Archive for August, 2014

Responding to Collapse

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , on August 31, 2014 by timtrue

Matthew 16:21-28; Romans 12:9-21

Does it ever feel like the world’s collapsing?

In the news recently we’ve been hearing a lot of disheartening things: Gaza, Ferguson, Robin Williams, ISIS.  Some of these things produce sadness; others, perhaps, fear.

But we are the church, the kingdom of heaven being realized on earth.  God so loved the world that he sent his Son to save it.  He healed the sick and befriended sinners.  He taught us to put others first, to turn the other cheek, and to love our enemies.

How then are we supposed to respond to this feeling that the world is collapsing?

How are we supposed to respond to ISIS?

Some of you know the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  He was a German pastor and theologian who came into his own between the two world wars.  A one-time self-proclaimed Pacifist, he took a very different stance when Adolf Hitler’s agenda of genocide became evident.  In fact, he became involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler, rationalizing that in this particular case, the greater good for the world would be to see the world rid of Hitler.  But before the plot was realized, Bonhoeffer was discovered and thrown into a concentration camp, where he was later killed.

Bonhoeffer is a hero, no denying it.  But is this how we as Christians should respond to ISIS?  Would it be okay, even a greater good, to send Jason Bourne-like spies to take out ISIS’s leaders selectively?  Many Christians think so.  But, on the other hand, many others do not.

Peter lived in a world he felt was collapsing.

In today’s Gospel, we encounter him responding to his world.  Jesus is telling him and the other disciples about things to come.  I must go to Jerusalem, Jesus says, where I will suffer at the hands of the religious leaders; and be killed.  But I will rise again.  For I have come into the world bringing a new kingdom, a heavenly kingdom, in which, someday, all will be put to rights.

This is the reality of Peter’s world.  The Roman political system is in place.  That’s how it’s been as long as Peter can remember.  So he, along with Jesus and the other disciples, knows that someone claiming to be a Messiah—someone whose agenda is to establish a new kingdom—will meet political resistance.  Surely he knows that violence is almost certain.

Moreover, the Jewish religious system is in place.  That’s also been the case as long as Peter can remember.  And Jesus doesn’t fit the mold.  He’s ragtag next to the rabbis, scribes, and chief priests.  Surely Peter knows that Jesus will meet resistance here.  Surely Peter knows that suffering and death are a distinct possibility.

But his reaction shows that his world is collapsing: “God forbid it, Lord!  This must never happen to you.”

“Peter, this will happen, as it must.  It is for the greater good.”

“But, Lord, it must not!  I mean, this isn’t how I pictured it.  It can’t be!”

“Peter, Peter, you only just called me the Messiah, the Son of the living God.  And it is so!  But do you so soon forget?  You, the Rock, have become a stumbling block.  You are not thinking divine things, but human things.”

How do we respond to a world that feels like it’s collapsing? How do we know if our responses are divine or human?

One response I’ve seen to life’s complicated questions is that faith is the answer.  I heard this one as an adolescent wrestling through the difficulties of my parents’ divorce.  Family had meant everything to me.  Now my family was no longer together.  Where could I now find purpose?  Jesus Christ will give you purpose, youth leaders told me.  And this is indeed true.  But they went further.  They told me that any depression I felt, that any suffering of soul, any problems I had would be healed by Christ—if only I had enough faith.  Have you ever heard this message?  The problem is that when bouts of depression did come, or other sorts of soul-anguish, it was now my problem.  I didn’t have enough faith.  I wasn’t a strong enough Christian.  That’s why I was suffering.  Yet didn’t even Jesus himself suffer?

Another response I’ve seen: Christianity is the answer.  The people all around us, the Christians we know from church and other parts of life, these are the hands and feet of Jesus.  These are the community in which you will find all manner of joy and blessings, I was told.  Yet—you and I know—as much as we surround ourselves with such a community, we cannot escape pain and suffering.

Then there are the ascetics.  These are Christians who believe that spiritual growth and maturity is actually found in pain and suffering.  Is this the answer to life’s complicated questions?

All I can say to this is, I don’t know.  I don’t know if the people who told me these things were actually responding in the right way to life’s complicated questions.  I don’t know if Dietrich Bonhoeffer did the right thing when he engaged in that assassination plot against Hitler.  I don’t know if the CIA should engage ISIS.  These all seem like human responses to me, not divine responses.  And in that case they would be stumbling blocks, like Peter was to Jesus.

But we do find a divine response to life’s complicated questions—in today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans.

In a word, this divine response is love.  “Let love be genuine,” Paul says.

