Sunday, June 21, 2009
Saturday, June 20, 2009
This sermon is as written, not as delivered.
When I was in seminary I took a class, which focused primarily on the Book of Job. For a whole semester, we read the bible story, and we read about it from different perspectives. One was from a political perspective and another from the perspective of liberation theology. The book starts with God talking to Satan ( the Adversary or Accuser) about Job, a good and righteous man. Satan replies that Job is good because he is prosperous. This leads to a chain of events where this good and prosperous man looses everything; his seven sons, his three daughters; and hundreds of livestock. It was disaster after disaster. And the final disaster leaves Job suffering from a painful, chronic and debilitating illness.
All Job had left was his wife and his friends. But what did they say to him? Well his wife told him he should “Curse God and die.” And, because the prevailing attitude was that bad things only happened to bad people, what his friends said wasn’t any better. On the other hand, Job insists that he was a good and righteous man, while agreeing with one friend that he wasn't perfect.
Job’s story is, of course, our story. What happened to Job is different from ours only in the magnitude of the bad things he endured. Like the disciples, tossed about in a small boat in a storm on the Sea of Galilee, our own little boats are tossed about by the waves of change, economic uncertainty, divorce, sickness, and war; and senseless killings by authorities in Iran and by mistake in Afghanistan; and ordinary death. And if we aren’t facing one of these events ourselves, one of our neighbors or our friends in the church is. And every evening we watch the television news with its messages and pictures from around the world that invade our homes. Like the disciples we ask: "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"
Job questioned too. Asking questions is a part of our human nature. Job kept asking questions until he and his friends were exhausted, and until God had had enough. To be human and to think about the nature of things means asking question. And Job asks big questions: "Why do the wicked prosper and the innocent suffer? Where is God in all this?"
And there are other questions, maybe not as deep: "Does the person I love, love me? What do I need to do with my life in order to be happy and fulfilled? Will I have enough money to live on as I get older? But mostly we ask: Why do I, and those I love suffer and die?"
Sometimes these questions swirl through our minds like a whirlwind. Job’s questions were like that, too, until finally, one day, God spoke to Job from the whirlwind: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?...., Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?”
Job’s questions got answered with more questions. In asking Job these questions, God seemed to be saying that there is no answer to Job’s questions, or at least, there is no answer that Job can understand. The point of the Book of Job appears to be that there are some questions to which there are no answers, at least no answers the human mind can wrap itself around. That’s frustrating, especially to those of us who like to believe that any question can be answered, any problem solved, if we apply reason to it and study it and do research.
So, is the reason for the Book of Job to slap us on the wrist. Is human reason and the search for making sense of life and to finding the answer unanswerable questions, unacceptable to God? I would suspect that in reading Job, we get some relief on those sleepless nights when our mind keeps asking questions? God’s answer to Job is much more than just saying life’s deep questions are not answerable. Although Job got a scolding; Job also got God. And so do we. In the middle of questions, in the middle of whirlwind and turmoil and stormy seas, God is there. And just as God came to Job, God came to the aid of the disciples and God comes to us.
And this God, who came to Job, and to the disciples and comes to us hears our questions and speaks to us. God doesn’t always answer our questions. Maybe we don't even know what questions to ask, much less to understand the answer. But this God who speaks in the midst of the whirlwind is a God who chose to send his Son to become one of us.
Our God is not just the God who spoke out of a whirlwind and replied to Job’s unanswerable questions with more unanswerable questions. Our God spoke out of a whirlwind on the Sea of Galilee: “Peace! Be still!”
In the swirl of questions and seeming chaos, God comes to speak peace. And when we ask the question the disciples asked, “Who is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” we get an answer: This is Jesus, the Son of God, the one who was crucified and risen, who is with us through the storm and in the calm, on sea and on land, when we have all the answers and when we have nothing but questions.
