Sunday, March 30, 2008

"The League of Thomas"

Whoo hoo! This is part one (of two) of Cam's Easter 2 sermon. I apologize for the poor sound quality - this will improve in future postings.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of Cam's favorite days in the church is the day we read the story of Doubting Thomas. And so here we have a lovely sermon on why he likes Thomas oh-so much. Enjoy! (And don't forget to watch part two, also on Trinity's youtube channel!)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Holy Thursday

This was preached on Maundy Thursday, 2008

Holy Thursday, Year A, 2008
Luke 22: 14-20

All during Lent, you know if you’ve been here that Cam, our Rector has been reinterpreting the gospels for the day. Today is my turn. What you’ve just heard is from the NRSV – the new, revised standard version, which is what most mainline protestant denominations use in Sunday worship, as well as many Roman Catholic churches. But here is the SRV: Sare Revised Version, of Luke 22: 14-20.

When it was time to sit down and have the traditional Passover meal, Jesus took his place at the table, and his disciples-cum-apostles took their places, too.

“You don’t know,” Jesus started, “how much it means for me to sit here with you all, share this Passover meal. It’s not just another holiday meal to me, friends. You all know that trouble is brewing and I’m the one stirring the pot. I’ll be in the thick of things, and I’ve got a hunch that this will be the last holiday meal I’ll eat in this world. But eating is a fine thing, and better than that,” he said. He took up a loaf of bread and said a quick word of gratitude for it. “It’s just bread, but it’s the stuff of our mortal lives. Take it. Eat it,” he said, passing it around. “And when you do, remember the New Covenant of God: Justice and Peace – it’s what makes our mortal lives worth living. And remember how it will have had to be forged: with my very body.” Then he took up the cup of wine and did the same thing. “A covenant requires blood to seal it, that’s tradition, so here’s a toast to tradition: Whenever you drink wine, remember that it will have been my blood that seals this covenant.”

There ends the reading.

Now, I’ll grant you that this is not a direct or literal translation – if it was, Jesus would sound less like a Floridian. But then, it isn’t meant to be any of those things – it was reinterpreted to increase understanding of some of the underlying themes. So let me expand on some of those.

What we’re watching here is an older ritual being turned into a new ritual. Or, if you like, a new, clearer meaning being laid on top of, and being incorporated into an existing ritual, like you might incorporate yeast into bread. Now, the existing ritual is the Passover meal, which still is the traditional Jewish celebration of the Exodus, and the redemption of the people of Israel, no longer slaves, but free people. Moses was the star of this show, and he was the beginning of the prophets of Israel – the first and the best. And what Moses was doing was returning this community of people to the path of the covenant – and now we go deeper into the history of Israel. The Covenant was made with Abraham. Follow me and do what I say, says God, and I will give you land (which means you can be self-sustaining), family (which means you will live forever, through your descendants), blessing (which means you will be successful and vibrant), and you will be a blessing to the nations (which means you will model for the world what it looks like when a community follows a single god of justice – which we theologians call ‘ethical monotheism’ 24 centuries later, ethical monotheism has become very popular, but it wasn’t then, not so much.). So, the covenant was made with Abraham. It was delivered by Joshua. It was restored by Moses. And if you will, refined, by Jesus. Justice and peace were not unheard of concepts – they were, in fact, supported by all the laws of the people, but they were not lived out.

Lest we start indulging in a little self-satisfied anti-Semitism, let’s have a humble look at our own history and laws, as a country – just a slight detour, I promise.

Over my desk I have a beautiful picture of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, with the Cherry Blossom trees all in bloom around it. And there is a quote of his that he wrote, on that picture. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” This is in the Declaration of Independence which Jefferson wrote, and yet how long did it take for all men to actually be seen as equal in the sight of the law, by the letter of the law? And how many years for all humans be seen as equal? And how often, even today, is there injustice that flies in the face of this particular declaration? All the time. In every city. In every state. Now we’ve got this justice thing down in theory, but we’ve yet to master the practice of it – not on a personal level, and not even on an institutional level, a systemic level.

Jesus noticed just this sort of thing in his own time – it wasn’t an issue of racism or gender bias that he was inflamed about, however, and there was no separation of church and state – or, if you will, temple and state. Unless, you consider the Roman Empire. There was a great division between the will of the Emperor and the will of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (which in later centuries, got all turned around and mixed up – but that’s another story for another time). And his noticing, and his preaching, and his riot in the temple, it got him executed.

But before that happened, he had one last holiday meal with his friends - his followers, the ones who would carry on once he was dead. And so woven into the older ritual that celebrated being liberated from oppressors and returning to the promise of God, is the newer ritual that celebrates a future of justice and peace, and the promise of God. Passover gives birth to Communion.