He then launches into twenty-three imperatives painting a vivid picture for us of what love looks like—twenty-three divine responses to life’s complicated questions.

We don’t have time to consider each of these individually—we’d be here for hours!—so I exhort you to consider them at length later, on your own or with friends.  But I will offer some observations.

First, love is not a feeling.  Elsewhere Jesus tells us to love our enemies.  And we think, “How in the world am I supposed to do that?  I don’t even like my enemies!”  Or we talk about forgiveness: how love forgives.  But how am I to forgive someone who has hurt me so deeply?  A lot of emotion gets wrapped up in our interpersonal relationships.

But look at all the imperatives Paul writes: hate what is evil; hold fast to what is good; outdo one another in showing honor; bless those who persecute you; and so on.  Love is not about how I feel towards another person—whether a friend or an enemy.  Love is what I do for them.

A second observation: love is not about you.  “Bless those who persecute you,” Paul writes.  This goes back to the bit about personal feelings.  Who wants to bless a meanie?  But that’s just what Paul says.  He also says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”  Come alongside your brother or sister who is hurting and just be there for them.  And do the same when they’re happy—even if they’re a meanie.

But what about me, we ask?  What about when I’m happy or weeping?  Where’s my love?

It’s a good question.  And I would hope that your friends and loved ones take Paul’s exhortation to heart—that they do in fact rejoice with you when you rejoice; and that they weep with you when you weep.  But they might not.  And, besides, that’s not the issue here.  It’s not about you in this sense.  Instead, it’s about how you treat others.  It’s about your responsibility to come alongside your neighbor in his or her time of need.  Love is about denying yourself and putting others first.

And a final observation: love forgives without reciprocation.  “Never avenge yourselves,” Paul declares; and my favorite verse in this passage, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

We are to do acts of love—it’s not about how we feel.  We are to put others first, whether the other is friend or enemy—it’s not about me.  So what happens when we feed an enemy, or we give an enemy a cold drink, and that enemy continues to hate us?

This is what happens.  We ask forgiveness where we need to; and we don’t expect our enemy to ask forgiveness from us.  And we forgive; whether or not our enemy forgives us!  Love is not reciprocal.  Love overcomes evil with good.

The world is complicated, certainly.  It saddens us.  It frightens us.  At times it feels like it’s collapsing all around us.

How do we respond?

With love.

With divine, genuine love.

Mocking Hades

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , on August 24, 2014 by timtrue

Matthew 16:13-20

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I’d like to begin today with a game I call Name that God.

This figurine I am now holding is a replica of a well-known sculpture of a Greek god.  I purchased it on a recent trip to California when I was visiting the Getty Villa with my daughter and my mom.  It now sits at home on a bookshelf filled with Greek and Roman mythology.

Do you know which god this is?  If you do, don’t answer out loud—not yet anyway; just raise your hand and keep it raised while I offer some hints.  After my hints I’ll call on someone.

A first hint then: the real sculpture, upon which this figurine is based, is housed in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum on the island of Crete.  Okay, not much of a hint, really, granted.  So:

A second, easier hint: look at the staff he’s holding.  At first glance—out of the corner of my eye—I thought it was a trident.  And that would have been easy: trident = Poseidon, or Neptune as he was called by the Romans.  But it’s not a trident; for there are not three prongs sticking up here, but only two.  What would we call this?  A bident?  Anyway, two prongs.  Do these remind you of something?  Horns, maybe?

A third hint: look at the beast with him.  It’s a dog of some sort.  But it’s not a normal dog, for it has three heads.  This particular dog, named Cerberus, guards the gates of this god’s kingdom.

One more hint: this god’s Roman name is Pluto.

So, who is this god?  What is his Greek name?

Hades.  That’s right!

Now, strange as it may seem to us today, this mythological god actually shows up in today’s Gospel. Did you hear it?

Jesus is talking to Peter.  And he says, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”

The gates of Hades.  The same gates, according to Greek mythology, that are guarded by this three-headed dog, Cerberus.

Really?

Jesus is making a profound theological statement about the establishment of his church.  It is no less than a new kingdom; a kingdom that we know today has surpassed all other kingdoms—even the Roman Empire—in magnitude, importance, and permanence.  It is certain and sure.  It is fixed.  It is reality.

And yet Jesus compares it to a myth?  Really?  What’s he playing at?

Hades. You know, KJV says hell: “The kingdom of hell shall not prevail against it.”  But Hades is the word in the Greek Bible.  And it doesn’t mean the same thing as hell.

When we hear the word hell, we think of a place separate and distinct from other places such as heaven and, maybe, purgatory.  And in this sense what Jesus says rings true: the kingdom of heaven is a separate and distinct place from the kingdom of Hades.