Not a lot has changed since the time of the disciples. The winds of change and the waters of chaos continue to thump against the worldwide church and people of faith. Here in the United States and in our Anglican Communion, the Church is divided around issues of authority, sexuality, biblical interpretation and transparency of decision making, so that deputies to our General Convention go feeling apprehensive. Alliances are formed to strengthen their side of the issue and they question the business before them with suspicious eyes. So many words are being written on both sides, especially on the internet that I think we need to ask with God: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? ... Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” Today, our prayer for the church should be: "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"
But Jesus calms the wind and the waves and says to the fearful disciples, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" The opposite of faith is not doubt and it’s not unbelief. Here, Jesus defines the opposite of faith as fear. As humans, we fear the new and the unknown. We fear the felt lump in the breast. We fear the cough that won't go away. We fear pandemics like swine flu. We fear growing old because we are losing our health. We worry about how the economy will change our lives. We fear how changes in politics or technology will have an effect on our jobs and the income from our savings and retirement funds. Fear is like storm waves building up to swamp our boats and our faith.
Faith is a way we approach life. Some psychologists say we develop faith very early in life when as a child we learn to expect the people in our lives to be reliable and trustworthy and our environment to be stable. President Obama spoke this week of the important role of fathers in the development of children and you can see in his interactions with his daughters how deeply he loves them. He wrote of the hole in his own life that the absence of his father caused. Those of us whose fathers were absent for the early years of our lives because of serving in wartime know of that hole as well. Today we give thanks for all those who were our fathers or who have served as fathers to us.
According to researchers, children with the least amount of fear were those whose parents were active in the social issues of their communities, or who regularly attended church, or who were deeply involved in global concerns. Rather than feeling helpless at the challenges before them, those parents got involved, asked questions and acted to change the world around them, They maintained a positive attitude and expected that what they did would make a difference. And, no surprise here, the attitudes of the parents rubbed off on their children. The children did not feel helpless. Instead, they saw that their parents and their church and the other involved citizens of their community maintained faith and were doing something toward resolving problems.
Faith is trust that life can be good even though the fact is, life can be quite painful and difficult. "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" Jesus sounds impatient in these words directed to his disciples, just like God was impatient with Job. It’s not the questions that bring about the impatience. Jesus makes us choose between the opposites of faith and fear. When we stand on the side of faith and face those things that threaten us, managing our fears, it makes a difference. It makes a difference to our children, to our churches, to our communities and to our world. Faith is what makes us reach out our hand to our Father in heaven knowing he will reach his hand out to us and say “Peace! Be still!”
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
- trying to close out my work at the parish (last Sunday is July 19).
- packing my belongings for a move (sometime after the 19th).
- packing for my vacation (five days hence).
- feeling overwhelmed (now).
- found a place to move to (small town near the coast).
- decided that playing golf this morning is not on (and it's a sunny day)
- called our vet about Isabelle's pain meds (don't want her dog sitter to deal with it)
- get packing material (never seem to have enough paper to wrap fragile things).
- call a moving company or get a U-haul (depends on whether I can find help at the other end).
- sign the lease for the new place (should be faxed this morning).
- get some exercise (see golf thing above).
- start saying good bye to lots of nice people (and to those who were not so nice).
- pack, pack, pack
- get Izzie an appointment with the groomer (she's getting shaggy again)
- be blogging much for the next three weeks (I will take pictures on holiday, but when I'll post them is another story)
- let the uncertainty about what is next get to me (promises, promises, promises)
Sunday, June 14, 2009
If you ever go to Napa Valley in California in the early part of the year (winter here), you’ll see fields of cheerful yellow flowers of the mustard plant. The mustard helps replenish the soil in the vineyards. In fact mustard will grow just about anywhere. It can grow as large as a small tree and birds do roost in it. There are some forty different types of mustard plant, but only about three of them are used for cooking—And it’s quite amazing how many types of mustard can be made from these three types of seeds.
God makes the mustard plant in many different varieties, and what is true for plants is true for us humans. Just look around this church. The color of our skins may be pretty much the same, and most of us claim to be Episcopalians, but scratch the surface and you’ll find an incredible variety of people. People prepared for this particular time in their life by all their life experiences—where they’ve lived, who raised them, their basic personality, and lots of other factors.
But to get back for a moment to the mustard, just look at all the kinds of prepared mustard you can find in any supermarket. The data on mustards comes from a blog that I read written by It's Margaret.
There’s Dijon Mustard: made with brown and/or black seeds, seasonings, and the juice of unripened grapes, or white wine, or wine vinegar or a combination of all three.
There’s Bordeaux Mustard: Made with unfermented wine grape juice, usually pale yellow in color.
