Thursday, February 19, 2015

Ash Wednesday Homily

Gather together sisters and brothers.
          Sing together psalms and songs of sorrow, dear people.
          Call upon the LORD God, cling to Christ the Savior of the World.
          Confess your sins, known and unknown.
          Be marked with the dust of your very nature.

          Come here, you lonely and abandoned ones.
          You quiet, you reflective.
          You, like David, who have been confronted with your sin, pinned down by a clarifying moment—struck dumb by your Sin revealed, confessing “I’ve seen the enemy and it is me.”
          You, like Joel, overwhelmed by the events of the world and your own helplessness in the face of it all. Found powerless, you do the only thing you can, you kneel in prayer, you search out the warmth of other people, so that sorrow might be shared, and overcome by community, carrying one another and bearing one another.
          Yes, come together in worship and fellowship, gathered together as the body of Christ as we prepare for the coming of resurrected Christ.
          Pray more deeply, in this season that has a chasm’s depth to it.
          Hold more loosely those things that you wish to grasp for
—for our Lord did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped, but humbled himself all the way to the cross.
          Give to those who ask of it, for all has already been given to you.
          Yet listen to the words of Jesus and the Prophets—heed them well. Do these things from the heart and for the sake of your neighbors.
          The Danger is we will try to practice piety in pubic in order to point to ourselves; we get caught on showmanship instead of sorrow for sin.
          This is the opposite of true religion; it’s the opposite of a true Lenten calling. Our actions are not for ourselves—they are to de-center ourselves… to catch us off balance so we are caught in God’s mercy.
          Hear the words of the Prophets—they are cries for repentance, not for public consumption, but as an act of restitution
—justice is not admitting a mistake and moving on, it’s admitting the mistake and making amends.
          In short, it’s not about you. It’s about love of God and love of neighbor—no big surprise there I suppose, we’re Christians after all

          Worship, pray, fast, and give alms, knowing that you will fail at it
—and in that failure you will find the dust of the cross upon your brow again
—you’ll find yourself at the feet of Jesus again
—you’ll find that a space in your soul has been opened, that God might sanctify you in your failure.

          As dear Brother Martin Luther wrote on his death bed 469 years ago today, “We are all beggars; that is true.”
That, that is what we find in this sacred failure of Lent
—we find ourselves dying and being brought back to life by the one who was so profoundly a beggar that:
He veiled himself,
He entered the darkness
He knelt down in the dirt and dust
—the ashes of this Wednesday.
Christ is found in them, Christ is found here.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Five Links 2

As I stated last time, one of the reasons Andrew Sullivan’s blog was so good, was that he commented on EVERYTHING (same reason St. Augustine was so good, but that’s another story). One of the ways he commented on everything was soliciting five links a day from one of his contributors. So, I decided that on an irregular basis I’d try my hand at commenting on five links. Without further adieu here they are!
Kevin Drum of Mother Jones mentions that Scott Walker, if he becomes the Republican Candidate, will be the most conservative nominee since Barry Goldwater. Then the article goes on to mention that Walker’s Midwestern nature hides this fact. That got me thinking about how folk in New Jersey talk about Chris Christie’s chances at becoming the Republican nominee. Essentially, they argue he’s quite liberal, but he’s Jersey tough, maybe even Jersey mean—and meanness can be confused with being conservative.
Think about that for a second. Walker, despite being very conservative, could get the nod because he’s Midwestern nice. Christie, despite being relatively liberal, could get the nod because he’s Jersey mean. Weird.
John Dickerson pointed to Vice President Joe Biden’s recent comment that the next Democratic nominee for president will essentially be running for President Obama’s third term. In other words, “If by third term you mean another 59 months of continuous job growth and falling unemployment, then yes, I’ll be a third term.”
Dickerson doesn’t think this is a good idea for Hillary, who he assumes will be the Democratic Party Nominee. He points out that voters almost always prefer the new to the old… just ask Al Gore about offering America an era of peace and prosperity, a continuation of the 1990’s. I suppose in that way Americans are just like the Athenians, we’re always chasing after something new (Acts 17:21).
Continuing to engage with “Obama’s Niebuhr moment” Douthat cautions conservatives from responding to the President’s non-nuanced reference to the Crusades with even more lack of nuance. Essentially Douthat argues that by rushing to answer the President conservatives have, “produced a lot of arguments that effectively whitewash Christian history, minimize the harge reality of pogroms and persecutions, and otherwise present fat targets for secular eye-rolling.”
So, LutheranCORE, a “reform” group within the ELCA that often times tries to convince ELCA churches to leave the denomination over our “liberal” stance on Gay folk, as well as our willingness to play nice with the Episcopal Church, did an epic troll. That is, no one was paying attention to what they have to say, so they said something really offensive in order to get attention—it’s the internet version of throwing a temper tantrum.
Bishop Mike Rinehart of the Texas Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod recently wrote an open letter to the LGBT community in response to a Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (the 2nd largest Lutheran denomination in the USA) school expelling a student for coming out of the closet.  His post was a pastoral letter addressing a local issue within the confines of his Synod where, because of that news, Lutherans were becoming synonymous with anti-gay bigots.
CORE responded, by issuing their own “Open Letter” to gay folk, in which they purposefully misread the ELCA’s statement on Human Sexuality, and state, on behalf of the ELCA, that gay people are in fact not welcome in the ELCA. They did so repeating key phrases and words so that their statement will pop up first when people look up ELCA, LGBT, and open letter… in other words, if there are gay people and their families hurt by Lutherans, who want to search out this open letter by Bishop Rinehart, they will instead find a letter of unwelcome.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Sermon: Sacred Failure