The Christian tradition has taught us to think of these places—hell, heaven, and purgatory—as distinct realms into which souls pass when they are separated from their earthly bodies.  We think of them as separate and distinct places.

But Jesus’s disciples didn’t think this way.

Instead, they thought in terms common to their day and culture.  And to them, the kingdom of Hades was the one place into which all souls passed at death.  All souls: good, bad, or indifferent!

(Hades’ kingdom was divided up into three regions.  But all three comprised the single kingdom.  Tartarus was the region to which the really wicked souls went, something like our idea of hell; Elysium to which the heroic, exceptional souls went, something like our heaven; and the Fields of Asphodel to which everyone else went, much like the medieval understanding of purgatory.  But these were not seen as three separate places, like we see hell, heaven, and purgatory.  Rather, they were all part of the one kingdom of Hades.  That’s why—in another Gospel story—Lazarus, Abraham, and the rich man can see each other in the afterlife; despite the fact that one was in a place of torment and the others in a place of bliss.)

At death, then, as Peter and the disciples understood it, there was no escaping: like it or not, you would pass through the gates of Hades on your way into the underworld.

Unless!  There was one exception: unless you were a god.

Yes, Zeus, Hera, Ares, and all the rest were exempt from the kingdom of Hades.

But now we’re back to mythology.  So what?

So what?  Here’s what’s so what: there were also some others—some people, some mortals—who were claiming in Jesus’s day that they would be exempt from the kingdom of Hades when they died.  Death had no hold on them, they said.  This was no mythology.  This was really going on in Jesus’s day.  This was reality.

So, who were these people, these mortals, who claimed to be exempt from Hades’ kingdom?  The emperors!  Julius Caesar!  Augustus Caesar!

And so, when Jesus says to Peter and the other disciples that the gates of Hades will not prevail against his kingdom, it is not an imagined mythology that he is playing at.  Rather, what Jesus is saying here is magnificent.

Death has no hold over him!  He is the very Son of the living God, the only real and true God!  But his exemption from death is so much better than even what Caesar claims.  Caesar!  Ha!  He claims to be exempt from death.  But can he offer exemption to others?

But Christ!  Not only does death have no hold on him.  Death has no hold on Peter!  Death has no hold on the disciples!  Death has no hold on the entire kingdom of Jesus Christ!  That includes us!

This is the magnificent reality of the kingdom of heaven.  This is the magnificent reality of the church, built upon the rock of Peter’s testimony, upon the rock of the testimony of the disciples, and upon the rock of our own testimony.  Death has no hold on us!  The Lord is risen!  Alleluia!

Now, let’s bring this home. Sad to say, but we see death all around us—or, if you prefer, we see the kingdom of Hades all around us.

It’s in nature: when the leaves fall off the trees every autumn; or when a lioness overcomes an antelope in order to survive.

It’s in things like cancer, or on that sign over the freeway reporting how many traffic fatalities there have been already this year.

And it’s in the bad choices people make: in acts of terrorism and war; or in child abuse or neglect.

But the kingdom of Hades will not prevail against the church!

Wherever we see death gaining a foothold—in creation, in disease, in war, in child abuse—we must confront it with the new life Christ offers.

But I said confront, not avoid.  We confront death with new life.  We don’t avoid the kingdom of Hades.

What do I mean?  Consider Halloween.  It will be here soon.  It’s very popular in our culture.  How will you respond to it this year?

In my many years as a teacher at Christian schools, I’ve seen that there are really two approaches to Halloween.  One is to avoid it.  It’s all about scariness: skeletons, ghosts, vampires, and zombies; just take a look at people’s front yards around here in October.  Scariness!

Some Christians I know are averse to this.  Why would I want to frighten my own child, they ask?  Christianity’s not about fear, but about overcoming fear.  Or, as I’ve heard too, Christianity glories in life; but Halloween glories in death.  Why would I want my kids to glory in death?

This approach to Halloween avoids the kingdom of Hades.

But to confront it looks something like this (and I believe this is the more accurate understanding of Halloween historically).  Halloween means “All Halloweds’ Eve,” or, to put it in terms more familiar to us, the eve of All Saints’ Day.  On All Saints’ Day we celebrate all baptized Christians.  All!  Meaning those now alive and those who have already passed into glory!  Death has no hold over us, or them!

So when we dress up on Halloween as ghosts or goblins or werewolves or hags or whatever, what we’re really doing is confronting death with a statement of mockery.  Ha ha, Hades!  You have no hold over us and we know it, because we have new life in Christ.  In fact, you don’t scare us and we’ll prove it by mocking you!