There’s Beaujolais Mustard: Similar to Bordeaux, but made with different grapes lending a deep burgundy color.
And how about Creole Mustard: Brown mustard seeds are marinated in vinegar, ground and mixed with a hint of horseradish into a hot, spicy mustard.
Or Meaux Mustard: Roughly crushed, multi-colored mustard seeds mixed with vinegar and spices.
There’s German Mustard: Mild to hot, spicy and mildly sweet. It can range from smooth to coarse-ground, pale yellow to brown in color.
There’s English Mustard: Made from both white and brown or black seeds, flour, and turmeric. If your mother was like mine she had a tin of Colman's mustard in the cupboard.
There’s Chinese Mustard: from mustard powder and water or wine mixed to a paste.
There’s Sweet Mustard: sweetened with honey, syrup, or sugar, and can begin with a base of hot or mild mustard seeds depending on personal tastes.
Then there’s American Mustard: the mildest-flavored mustard, made with white mustard seeds mixed with salt, spices and vinegar, usually with the spice called turmeric added to enhance the bright color. This style was first manufactured in 1904 by George T. French as "Cream Salad Mustard," and has become the standard for yellow mustard in America.
But that’s not the end, there are Flavored Mustards, where the addition of various individual herbs, spices, vegetables, and fruits result in such mustards as horseradish, chili, lemon, raspberry and even blueberry flavored mustards. There are literally hundreds to choose from and make, limited only by your imagination.
Look around the church this morning. What kind of mustard are you and what kind of mustard is your neighbor? I would guess that some of you would never use any kind other than French’s. Others would only use Dijon or a German mustard. Or maybe you use French’s on hot dogs and Dijon on ham. The choices are out there.
And choices are what is on all our minds this morning. I’m sure the word has gotten around that the search committee couldn’t make a decision this past Thursday. I’m sure, because word has gotten back to me about qualities of the two candidates that should have been held in confidence. Let me assure you that the committee has two wonderful candidates and that is the problem. It’s a wonderful problem. It is hard to choose when half the committee likes French’s and the other half likes Dijon. I’ve spoken to the Bishop and he is happy with either candidate and is the Deployment Officer. So you can see the dilemma. Today they’re going to meet again. On the advice of the diocese, I’m going to put on my consultant’s hat and sit with them to help them through the process.
Are there other choices? Sure there are, but none of them are as satisfying as making a decision now. By the way, it is the Vestry, in consultation with the diocese who would decide what to do if the search committee really doesn’t make a decision. One option would be that you and I would have to put up with each other for another six months or so while the committee gets new names and makes a choice. But you’ve already got two good candidates, and I don’t think Jesus is going to apply for the position. You could take a break for six months and then get a new search committee together. In the meantime you could figure out how French’s and Dijon work together to bring about God’s kingdom. The Vestry could ask the bishop to appoint a priest-in-charge for two years and then if you and the priest decide it’s a fit, the priest could be made permanent, otherwise you start another search.
I think the better option is to do like the Roman Church does and lock the committee into the chapel until they can go downstairs to the fireplace and send up some white smoke. Do keep them in your prayers this afternoon. So yes, there are choices, but remember the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard plant. There are many varieties of mustard, and God loves them all. The choices that we make to bring about God’s kingdom are ours to make, and God needs our help to make them flourish. Whatever choice the search committee does make will be a good one. They’ve prayed every time they’ve met and you have prayed for them too, every Sunday. Discernment is not an easy thing to do. Remember Paul’s words. “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away, see, everything has become new!” New birth is hard, for us humans, but Ezekiel speaks of God taking a sprig from a cedar and planting it on a high mountain where it will grow and flourish. This mountain is the place where God’s mustard seed will take root and grow. Amen.
Friday, June 12, 2009
I (we) belong to youfrom the day of my birthto the day of my deathI (we) belong to youMy (God).
