strings-attached statement, teach us how to pray. It also has the added flavor of one-up-manship and whining. John taught his disciples to pray – won’t you teach us how to pray?

But for whatever the reason someone asks, it’s a good question to answer.

Jesus answered by coming up with a prayer that we now sometimes call The Lord’s Prayer, and taking it out of the specific terms that some of us know so well we don’t even think about them anymore, here’s what Jesus is really saying.

Jesus starts out addressing God, first of all, but he’s doing it in a radical way – he’s talking about a God who is so loving, so benevolent, so giving, and so caring that this God could be a parent – but Jesus goes further than that. Not content, as in most of our English translations, to address God as ‘Father’, he goes so far as to call him Daddy, like a small, trusting child would look up at their father, smile, and call him Daddy. That’s the kind of relationship that Jesus is assuming with God, and it’s the kind of relationship he’s modeling for us to have with God.

Now, if the idea of God as Dad doesn’t work for you, try God as Mom. If that really doesn’t work for you, move right on along to God as Beloved. It really makes no difference. The point is that God isn’t some nameless, faceless, passionless general manager of the Universe. Rather, God is even more caring, even more loving, even more giving and wise than even your own Dad, or Mom, than even your own partner.

So this is how Jesus starts out his prayer. Our Father in Heaven.

And then Jesus reminds us of how holy God is. Now, holy isn’t a word that is really in our every day vocabulary these days, though it would have been then. But just imagine, imagine trying to come up with a word, in this instance for God, that covers just how good God is. A word that expresses just how wonderfully loving, and giving, and caring, how imaginative, how creative, how wise, how powerful. Believe it or not, ‘holy’ actually covers all of that. And the somewhat archaic version of the word ‘holy’ is ‘hallow’

Our Father in Heaven,
Hallowed be your name.

Now comes an interesting bit, because Jesus is about to start praying for the things he’s doing in his own life and work. His whole three year ministry was about the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven, if you prefer, and about how it is our job to see that this Kingdom manifests on earth with justice and peace.

Our Father in Heaven,
Hallowed by your name.
Your Kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.

And now, Jesus starts praying for every day life, beyond his work and ministry – he’s now going to pray for the basic necessities (which weren’t always 100% assured), for relationships, large and small, and for help avoiding those things that are troublesome.

Our Father in Heaven,
Hallowed by your name.
Your Kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our debts
As we forgive the debts of others
Lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.

And that’s where the prayer ended.

Now, I want you to think for a moment – think back. Who taught you to pray? Were you ever taught? Was it something you picked up just because you were around other people? Did you never have a chance to pick it up? Have you ever wondered if your prayers are good enough, or even heard by God?

Well, if you’ve ever had a moment of wondering, have I got good news for you.


If you’re praying a prayer out of a book, or one you’ve memorized, or someone else is praying on your behalf, it counts. God hears.

If you’re praying in desperation because you just stubbed your toe, or you’re looking for a parking space you may not get, or because the baby won’t stop crying, it counts. God hears.

If you’re praying and it sound really more like angry shouting in God’s general direction because right now, things are not going well, not at all, it counts. God hears.

If you’re praying in utter silence – an intentional silence that some traditions call meditation – praying in that way where you’re not saying anything at all, but waiting and listening for God, that counts. God knows.

If you’re praying with your hands, making something – a meal, a garment, a table, a work of art, a piece of music, and there are no words, only powerful actions, that counts. God sees.

Praying is just part of this on-going conversation between us and God that we have throughout our lives. But, it needs to start somewhere, and if you’re curious about how to pray in that formal, vocal way, remember this:

Address God as God really is: loving, caring, and just really wonderful.

Pray for what you do, and what you need.

Pray for your relationship with others, knowing that you need to be forgiven, every bit as much as they need forgiving.

Pray to have help in avoiding the things that are too much for you.

Pray for the work Jesus left us to do: this living into the Kingdom of God, the kingdom that is all about justice and peace.

Do that, and you’ll be off to a great start, if you’re not already.

"Mary and Martha"

This sermon was given on Sunday, July 22, 2007, which was Proper 11, Year C.

All who are weary and heavy-laden…
All who are stressed-out and worn down,
All who are anxious and frazzled,
All who have had it up to here and can’t take it any more…


And this, you will notice, is not an invitation that will require a heck of a lot of hardwork on the part of the weary, stressed-out, anxious, heavy-laden, worn down, frazzled persons who have had it up to here and can’t take it anymore. Because after all, if these people had to do one more thing, have one more care, one more responsibility, they’d snap.

They’d just snap.

There are moments in our lives when what we need is to be poked and prodded and challenged. There are times in our lives when we need to have our assumptions, stereotypes, and basic attitudes turned utterly and completely on their heads because our God doesn’t take injustice lightly, nor does our God take inhospitability lying down.

But before that, and sometimes even in the midst of that, we need something else, because although we are a complex people, we are not an unchanging people – we are dynamic, fluid, and what we needed yesterday may yet be different from what we need tomorrow.

There are other times when we, the stressed out and heavy-laden, get to come to the feet of the master, summarily drop all of our cares at her feet, and then drop ourselves into a cushy chair with a cold drink at our elbow. But no, not then to vege out as we might do in front of a TV, or a radio, or a video game. No, that is not quite the sort of refreshment that God provides.

No, the kind of couch potato relaxing that may seem so common and natural to us is not really what brings us back to balance, real balance, though we can pretend it does. No because when we’re really balanced we’re ready to meet those rigorous requirements of God’s that encompass truth-telling dead ahead, of taking no bribes to our back, of all manner of hospitality on our right and of all manner of openness to our left – it’s the compass rose of God, and it centered, dead centered right where we are, always, in Love. Those are actions we can easily take part in when we’re at balance. That’s a compass rose we can live by when we’re at peace.

