Archive for Baptism

Chaos Baptized

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2020 by timtrue

The following sermon was delivered to St. John’s Episcopal Church in Bisbee, Arizona and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Douglas, Arizona on Sunday, January 12, 2020. I am engaged in pulpit-supply work with these two congregations through March. My approach, through these sermons, is to offer a 12-week survey of who the historical Jesus really was; and our reasonable response to him today as his followers–a response (spoiler alert) that looks hardly anything like modern evangelicalism. (Sorry to all my friends who think so, but Jesus would never have advocated for a border wall or a president who is hell-bent on building one. And that’s just one of many examples!) So, the sermon below is number 2 of 12. If you missed number 1, see “A Baby’s Dependence.” As always, feel free to let me know your thoughts. All best!

Matthew 3:13-17

1.

Why was Jesus baptized?

John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance; and yet Jesus was God made man—perfect, sinless! John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance; yet Jesus had no need of repentance.

It’s a paradox, isn’t it?

Hence my question: why was Jesus baptized?

Jesus, the creeds tell us, is fully God and fully human. So, does his full humanness mean that he does in fact have some sort of pre-baptismal sin attached to him, some part of his humanity that needs to be washed away?

Is that it? Does Jesus need to repent from original sin?

But John’s reaction to Jesus is suggestive. Incredulous, John asks, “You want me to baptize you?”

I wonder, does Jesus’ baptism end up compromising his full godliness?

Ugh! I’m so confused! Why was Jesus baptized?

One commentator suggests that Jesus is demonstrating a new, purer kind of righteousness. He gets this from Jesus’ words to John, “For it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”

According to this commentator, there is an old righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, a kind of forensic, legal righteousness; plus—now, with Jesus—a new kind of righteousness, a pure righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.

So, wait, are you saying Jesus needed to repent of the old righteousness in order to usher in the new righteousness? I’m still so confused!

2.

Truth is, the scriptures aren’t clear. Truth is, too, theologians have been debating this question for two millennia; and still there’s no consensus.

Well, then, where does this leave us? I mean, that’s no fun: a paradox with no answer; and then, “See you next week!”

No, I’m not going to leave us hanging. Instead, in good Episcopal fashion, I want to bring some tradition and reason into the mix.

Looking to tradition, then, our Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer calls Holy Baptism a sacrament.

Well, what’s a sacrament? Our Catechism answers that too: “Sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace.”

Baptism, a sacrament, is an outward sign of God’s grace at work in us.

Now, connecting this to what we heard in today’s Gospel, repentance is part of the equation too. The Catechism asks, “What is required of us at Baptism?” And the answer: “It is required that we renounce Satan, repent of our sins, and accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.”

Repentance! Did you hear it?

But—did you hear this too?—repentance is only part of what takes place during this mysterious work of God.

Here is a clue to the answer we seek. Repentance is only part of the picture.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is baptized by John, whose baptism is called a baptism of repentance.

But, also:

Jesus comes up out of the water and a voice from heaven declares, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased”;

Jesus is demonstrating to the world around him that God is at work—that God’s transforming grace is at hand; and that he will be the agent of this transforming grace.

I’ll say it again, there’s a lot more going on here than simply repentance.

3.

Now let’s bring reason into the mix.

Reflect with me for a moment on what water symbolizes. Two things:

First, water cleanses.

We shower to cleanse our bodies from the grime of the day.

And we all know the story of Jesus washing Peter’s feet. Peter said, “Well, then, why just my feet? Why not my whole body?” To which Jesus answered, “Only your feet are dirty.”

Water cleanses. Which fits with the idea of repentance, washing sins away.

But, second, water is symbolic of something else, seen throughout the scriptures: chaos.

In the beginning, when everything was formless and void, when all was chaos, God was there; and the breath, or wind, or spirit of God (any translation is acceptable) hovered over the chaos—the waters.

In Genesis 6, a chaotic flood transformed the world. Chaos–and yet, God is there.

In Exodus we read of a people passing through the Red Sea and its closing up. Through this transformation the Israelites were delivered from slavery, oppression, and chaos into something new.

And over in Job we hear of a marvelous creature named Leviathan, the epitome of chaos itself, dwelling in the oceans; and yet God treats this monster as a tame pet.

Do you see? Chaos is baptized.

Put these symbols together—cleansing and chaos; cleansing in chaos; cleansing through chaos—and the most important aspect of baptism rises buoyantly to the surface: transformation.