The Sabar Concerto was initiated at the requrest of Maestro Hermann Michael and Dr. Mark Sunkett for the purpose of creating a work that would integrate the musicians of two cultures to celebrate a new millenium.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Calm me, O lord, as You stilled the storm.Still me, O Lord, keep me from harm.Let all the tumult within me cease,Enfold me, Lord, in Your peace.Father, bless the work that is doneand the work that is to be.Father, bless the servant that I amand the servant that I will be.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Tomorrow is the big day. The Search Committee will meet to discern which of the two final candidates they will recommend the Vestry call to be the new rector. From the little bits and pieces I've heard, they will not find it easy to pick one candidate over the other. I'm sure the Holy Spirit will be right in there working with them. The group has worked well together and have been diligent in every part of their work. Here in Maine the process has been for the Discernment Committee (aka Search Committee) to recommend one candidate to the Vestry who then says yea or nay, makes the call (after speaking with the Bishop), and negotiates the contract. Of course until the candidate says yes and the contract is agreed to, the whole thing could fall apart.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Isabelle did come to church this morning. I had to carry her down the stairs, but by the time the first service started she slowly worked her way up the stairs from the undercroft and she seems able to go up and down now. She wouldn't eat any cheese at coffee hour, but by the time we got home at noon she was hungry. Things seem to be looking up.
Saturday, June 6, 2009
Friday, June 5, 2009
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Open as well my third eye that I may see you hidden in countless forms in the springtime beauty of creation and in my brothers and sisters, each made in your image.....I pray on this springtime Wednesday morning especially for the conversion of my society. May I by simple word and deed, be part of the redemptive work begun by your son Jesus and so bring about justice and peace on this small planet.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
This night and every nightOonagh+, rest in peace and rise in glory.
seems infinite with questions,
and sleep as elusive
Pain and longing are always present,
dulled only a little
by the distractions of day.
I am weary; I am angry.
I am confused.
Circle me, Lord.
Keep despair and disillusion wihout.
Bring a glimmer of hope within.
Circle me, Lord;
keep nightmare without.
Bring moments of rest within.
Circle me Lord;
keep bitterness without.
Bring an occasional sense
of Your presence within.
Update: There's another Integrity video on Why Marriage Equity in the Church? which has some of our bishops including the Bishop of Maine on Episcopal Cafe.
"Teacher," a student complained, "one of my brother students, whose name I won't mention, is a bad example to all of us. He loves to gossip about other students and point out their failings. And he even criticizes you! He's frequently absent from communal prayer and sleeps during meditation. I also hear that at night he sneaks out to visit the 'bad' girls in the village. Teacher, am I bound to challenge him face-to-face about these sins and failings? Tell me what I should do?""Rather," said the teacher, "go to the village and get yourself a pair of glasses."
It turns the stomach. There is no level of achievement sufficient to escape the stultifying bonds of bigotry. It is impossible to be smart enough or accomplished enough.I do like the way Herbert uses their kind of words against them, even though it undermines my argument for the positive. Sometimes, I just get angry, too. I have bolded the ones I found particularly apt.
The amount of disrespect that has spattered the nomination of Judge Sotomayor is disgusting. She is spoken of, in some circles, as if she were the lowest of the low. Rush Limbaugh — now there’s a genius! — has compared her nomination to a hypothetical nomination of David Duke, a former head of the Ku Klux Klan. “How can a president nominate such a candidate?” Limbaugh asked.
Here’s the thing. Suddenly these hideously pompous and self-righteous white males of the right are all concerned about racism. They’re so concerned that they’re fully capable of finding it in places where it doesn’t for a moment exist. Not just finding it, but being outraged by it to the point of apoplexy. Oh, they tell us, this racism is a bad thing!
Are we supposed to not notice that these are the tribunes of a party that rose to power on the filthy waves of racial demagoguery. I don’t remember hearing their voices or the voices of their intellectual heroes when the Republican Party, as part of its Southern strategy, aggressively courted the bigots who fled the Democratic Party because the Democrats had become insufficiently hostile to blacks.
I recommend you read the whole column. Herbert ends with: "Those types can still cause a lot of trouble, but the ridiculousness of their posture is pretty widely recognized. Thus the desperate howling."
Monday, June 1, 2009
Abba Poemen said about Abba Pior that every single day he made a fresh beginning.Abba Joseph asked Abbot Pastor: "Tell me how I can become a monk." The Elder replied: "If you want to have rest here in this life and also in the next, in every conflict with one another say, 'Who am I?' and judge no one."
May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you,wherever He may send you.May He guide you through the wilderness,protect you through the storm.May He bring you home rejoicingat the wonders he has shown you.May He bring you home rejoicingonce again into our doors.