You see?  The one approach avoids death; the other confronts it with new life.  But this is really just a picture of what we should be doing every day.

We are the church.  And the kingdom of Hades will not prevail against us.

Music to Shut Out Pundits

Posted in Music, Musings with tags , , , , on August 22, 2014 by timtrue

Beethoven

Sometimes I am overcome with the level of truth, beauty, and goodness that humanity produces.

Just viewed this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ljq4MwzAbo

If you’ve got the time and patience, it’s definitely worth a hearing: a recording of Claudio Arrau performing Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 32 in Bonn, Germany in 1977.

Watching Arrau is impressive enough.  He’s definitely a master of masters.  His interpretation is perhaps the best there is to date.  And the technical difficulty!  The music critics of 1820s Vienna said this sonata was unplayable after it was first published–if that gives you any idea.

But Arrau can play it.  So could some other pianists who lived closer to Beethoven’s time.  People who didn’t listen to the critics.  People who continued to believe in the aging Beethoven.

For an example of what I’m talking about, close your eyes right at about 25:20 into the recording.  After a few seconds it will sound like Arrau has three hands.  For there are three distinct voices, in three registers, sounding together!  It’s positively trinitarian.  But then you open your eyes and see that, no, no one has joined Arrau; nor has any Wizard enabled Arrau to grow a third hand.  But close your eyes and there it is again!  Truly genius!  Truly the ancient triad of truth, beauty, and goodness come to life!

Then you remember.  Here, now, already moved to tears, you remember that Beethoven was completely deaf at the time he composed this sonata.

How?

. . .

Moved beyond material existence, you decide then and there to be like Beethoven.  You decide that you’ll be deaf to the critics, to the naysayers, and to the news reports all around you that try to force you into desperation regarding humanity.  Where is the truth, they say?  Where is the goodness?  Where is the beauty?

You can’t answer.  Beethoven has rendered you temporarily speechless.  Instead, you act.  You shut off the TV and those wagging pundits, click on that link I gave you above, and settle into hearing nothing for a half hour but this heavenly music brought to earth.

Finally, then, you recover.  And you say, “Right here, O pundits of pessimism.  Truth, beauty, and goodness–humanity’s splendor–are all right here.  You go ahead and tell your stories.  As for me, I’ll listen to Beethoven.”

Raising a Child in Middle-class America

Posted in Family, Musings with tags , , , on August 20, 2014 by timtrue

$250,000.

That’s the cost of raising a middle class kid these days, according to a figure I read a few days ago.

A quarter million.

A little simple math: five equals $1.25 million.

Or, a little more simple math: that’s $50,000 a year for twenty-five years.

Dang.

That’s more than my annual salary has been for most of my adult life.

So, a few thoughts.

First, no wonder debt is a way of life for most Americans, eh?

Second, this scenario kind of encourages me to live more simply–or at least to want to.  What does “middle class kid” even mean?  A kid who follows all the latest technological trends?  A kid who’s just got to have the latest iPhone, simply because all his friends have one?  A kid who’s more concerned about Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s breakup than she is about her own mom and dad’s relationship?  A kid who thinks name brands and straight teeth will make him a more confident and secure person?  A kid who has no appreciation for history because, hey, everything I could ever want is a product of right now?  A kid who buys into the capitalistic suggestion that the more you spend on something the happier you will be?  A kid who . . . well, you get the picture.

And it gets me thinking.  So much of what constitutes middle-class American life is just so much fluff!  Can’t we cut some corners?  Somewhere?  Isn’t there a way to raise a kid in middle-class America for, say, half that $250,000 mark; and still provide her with adequate education and culture and generally good broughtupsy to make an upstanding citizen in tomorrow’s society?

Then my mind goes to really strange places.  Like to Ovid.  You know Ovid, the classical author who wrote poetry in the time of Augustus Caesar?  Because I think, why can’t middle-class American kids take on cheap hobbies, like writing books instead of gaming?  Ovid wrote poems.  Books and books of them.

But then I remember, oh yeah, Ovid got into trouble for writing books: he published a poem, apparently, that the emperor didn’t like; a poem, apparently, that led to his exile onto an island in the middle of the Black Sea.

Here is a picture from that island, Tomis.

Tomis

Okay.  So it was exile, sure.  There was supposed to be some kind of humiliation in that, I suppose.  But, c’mon!  How bad could it have been?  Alone.  On an island.  Provided for by the emperor’s own hand.  For the rest of his life.  And able to write poetry without interruption.  Unless a muse perchance stopped by.  For tea and, um, conversation, of course.