Our baptism is the outward sign of God transforming us from the chaos of this fallen world into the perfect image of Jesus Christ.

4.

Rodger, a Presbyterian pastor, tells the story of a young man named Kyle:

Kyle was nowhere to be found, and I missed him. In the weeks following his baptism and confirmation on Pentecost Sunday, he was noticeably missing. Several other members of the confirmation class asked about him too, as did his confirmation mentor. Kyle and his family had come to the congregation when he was in the fifth grade. They attended sporadically, so I was more than a little surprised when I asked him and his parents if he was interested in joining the confirmation class and they responded positively. In this congregation, the confirmation class happened during the ninth-grade school year. . . . Kyle and his parents came for the orientation meeting and agreed to the covenant to participate in two retreats, a mission activity, work with a mentor, and weekly classes for study and exploration. Kyle was serious in attending and missed a class or event rarely. He quickly became a significant part of the group and developed some wonderful friendships with the other ninth-graders who had barely known him. Since Kyle had not yet been baptized, he was not only confirmed but also baptized on Pentecost Sunday. It was a marvelous celebration for all the confirmands, their families, and their mentors.

That is pretty much where it ended. That is when I knew I had done something wrong. When I checked in with Kyle and his folks, they all seemed a little surprised that I was calling and checking up on them. I distinctly remember his mother saying, “Oh, well, I guess I thought Kyle was all done. I mean, he was baptized and confirmed and everything. Isn’t he done?”[i]

Isn’t he done?

Rodger’s story strikes a dissonant chord; and it’s a chord that’s all too common in our day. We like to accomplish things, sure; we like to be productive. And so when it comes to church, a lot of people seem to think that baptism is a sort of culmination. Whether it’s an infant, a child, a youth, or an adult, all too often baptism has the effect of a box to check off our spiritual list.

But it wasn’t this way with Jesus.

Jesus’ baptism is not the end of his ministry but rather just the beginning.

Why should it be any different for us?

Our baptism marks just the beginning of an entire transformation process—an ongoing, life-long process.

Now, look around. Is this transformation process done? Do we see the promises of scripture being realized all around us?

Is there worldwide peace in our day? Has disease and death been conquered once and for all? Is St. John’s/St. Stephen’s doing its part to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, liberate the captives, and otherwise spread the Good News of Christ?

By no means are we done! Don’t you dare check off that box!

Your baptism was no such thing as a culmination; rather it was a beginning, a commissioning: the outward expression of the start of an incredible, life-long transformation into the perfect image of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Wherever you are in this transformation process, it’s not too late. If you’ve set your shoes aside, put them on again, lace them up, and run the race with perseverance once more!

So, now, I ask again: Why was Jesus baptized?

Because, maybe:

In Jesus’ baptism, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit demonstrate to the world incontrovertibly that the Trinity has begun a new thing, a mysterious thing, a thing that somehow combines and mixes up grace and repentance and water and chaos in order to yield transformation.

In Jesus’ baptism—and in ours—God is transforming the world into what God created it to be.

[i] David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1 (Louisville, Westminster John Knox: 2010). 236, 238.

A Baby’s Dependence

Posted in Doing Church, Homilies with tags , , , , , on January 7, 2020 by timtrue

The following homily, below the photo, was delivered on January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany, at St. Philip’s in the Hills Episcopal Church in Tucson, Arizona. At this service I also had the privilege of baptizing my first granddaughter, seen in this photo.

OMS baptism

Matthew 2:1-12

1.

Today marks the 12th day of Christmas, the Epiphany, 12 drummers drumming.

Back on Christmas Eve, the 1st day of Christmas (technically), we heard about a sign: this will be a sign for you; you will find a baby in a manger.

A sign: a baby.

And today, as we complete this journey, the wise men from the East, the magi, who followed a star, find this sign, the baby in a manger; and they present this baby with incredible gifts, kingly gifts, gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The Epiphany is the feast when we celebrate this part of this remarkable story: when the wise men from the East find the sign, the baby in the manger. Jesus is an epiphany to the world. God is not just for the Jewish people, but for all people.

We remember this baby in the church calendar by celebrating year after year the twelve days of Christmas. We feast sumptuously. We pull out all the stops—both literally, with the organ and choir and a special orchestra; and figuratively, decking the halls with candles and wreaths and so on. Our main liturgical color is white, which symbolizes resurrection, hope, new life.

But what happens on January 7th, the day after the Epiphany?

The decorations get put away, the wise men make their long journey home, the main liturgical color returns to green.