         Mathematicians spend time trying to solve unsolvable problems. The theory behind this practice is that it makes them better mathematicians, by working toward the unsolvable—it hones their craft…
         Perhaps this is why the Transfiguration exists.
         An impossible story upon which Pastors can hone our craft, sharpen our tongue, become better preachers.
         Knowing, from the beginning that preaching about the Transfiguration is an impossible task…
Let us pray,

         So, knowing I’m about to fail, here’s the deal.
         Peter’s words, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings,” speaks to two halves of the human experience.
         “It’s good for us to be here,” speaks to those who are Spiritual, but not Religious—those who seek the high of Divine experience—a prophetic frenzy, without the moorings of buildings and tradition, and more disastrously community—so the divine, at best, sparks and sputters out, leaving only a shadow behind.
         “Let us make three dwellings,” speaks to those who are Religious, but not Spiritual—those who dimly recognize the divine light among them, and so they do what they can to capture that moment, make a dwelling for that moment—taking the trappings of place, or era, or people there as the central part of that God moment—they take these things and harden those things into an idol

         As you might imagine, both fail…
The first, the Spiritual but not Religious crowd, cedes all control of events, perhaps they make everything an inward blaa, they give up clarity for the sake of expediency.
I can find God in the woods, I can find God without community, I can find God by sleeping in, and at some point they no longer care to find God.
The second, the Religious but not Spiritual folk, muzzles things, stuffs God in all too confining boxes, makes ritual out of righteousness and prescribed acts out of piety.
God is found on this mountain only, you can access God by living among these people only, God only shows up if you wear this particular funny hat.

         To these words of Peter, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings,” —to our own inclinations to Spiritualism and Religiosity—comes the voice of God from a cloud…

         Hey—maybe we’re getting somewhere now… right?
Perhaps it is in those clouds that we find a way to be both religious and spiritual… perhaps if we just listen to the beloved son all will be better… perhaps this is the road to success?

         But those clouds too disappear, just as the prophets and the idea of dwelling places, disappeared.

         There you are—there we are—there is the human condition—right there. All these things lead you into a grave nothingness—no flighty spirituality, no grounding ritual—not even the very voice of God
—there you are, only Jesus. There you are, neither Religious nor Spiritual—there you are, with only Jesus.
         And that sparse reality is a good thing to keep in front of you, as you enter Lent.
         Lent is all about the Spiritual and the Religious—extra worship, prescribed prayers, fasting, almsgiving, a personal piety explosion, chasing after Jesus, boxing Jesus in—ritual and rigor.

         And here’s the thing. Both Spiritual and Religious yearnings and strivings—the basic stuff of Lent—all of it, end in utter failure.
Either we go half-way and recognize we can’t do it—or we go all the way—all the way through the desert, and congratulate ourselves, patting ourselves on the back…
Only then, once we’ve made a right fool of ourselves… then we realize it wasn’t us, it wasn’t our own will that brought us this far, but the faithfulness of God that put that will within us.

         You Spiritual, your transcendent warm fuzzies will float away, clearing like a cloud.
         You Religious, you’ll succeed only by formalizing and forgetting, fixating on the mountain instead of the message.

—either way—we find ourselves in failure,
no prophet,
no dwelling,
no cloud,
no religion,
no spirit
—stripped of all pretentions—only Jesus remains.

         Interestingly the date of Luther’s death—February 18th, will fall on Ash Wednesday this year.
Luther’s dying words were, “We are beggars all; this is true.”
         That right there is the point of Lent—it’s the process of striving, and failing—recognizing that we are beggars.
Sanctification is nothing more than growing in identification with the needy world we are part of.
Growing more profoundly a beggar ourselves, arriving at that place where only Jesus remains.
         It’s dying and being brought to life by the one who was so profoundly a beggar that,
he veiled himself,
he entered the darkness,
he knelt down in the dirt and dust with us.

          Yes, this sermon here is a failure.
         All Transfiguration Sermons, are failures.
         And I thank God for that, for failure.
         It is in that failure we show ourselves for who we are.
         And Christ shows himself for who he is.
         In failure we are left with nothing
         —nothing but Jesus.