I bet my muse and I could raise our children quite happily and contentedly on our own island for the rest of our lives, lost to the busy, stress-filled, worrisome, frenetic pace of middle-class America; in the complexities of poetry, music, tea, and, of course, conversation.  For a whole lot cheaper than $250,000 per child too!

Ah, sweet exile.

But I said “a few thoughts.”  So to round out the few, third, back to the reality of middle-class America, my kids are awesome (and so is my muse); I can’t think of a better reason to go into debt.

Who Needs a Board when your Eyes are on the Lord?

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , on August 10, 2014 by timtrue

Peter on water

Matthew 14:22-33

And they cried out in fear.  But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

What kinds of images come to mind when you hear this story?

The image I recall every time I hear it comes from a t-shirt a friend of mine wore in college.  I don’t know why I remember it so well; but it’s there, the memory of this t-shirt, etched on the screen of my mind, in vivid detail.

From a distance the t-shirt’s design looks like something from OP or Roxy or Quicksilver or some other surfwear company.  On it is a beautifully breaking wave, peeling left; and at first glance there’s what seems to be an ordinary surfer riding the face of the wave.  But as you look more closely you see that the surfer is wearing not a swimsuit but a robe with a cincture—not unlike mine—and he’s bearded, with long hair.  After this double take you notice, too, that the surfer in fact has no surfboard, but is barefoot surfing down the face of this beautiful, Pipeline-like wave.

Now curiosity gets the better of you and you decide to read the words on the t-shirt.  On the top, above the image, it says, “Simon Peter’s School of Surf.”  And on the bottom, below the image: “Who needs a board when your eyes are on the Lord?  Matthew 14:29.”

So that’s the image that always comes to my mind when I hear this story—without fail!  And it’s not a bad image.  For as long as Peter’s eyes are on the Lord Jesus, he’s able to walk on the water.  It’s only after he notices his predicament—that there are wind and waves all around him—that he becomes frightened and takes his eyes off Jesus.  And once his eyes are off Jesus, he begins to sink.

We are like Peter: we become frightened; we take our eyes off Jesus; and we begin to sink.

We’ll come back to this image in a little while. But first, let’s look at the other main characters in this story.  Other than Peter there are two, as I see it: the disciples, who make up a kind of collective main character; and Jesus.

As for the disciples, we read that Jesus makes them get into the boat and go on ahead of him.  In other words, Jesus gives his disciples a mission.

This particular mission does not appear to be difficult.  It is simply to row across a lake.  It’s a rather large lake, granted; but no doubt these fishermen have rowed across this lake many times before.  This is a mission for which the disciples are qualified.

But this particular mission becomes difficult.  A strong headwind confronts the disciples; and with it, worrisome waves.  The disciples have to row hard, no doubt rotating responsibilities at the oars whenever one of them becomes too weary to continue.  Mission requires community.

Even so—even with Jesus’s commissioning their mission in the first place; even though the disciples are qualified for this mission; and even working in community—they become frightened.  They see Jesus walking to them in the middle of the night—Jesus comes to them in an unexpected way—and they say, “It’s a ghost!”  In their fear they default to a belief in the paranormal rather than the supernatural—even though they just witnessed Jesus perform an amazing miracle, the feeding of the 5,000.

How often do we do the same!  Jesus commissions us as his disciples to go forth and make more disciples, of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  That is our mission.  And it’s a mission for which we are qualified, especially as a community of disciples—especially as a church.

But we get to work on this mission and things don’t go as we expect.  We begin to question Jesus’s commission.  What if San Antonio doesn’t want to hear our message of good news?  What if our theme of radical hospitality ends up attracting the wrong sorts of people?  What if the church gets vandalized?  Or robbed?  What if . . . ?

Yet the story is not over.  The disciples are frightened, yes.  They fear when Jesus draws near to them in an unexpected way.  But they quickly recognize Jesus as God.  “Take heart,” Jesus says, “it is I; do not be afraid.”  And, collectively, they worship him and confess, “Truly you are the son of God.”

As for the character Jesus, he sends the disciples ahead and finally has that alone time he has been craving. Remember?  He had crossed the lake with his disciples to a deserted place where he hoped to spend some time in prayer.  But a large crowd followed him; so he healed them, spoke to them, and fed them.  Now the crowd has dispersed, he sends his disciples on a mission to go back across the lake, and he stays behind to pray.

Talk about a beautiful image!  A storm is brewing.  The disciples are becoming more and more worried out on the lake.  There is a sense of urgency—the “tyranny of the urgent”!  Yet even this urgency does not trump Jesus’s discipline of prayer.