Green time is called referred to as ordinary time. On the day after the Epiphany we return to ordinary time. Ho hum.

And so, I’ve heard it said that, on the day after the Epiphany—after the wise men from the East showed up and gave their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh; and after they began their long journey home—the next day, January 7th, three rather ordinary women show up, some of Mary’s friends, and they give ordinary gifts: bottles, diapers, and a stroller.

But, of course, these are just ordinary women bringing ordinary gifts, so we don’t celebrate a feast for them. We’ve returned to green. Ho hum.

2.

But, really, a baby? What do you think Mary would have been more excited about? Gold, frankincense, and myrrh; or bottles, diapers, and a stroller?

As many of you know, a baby recently entered my life: my first grandbaby. In fact, I will be baptizing her in a few minutes. Can I tell you a little bit about her?

So, as is always the case, we knew she’d be arriving soon. For us this meant somewhere around the end of October or the beginning of November. So, you know how it is, we prepared for the baby’s arrival. Kind of like Advent.

The parents live in Yuma, about 3.5 hours by car from our house. So, around Oct. 20, we told our daughter, “We’re packed and ready to go at a moment’s notice. Just text us when you go into labor.”

And we were! Overnight bags sat by the door. Arrangements had been made at work.

Then, on Nov. 1, at 7:15 am, just as I was about to head out the door to work, I got the text.

Now, Holly, my wife, was already on her way to work, heading west on I-10 with our son. So, I called her and said, “Turn around. She’s in labor!” Which Holly did.

And somehow we tied up all the necessary loose ends and managed to get on the road by 8 am, placing us in the Yuma Regional parking lot at 11:20.

Good thing too, for we poked our heads in the hospital room and said our hellos to our daughter and son in-law; and after only a few minutes my daughter said, “Dad; can you get the nurse? I think it’s happening!”

Well, it was. And just like that, at 12:51 pm on All Saints’ Day, weighing in at 7 lbs., 5 oz., and measuring 19 inches, we welcomed this brand new baby girl into the world.

And you can be certain: diapers, bottles, onesies, and even a stroller were waiting for her.

But there wasn’t any gold, frankincense, or myrrh.

Now, here’s the thing: here’s where I’m going with this.

Babies are wonderful—and cute; and they fill us with joy and gladness. But they’re also deeply dependent upon us.

Babies need other people—to the point that those other people—us—we have to take a break from “normal” life for a season.

We revolve our lives around the babies we welcome into the world. We and the babies we love become intimately and intricately wrapped up in each other’s details.

This is natural. This is normal. It is an image we all know and understand.

And it is the image by which God was made known to the world.

For to you will be a sign, an epiphany: a baby in a manger.

3.

Isn’t this incredible? Think this through with me.

Before this sign, this Epiphany, throughout the ancient world the predominant image of God was a king. And it wasn’t just the Jews. The Greeks and Romans had their pantheon with Zeus sitting on his throne, ruling the worlds of the gods and humans from on high, above Mount Olympus, the king of the gods.

So, what if our predominant image of God is that of a king? What does this image do for us?

A good king makes wise decisions. A good king protects and provides for his people.

So far, so good.

But what happens when we push back a little? What happens when we ask a question like, “How does our king protect us?”

Well, historically, it’s been through military strength and might.

And when we envision God predominantly as our king, don’t we end up wanting our God to be the strongest and mightiest king ever, the king of kings and lord of lords? It’s a natural inclination. I mean, after all, God is the best, right?

So, here’s where we take it—or, at least, here’s where history took it. We think, “We have our freedoms, freedoms given to us by God our king. And we want to keep these freedoms. And, really, wouldn’t it be best if everyone else could experience these same freedoms?”

So, taking its cue from the Roman Empire, the church sought to establish and maintain a Holy Roman Empire—mainly through force!

Through military might, known as the Crusades!

And through strength, known as the Explorations into the New World!

And today—2020—hindsight shows us how many lives were lost senselessly—because God our king, we told ourselves, wanted to expand his empire.

Really, do we want our predominant image of God to be a king?

By the way, since I’ve brought it up, here’s something else a king does: A king rules and reigns from on high. A king makes his decisions from some far-off place. A king is aloof. A king has very little concern for us in our details; in our day-to-day lives.

So, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my predominant image of God to be that of an aloof king, detached, not really concerned with my day-to-day life; exercising strength, might, force, and violence to get his way.

Instead, I rather like the image of a baby: that of God being intimately and intricately tangled up in the messy details of my life, unconditionally loving me as a newborn loves her mother.