Peace. And the way you get to this peace, the way I get to this peace is to listen to the voice of God.

Now, if that seems to you a Herculean Task, don’t worry, because you’ve already done it dozens, nay thousands of times. Seriously. You have heard the voice of God, and so have I, though we may not have thought of it as such at the time. Lemme say that again so it can sink in, just in case this is a brand new thought. You have heard the voice of God, and so have I, though we may not have thought of it as such at the time. And that’s okay – it doesn’t upset God that other people get the credit.

But how – just for the sake of argument – should we know this voice of God that brings peace, particularly when we’ve never consciously recognized that voice to be of God before? Easy. It’s the one that brings peace. Or at least, in the mist of turmoil and suffering, it brings peace. In the midst of complacency, it tends to bring rather intense challenge. But that’s another story.

But no matter the situation, the voice of God is the voice that councils wisdom, peace, healing, and love. It’s the voice that reminds you and me of what we already wish to be true, sometimes, what we already deeply suspect to be true, what we already know to be true.

But lest you think this voice –whether it comes in the garb of that little voice inside your head, or the words of a friend or a stranger – lest you think this voice is always nice, always polite, please think again.

The voice of God is not always nice, polite, or even pleasant. But it is… caring.

And how could someone be caring, but not nice, polite, or pleasant? Parents – I bet you have some insight on this question.

I know that Martha in that story from the gospel of Luke that we just heard found out the embarrassing way how Jesus could speak with the voice of God and be caring, but not particularly pleasant.

Imagine it with me – Jesus is in their home, teaching. Mary is sitting at his feet, listening to him teach. Her sister, Martha, is busy making the meal – which back then took a heck of a lot of time and labor to produce. Now, ostensibly and according to the culture of the time, it’s Mary who is out of line. After all, this is her home, too, and part of showing hospitality for a woman would have been to be in that kitchen helping Martha. And yet, that is not what she chooses to do. One imagines she had her own reasons for shucking the expectations of her culture to sit and listen to the voice of God. Like, perhaps, that is what she needed to do. And Jesus didn’t say anything about it either way. Didn’t say, good for you, Mary. Didn’t say, get up lazy bones and get into that kitchen. Jesus was busy teaching.

Now, just as Mary made a decision to do what she did, so did Martha. She might have chosen not to cook, and they might have eaten late, and worse things could have happened. Instead she chose do to as she did, and Jesus didn’t say anything about it. He didn’t peek into his kitchen and say, well done, great hospitality. He didn’t call her out and demand to know why she wasn’t listening because he had some important stuff to say. He didn’t say anything. Jesus respected Martha’s decision to do as she would, just as he respected Mary’s.

But then, oh, then… Then Martha comes out. Does she pull Mary aside and demand help? No. She goes to the master. And this is where I always cringe, because it’s like watching a train wreck – you know something awful is going to happen, and yet you can’t look away, and it happens so quickly… “Tell her to come help me!” How embarrassing for Mary, in that moment, put on the spot, to have her sister do that, and how embarrassing still would it have been to have the Rabbi reprimand her.

And yet, Martha created a situation such that someone was going to lose face – and it was going to be either her sister or herself.

And what does Jesus do? Jesus bucks convention and refuses to reprimand Mary, who sits at his feet, listening. He respects Mary’s decision to sit and listen. And honestly, he respects Martha’s decision to be working and cooking, but he doesn’t respect Martha’s need to be a proverbial martyr in the kitchen, nor does he respect Martha’s need to redress Mary for making the decision she needed to make. And since Martha has pushed Jesus to comment on the subject, he’s going to do so honestly – it’s clear from the very conversation they’re having that Mary followed the decision of her heart, and Martha didn’t. And so he says, “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it – it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her.”

Now, I don’t think this story is here so we can vilify Martha, and glorify Mary. I don’t think this story is here so we can use it as our excuse to never be hospitable, or never cook again, or to always be sitting, waiting, listening. No, because we are a complex and ever changing people. Some days we need to do one thing, and other days we need to do the other.

This story is here – one of the many reasons this story is here – is so that we can realize a few things. One of them is this: God won’t take our choices away from us, no matter how they bring us into balance, or keep us from it, God supports every decision that we make, for ourselves. Another thing we learn is this: God does not unanimously support the bad decisions we make for others – the judgments, the condemnations, the manipulations, and all of the untruths. It seems from this story that we can learn this: God respects our right to lie to ourselves, if that is what we’re really determined to do. However, God balks when we think we have a… God-given right to lie to others, to pull others into our self-delusion.

And so we find how the voice of God can be caring, and yet unpleasant. Caring, and yet not particularly nice. Because of all those lovely and general things we learn from this story of Mary and Martha, one concrete thing we might take away from it is this: when we, like Martha, start feeling resentful about the actions of others, that would be really great time to stop and listen for the voice of God. When we start feeling resentful about the actions of others, that’s a great signal for us that we aren’t getting what we need to feel balanced and at peace, whatever that thing that we need is.

And just like our best imitations of a couch potato doesn’t bring us into balance, neither does complaining to the Rabbi and hoping they will somehow, magically, restore balance.

Reaching balance, achieving peace, like all of our own, personal decisions, is something highly respected by God. And when we tell God that that is what we want to experience next, God will listen, and God will help. But will we be willing to receive that help and take the next, maybe frightening step of doing something different that we’ve done before?