Bread to feed the body,
that’s the reality of it, that’s what we can hold in our hands. And the symbolism is

the bread that IS the body.
But that’s just the beginning of the symbolism. Because

the bread that IS the body
is the symbol of the new promise, the new covenant of Justice and Peace (which isn’t a new concept, but at least a renewed promise). And

the bread that IS the body
is the symbol of what it took to create it, someone died to make this real, one man seen as a sacrifice, because sacrifice was the way to see things like this, back then, though the thought, the literal thought of human sacrifice horrifies us now, as it should. And it harkens back, for those who have ears to hear and eyes to see, it harkens back to the symbols of the long-time existing covenant with that justice-loving God (so different from all the other gods lounging around, rewarding pride and arrogance, ignoring suffering and injustice, rewarding warriors, ignoring casualties – those gods, we’ll have nothing to do with those gods, thank you very much)

the bread that IS the body
harkens back to the old covenant with our justice-loving God who will not ignore it when your behavior – personal behavior, or corporate behavior - has hurt someone else, and requires you to sacrifice something of your own, money, or crops, or livestock, because that practice harkens back to even older beliefs that a wrongdoing, a sin, is something you carry with you until you give it to something else – put it on an animal, like a goat, pack all the sins on goat and shove it out into the desert, and that is where the idea of a scapegoat came from – it’s a substitution that expiates your sins, because atonement is required.

The bread that IS the body
says don’t get so involved with atonement that you cede your responsibility for
being part of the solution.

The bread that IS the body
says you can’t have peace through victory, even though Rome says you can. True peace comes only through justice. When people are treated justly throughout the world, then we will have peace, true peace.

The bread that IS the body
says you can apologize for injustice until you’re blue in the face, but you’re still a part of the problem until you start doing justice. And

the bread that IS the body
says you don’t need to be perfect at these things, but you do need to be trying, because the Kingdom of God is here, the New Covenant is made with my body and my blood (for those of you that still insist on the old way of sacrifice) and for it to work, you must participate.

The bread that IS the body
is our daily reminder, every time we eat, that we must participate in the Kingdom of God, the dream of Justice and Peace, to make it work.

SERMONS@TRINITY- Trinity Church Buffalo New York: Good Friday 2008

Major whoh.

So, okay. There are moments like these that I think,

a) this is why I'm still a christian.
b) this is why I'm still a priest.
c) this is why I haven't given up on the church, in general.
d) this is why I like working for this man.

SERMONS@TRINITY- Trinity Church Buffalo New York: Good Friday 2008

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"Spiritual Storminess"

This reflection was given at Trinity @ 7, March 16, 2008

Tonight’s theme is ‘spiritual storminess’
Now, there are a bunch of different
Ways you can think about this phenomenon,
This sturm und drang
That arrives on the scene of our lives
Without so much as a by-your-leave
Because the storm can be loud and showy\
Like a thunderstorm at night
Or quiet like snow falling, relentlessly
Or sometimes, you only realize it
When it has cleared
And you take a deep breath
And realize that you haven’t taken
A deep breath in quite a while

It’s characterized – no matter how loud –
By it’s ability to turn everything in your life
Upside down
All of the common wisdom
No longer seems to apply
And you realize how much you’ve
Been relying on Automatic Pilot
But the thing about auto pilot
Is that it only works if you give it
The right heading
And if down is up and north is south
Auto pilot is offline

And at that point we are all left
To re-examine everything
-everything- we’d taken for granted
We’ve got to pull out every single book,
Each CD from the shelf of our souls
And take a good, hard look
Listen to the CD a few times, with new ears
Reread the first four chapters, with new eyes
And decide for ourselves
All over again
And maybe for the first time
(and maybe for the fourth)
Is this what we want?
Is this who we are?
Because the assumptions we were
Going on before
No longer apply
And now is the time
In the midst of the sturm und drang
To light a candle
And take stock
Of who we are
So, I invite you to do just that.

"In the Meantime"

This was preached at the Palm Sunday service, March 16, 2008

The reading of the Passion was long today, as it always is, so I’ll keep my reflections short.

There is a space between suffering and hope. It is like the momentary pause between the exhalation and inhalation of our cycle of breath – that moment where all is quiet, and if we wish it, we can touch death as well as life. Mostly, we don’t wish it, and that is okay.

There is a space between suffering and hope. It is like the space between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, the emptiness of that Saturday, when Jesus the insurrectionist Rabbi has been executed, but the eternal Christ has not yet risen in any hart, or any mind. Rather, those hearts are left bleeding, and those minds are numbed into silence.

There is a space between suffering and hope in all of our lives, because everywhere there is suffering – from time to time in our own personal lives, and surely quite often in our larger communities. There is suffering, and there is hope – whether it is an eternal hope for a dying loved one, or a very present here-and-now hope for the correction of systemic injustice. But there is a space between the suffering of yesterday and right now, and the hope of something different for the long string of tomorrows yet to come. That space, I like to think of it as… “In The Meantime.”

So yesterday was suffering and tomorrow there will be hope, but meanwhile there is still the pain of knowing the situation hasn’t changed one iota. And what we do with that pain – well, that depends on the day. On the bad days, we pretend it doesn’t exist. We distract ourselves with the 1,001 other things we could be doing, and we pretend it doesn’t exist – it has come at an inconvenient time, anyway. And on the good days, the best we can do is simply acknowledge it, live with it, and know that we’re in the same boat with so many others.

It’s true, the good days feel more painful than the bad days in this scenario, and that seems backwards at first glance, but in these inherently painful moments, in these difficult situations if we’re not feeling pain, we’re doing something wrong.

And that’s not a message we’ll hear from ad agencies, or from Hollywood, or even Washington. It is a message we’ll hear from the Gospel, if we dare to listen.