What about you?

Maybe this is why, when the fulness of the time had come—when the dawn of a new era was made known to all humanity—when the Epiphany at last took place—when the new way of love was forever established—maybe this is why the image of God was not a king in all his regal splendor with his royal retinue, but a baby in a manger.

4.

To bring this all home, then, I ask us all a question: What if we, the church, as people desiring to follow God through Christ—what if we were to take this shift in divine imagery seriously?

What impacts might this shift make on our life together? What might this shift do to our liturgy? Our music? Our art? Our vestments? Our processions? Our architecture? Our outreach?

It works something like this. Take the idea that a baby is utterly dependent on the people who love her. Now, apply this to God. If we are to take the image of God as a baby seriously, then we must entertain the idea that, at least in some way, God is utterly dependent on us.

Well, that’s preposterous! God doesn’t need us!

Or is it?

Jesus came to bring good news to all people: to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, and to set captives free. These are real acts, tangible acts, messy acts. You know, this mission fails without us. And thus, in this way at least, God is utterly dependent on us, the church: to accomplish Christ’s mission.

The image of God as a baby reminds us that God is intimately and intricately tangled up in the messy details of our lives; and that God is not there to judge us but, rather, like a dependent baby, to love us unconditionally.

Do you see how this works? Doesn’t pondering this shift in divine imagery seem worthwhile?

The image of God as a baby isn’t just some sweet story to bring a little cheer to our winter blues year after year. Rather, taken seriously, it is nothing short of revolutionary—like everything else about Jesus.

Not the Prim, Proper, and Perfumed

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , on January 31, 2019 by timtrue

Delivered at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Temecula, California on the First Sunday after the Epiphany, January 13, 2019, also known as the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord.

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

1.

No one is getting baptized here today.

Still, today we gather around the liturgy of baptism. Today is the first Sunday after the Epiphany, the day on our church calendar when we celebrate the Feast of our Lord’s baptism.

Jesus was right there with everyone else in the crowd that day, waiting in line to be baptized in the Jordan by that enigmatic character John, a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

What do you think Jesus experienced on that day?

What did that crowd look like, “filled with expectation . . . questioning in their hearts . . . whether [John] might be the Messiah”?

Did the line of people stretch farther than the eye could see? Or was the “crowd,” say, only about twenty people?

Were the people mostly young; or a good mix of all ages, including children? Or were they only men, representing their households?

What kinds of disabilities would Jesus have seen?

What kinds of clothes did the people wear? How dirty were they?

Then, what do you think Jesus overheard the crowd around him discussing? The people were filled with expectation about John’s identity, Luke says. So, what were the topics of their conversations? Religion? Politics? Small talk? Gossip about their neighbors?

And what do you think they smelled like? Lunch? Livestock? Body odor?

2.

My, how times have changed!

What picture comes to your mind today when you hear the word churchgoer? What does the crowd we find ourselves a part of today look, sound, and smell like?

Here’s what comes to my mind, a picture from the late 1980s, when I first began to attend church regularly.

I was 18 or 19 years old, never been in church more than a few times. My eyes had recently been opened to the saving knowledge of the 1980s soCal conservative evangelical image of Jesus—all gentleness and blue eyes and flowing blond hair . . . like some surfers I knew.

Jesus wasn’t like those other surfers, the ones living out of their beat-up Volkswagen vans, somehow managing to eke out livings repairing surfboards and painting fences for the friend of a friend.

No, Jesus was one of the good guys, like the surfers who managed In-N-Out Burger chains, a good job to come by, especially since they print “John 3:16” on the bottoms of their drink cups. These surfers drove respectable vehicles, pickup trucks or hatchbacks.

And the families that these gentle surfers came from—well, now, there’s a picture to behold! The dads wore ties that matched their socks and the moms wore perfectly coordinated ensembles, often with three or four little siblings in tow, just as prim and proper as their parents, hair braided or gelled, always on time.

They behaved perfectly too, in church or out, from what I could tell anyway.

And as for their smell: just one whiff and I knew, yes, here was the perfume, aftershave, and deodorant of the Promised Land.

Churchgoers par excellence!

3.

Jesus came and stood in line with the crowd to be baptized by John. John’s message was repentance. Repentance means to turn and head in a different direction. By the looks, sounds, and smells of churchgoers today, well, we’ve repented all right!

But is this what baptism is about? Our actions?

When we come to the waters of baptism, we make a public statement expressing our repentance for the forgiveness of sins. In other words, we don’t want to live the old way anymore; but new life in Christ!