Then there’s the image of Jesus walking on the water, going out to the disciples, showing them that he is master of all; and that despite their fear they have no reason whatever to fear.

But the real clincher for me comes in Jesus’s words: “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

There is real power in words.  In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, it was through words.  “And God said, let there be light,” and so on.  Words.  Jesus himself is called the Word of God; through him the Father is revealed.

So, words are powerful.  And here Jesus says, “Take heart, it is I”; or even more simply, “it is I.”

What’s so important about these words, it is I?  Another way to say them is, I am.  In fact, if you were to read the Greek translation of the story where Moses stands in front of the burning bush and asks, “Whom shall I say sent me?” these exact words appear.  It is I.  I am.

Thus, when Jesus approaches the disciples who are terrified and thinking they’re seeing a ghost, Jesus is really saying, “Take heart.  I am God.  Do not fear.”

Take heart, St. Luke’s.  As we go about our mission to make disciples and baptize; and as we begin to fear that maybe our mission is too difficult for us and we start asking all those “what if” questions, remember: Take heart.  Jesus is God.  Do not be afraid.

Now to come back to Peter.

You gotta love him!  He hears these words, “Take heart, it is I,” and he goes from one extreme to another, from abject fear to joy-filled belief.  It’s like his faith meter suddenly pegs out—like that time when he says, “Lord, I’ll never wash your feet”; but in the next breath says, “Well, not just your feet, then, but your whole body!”  There’s something endearing about his impulsiveness, right?

At that moment when Jesus says, “It is I,” Peter is suddenly entirely fixated upon Jesus.  All of a sudden it doesn’t matter that there is a storm raging all around him; or that other disciples are wearying themselves at the oars; or that walking on water is technically impossible.  Never mind all that!  My Lord is here and speaking to me!

That’s endearing.  We all want that kind of faith and focus.

But in the next moment Peter falters.  The fixation is gone and reality begins to set in.  There is in fact a storm raging all around him, the other disciples are in fact struggling, and—I know Jesus is walking on the water, but he’s God!  He just said so.  What am I doing out here?

“Lord, save me!”

We’ve all been there!  Like Peter, we live in community with others.  In our community of disciples known as St. Luke’s, we share a common focus.  We gather around one altar.  We share a common mission.  But we are also individuals.  We each have our own individual experiences with Christ—highs, lows, and middles.  Our individual faith meters go up and down continuously.  Like Peter, we experience high times of joyous belief; but also low times of questioning and distraction.  We begin to sink.

But our Lord is not so focused on the mission that he neglects the individual.  At just this point, when Peter begins to sink, Jesus, the Word of God, God himself, reaches out his strong hand, lifts Peter up, and walks him into the boat.  And when they get into the boat, the wind ceases; and the disciples worship him.

Take heart.  Jesus is God.  He is accomplishing his mission.  But also, this same Jesus—who calms the wind and the waves and the disciples’ fears—cares for each one of you as individuals.

When you fear, he is right there, immediately; and he says to you, “Take heart, I am God.  Do not be afraid.”

Blighters Rock

Posted in Musings with tags on August 10, 2014 by timtrue

images

Blighter is something of a derogatory term.  Like I wouldn’t call my son a little blighter.  I might call someone else’s son a little blighter, especially if that little blighter were doing something mean to my little, eh hem, incarnation of perfection.

I don’t do well with mean.  Bullies suck.  Persons who use threats or intimidation to get their way ought to be exiled to their own dreadful country to threaten and intimidate each other away into oblivion.  Just my opinion, sure.  But it gives you a window into my worldview.

On this note, Jesus was so not mean.  He didn’t bully, threaten, intimidate, coerce, force, or use violence to get his way.  Yeah, he overturned the tables at the Temple once.  But these were tables, not people.  I’m willing to assume no one got hurt.  Except for maybe a sacrificial bird or two.  But remember that episode in the garden, that time when Peter drew a sword and lopped off some guy’s ear?  What did Jesus do then?  He picked up the ear and miraculously reattached it and healed the guy.  A guy who intended to harm Jesus!  Violently!

No, Jesus was no bully.

Jesus was no blighter either.

But why do I say “blighters rock” in my title?

Truthfully, it’s an adapted spoonerism.  I’ve been experiencing some writer’s block recently with my blog, so I thought I’d blog about it.  But to put “writer’s block” as my title is plainly and simply boring.  And “blighter’s wrock” is confusing.  So I’ve changed the spelling to form sensible words.  It still sounds the same, just spelled sensibly.  So then would this be called a homophonic spoonerism?

Anyway it has nothing to do with my opinion of blighters, bullies, intimidators, coercers, hazers, and other such fools.

But that’s just the thing with spoonerisms.

Sure, sometimes they work well, like instead of “I’m gonna take a shower” I say “shake a tower.”  Here it makes perfect sense both in sound and spelling.  But if I’m barbequing hamburgers for dinner, bound grief makes a lot more sense than bound greef, though technically the spelling of the latter is the true spoonerism for ground beef.

Yet when someone hears me say, “Please go grab the bound greef from the fridge,” they’re actually thinking “bound grief.”  A quarter pound of it, in fact, with a little cilantro and garlic mixed in for good measure, all worked into a patty ready for charcoal heat.  And don’t forget to kill the grail–I mean, grill the kale.

So I’m all in favor of homophonic rather than technical spoonerisms.

Just saying.

There is another reason I’m in favor of homophonic spoonerisms, by the way.  It has to do with the boring aspect I mentioned above.  Homophonics are simply more fun when it comes to relaying messages.

For instance:

Hear Dunny,

Dawn to the boar to guy stinner.  Sut do you weigh?  Milet fignon, wed rhine, and grotatoes pow oughten?  Thinking about a sedge talad woo, with pandied kecans, slapple ices, chorgonzola jeez, and walnuts.  If you get foam by clive o’hawk and ink of thanything else, sieve me a gall on my kell.

Mauve, Lee

Translation:

Dear Honey,

Gone to the store to buy dinner.  What do you say?  Filet mignon, red wine, and potatoes au gratin?  Thinking about a wedge salad too, with candied pecans, apple slices, gorgonzola cheese, and walnuts.  If you get home by five o’clock and think of anything else, give me a call on my cell.

Love, Me

You see?  It’s more fun this way.  Besides, this is a blog for the kids.  And if I don’t change the spelling–if I go for technical over homophonic–I get “Shat do you way?” as my question.  Not only does this change the sound significantly, it brings a PG-13 rated word into the mix, or at least the past tense of it.

Well, that’s my blighter’s attempt to unrock.  Think I’ll shake a tower now.

From Nazareth to a Deserted Place

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , on August 3, 2014 by timtrue

Matthew 14:13-21

Maybe it was the fact that John the Baptist had recently been beheaded.

John!  His own cousin!  The one who had gone before him preaching repentance and proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom.  The one whom Herod the Tetrarch had locked in prison on account of a personal vendetta.

Ha!  Herod the Tetrarch—that fox!  More like Herod the Puppet!  Caught between a rock and a couple hard places—between a strong desire to satisfy his personal agenda, the Roman political hierarchy, and the pressures of the masses!  Oh, how Herod feared the masses!

So maybe it was out of grief for his cousin.

Or maybe it was the fact the he had recently been rejected by his home town.

He had come to them, the people of his home town, as a prophet, full of wisdom and power.  But who was he to them?  Simply a carpenter’s son.  To them, he had overstepped his social boundaries.  To them, he was an upstart, a know-it-all, too big for his own britches.

Having come to them as a prophet, then, and having been rejected as many prophets before him had been, wasn’t it the prophet’s natural course to retreat, to withdraw to a deserted place for a time during which he would commune with God the Father?

Maybe so: maybe he was acting as a prophet.

Or maybe he was simply an introvert and needed some time to himself to recharge.

Or maybe it was a combination of all these things.

Whatever the case, we read that Jesus withdraws from Nazareth to a deserted place.

This contrast—from Nazareth to a deserted place—is an important one to get into our minds; for it sets the stage for more contrasts that follow, significant contrasts, from which we can learn a great deal.

So what is so important about this contrast?  It’s just the same old story of town mouse and country mouse, right?  Jesus spends some time in the town, in Nazareth, and runs into some difficulty there; so he moves out to the country, where folks understand him better, where folks “get” him.

Well, yes and no.  Yes, he did run into some difficulty in Nazareth; and yes, the folks in the country did “get” him.  But no, it’s not so simple as that.

In Nazareth there was an established social order.  This is why Jesus’s home town rejected him in the first place: because he was bucking the established social order.  And if we were to trace this social order up, we would see that it doesn’t stop at the borders of Nazareth.  It continues beyond these borders, up through Galilee, up through Judea and all Samaria, up through Herod’s Tetrarchy, and so on up through the Roman Empire.

But when Jesus withdraws to a deserted place he is effectively withdrawing to an alternative social order.  He expects to be alone; but the fact that crowds follow him is the same thing as saying these crowds of people are seeking an alternative social order too, the social order of a new kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven.

But this alternative social order—Jesus’s social order—is not based on status and imperial brutality.  Jesus’s social order is based on compassion.

Here’s a fun Bible fact—something to arm yourselves with the next time you play a game of Bible trivia: this story, the feeding of the 5,000, is the only miracle to show up in all four Gospels.

But, I ask, is this just trivia?  At the very least, this factoid suggests that this story was highly important to the early church.  Jesus has just left his home town and is grieving the death of his cousin John.  He’s looking for time alone.  But, instead, he finds a crowd waiting for him; and he puts the crowd ahead of himself.  He pours out love on them in a very tangible way.

Jesus loves the multitudes, the commoners, the crowd, the plebs, the socially disadvantaged, the less-than-desirables, the untouchables—whatever you want to call them—Jesus loves the people who are otherwise relatively insignificant on the world’s stage—the people who are at the bottom of the social pecking order.  Jesus loves and cares for them!  Jesus loves and cares for us!

This message of love was extremely important to the writers of the Gospels; this message of love is extremely important to our world today.

So I mentioned that this contrast is important because it sets the stage for other contrasts that follow.  I don’t just mean the other contrasts in the text either, though there are many.  I mean these and the many contrasts we face in our twenty-first-century lives from day to day.

Consider this contrast: Jesus goes out to a place to be alone; but finds a multitude.

You can imagine this scenario pretty easily, can’t you?  You’ve been working hard all day and things haven’t been going particularly well.  You’ve been criticized today by your boss, questioned, perhaps even insulted.  And if that weren’t already frustrating enough, you then get a phone call telling you some bad news, some news that in fact brings you grief.

In this state of mind and heart you end your day; you drive home looking forward to some peace and quiet, some time to be alone with your own thoughts and loved ones, some time to recharge.  But as you pull into your driveway you get another phone call: some old friends happen to be passing through town and are in fact just a few minutes away—imagine that!—and what are you doing for dinner?

What do you do?  I’ll tell you what Jesus did: Jesus, who was seeking a quiet place, where he could enjoy a time of inaction, a time of passivity.  Instead—despite the disciples’ suggestion to send the crowds away—we read all sorts of action words: Jesus saw, had compassion, cured, ordered, took, looked, blessed, broke, and gave.  Instead of recharging through a time of passive inactivity, Jesus acted.  Would you do the same?  Could you do the same?

Another contrast for us to consider: the disciples and the crowd looked around and saw scarcity.  Only five loaves and two fish?  What can anyone do with so little?  Yet after Jesus blessed, broke, and gave, the disciples and the crowd ate until they were filled, with a great abundance left over.

Now I’m not suggesting here that the disciples did anything wrong.  They looked around at their situation and saw what you and I would see and were perfectly reasonable about it: There are only five loaves and two fish; there’s no way in the world this small amount could feed more than a few people.  That’s a perfectly rational assessment.

But this passage begins with a sort of ho-hum feel, that this is just another day in the life of Jesus, just Jesus doing what he does, his routine; but it ends with a sense of wonder coming upon everyone.  Five loaves and two fish feed five thousand men—not to mention the women and children?  How can this be?

Here’s a lesson from this contrast: we need to live our routine lives—our lives that can tend to feel ho-hum—looking for wonder.  Where is God at work when you have those terrible days, when work or school is a bear, when you receive a grief-generating phone call, or when unexpected guests arrive at an inconvenient time?  God is there.  God is everywhere.  Look for him.  You just might find him—and be wonderstruck!

Well, there are several other contrasts worthy of consideration in this passage. But I will end my consideration here.  Yours doesn’t have to though.  Why not go home tonight and contemplate this story some more?  Or tomorrow?  Contemplating the scriptures doesn’t have to take place only during worship.

But now I want to bring it all together.  Tonight we’ve heard again this familiar story of Jesus feeding the five thousand.  And we’ve contemplated it through a frame of contrasts.  What take-home lesson is there for us?

Just this: Jesus’s Kingdom presents a dramatic contrast to the kingdom of our world.  His is a Kingdom of equality and peace.  In it there is no social pecking order; no compulsion by force or threat of violence.

You who call yourselves Christians, then, are in something of a difficult place; for you have dual citizenship: in Christ’s Kingdom and in the world.  It’s when the values of these two kingdoms clash that you must make difficult decisions: to follow the way of Christ or the way of the world.

Here it is then, our take-home lesson: when these clashes come, always, always, always, choose Christ.  Choose the way of the desert.  Go there expecting to meet with God, expecting to recharge spiritually.  But go there, too, expecting to be wonderstruck by what God will do.