And, as we all know, the old way of life looked, sounded, and smelled like the crowd that was with Jesus on that day so many years ago on the bank of the River Jordan.

The new life is different. We mind our p’s and q’s now! We need to have everything together, to live out a life that honors Christ. Or at least we need to look like we do.

Really?

What if I change the term from churchgoer to seeker? What image comes to mind now, of a person truly seeking Jesus today?

Wise people? Magi?

Sometimes. In fact, we considered this image last week.

But, also, what about the poor, the sick, and the marginalized? What images come to mind here? Homeless persons? AIDS victims? Criminals? Do they seek Jesus too?

Seekers are not always the people we like to envision. Seekers might not fit our prim, proper, and perfumed expectations. Seekers might make us uncomfortable.

4.

So, today we remember our Lord’s baptism.

Baptism is an act; and thus, logically, we associate actions with our baptism: the clothes we wear, the things we say, how we come across to others, how we express what we believe.

But the Gospel of Luke does something different today.

There’s Jesus, standing in line with the crowd of seekers, waiting his turn to be baptized; Jesus, taking in all those sights, sounds, and smells; Jesus, himself contributing to all those sights, sounds, and smells.

But Luke passes this over as if it’s no big deal.

Just like that, Jesus is baptized along with everyone else and it’s time for the story to move on. No lingering here; no detailed development like with the birth narrative. Just, bam! And it’s over.

This is a very different telling from we hear in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, the versions we will hear on this Feast day over the next two years, which are both much more detailed.

But Luke is low-key; as if to say we shouldn’t make too much out of the act of baptism—or the things we do in our new life.

Even so, there is a little detail Luke adds to the story that we mustn’t overlook, a small yet profound phrase Matthew and Mark leave out. Luke glosses over the action and instead says Jesus “was praying.”

After everyone is baptized and before the heavens open and the heavenly voice booms—right in between!—Jesus prays.

In fact, the way Luke tells it, the Spirit descends bodily and the heavenly voice resounds not as a part of his baptism but because Jesus prays. The prayer of Jesus is the cause; the dove and God’s voice are the effects.

This unique-to-Luke detail arrests our attention today.

No one from our congregation is getting baptized; the rite will not be enacted today at St. Thomas.

But that’s perfectly appropriate; because the actions in and around our baptism—how we look, sound, or smell in our new life—are not Luke’s point! Rather, today Luke declares that the baptized life is characterized by the practice of prayer.

And then it doesn’t matter: then we pray because we are grateful churchgoers; and then we pray, too, because we are needy, sick, and marginalized seekers.

Comfortable or not, thankful or in need, we pray because we want to and we have to.

5.

And the best part about today’s Gospel is what happens when you do pray.

Two things, right?

The first: the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove; and here again Luke adds a detail not seen in the other Gospels: “in bodily form.”

You don’t see your prayers ascending. You speak them into the air and they dissipate. And you’re left to wonder, Has God heard me?

Prayers seem so immaterial, so abstract!

Yet, Luke reminds us today, when you pray the Holy Spirit descends upon you as concretely as a dove in bodily form!

And second—my favorite part of all—is that voice from heaven that says, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

You know what this is? You’ve just earned an 89 on your faith test; and God is not that parent who spouts off, “You should have earned an A!” Instead, God puts loving arms around you and responds affirmingly, “Well done!”

You pray; and God affirms!

God loves you; God is well pleased with you.

It doesn’t matter how imperfect or perfect your life is. It doesn’t matter whether you are a churchgoer or seeker. It doesn’t even matter what you look, sound, or smell like. “You are my child,” God says, “my beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Our prayers are as concrete as a bird in flight; and God affirms us, whoever we are. What better reasons to live a life characterized by prayer?

Celebrating Inconvenience

Posted in Doing Church, Rationale with tags , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2017 by timtrue

17th-century_unknown_painters_-_The_Resurrection_of_Christ_-_WGA23478[1]The following article, which appears in the April/May newsletter of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Yuma, Arizona, discusses the significance of the historic Easter Vigil worship service.

“The Great Vigil, when observed, is the first service of Easter Day. It is celebrated at a convenient time between sunset on Holy Saturday and sunrise on Easter Morning.”

So says the Book of Common Prayer on page 284.

To which I ask, “Is there such a thing as a convenient time between sunset on Holy Saturday and sunrise on Easter Morning?”

Easter is late this year. Sunset will occur after seven o’clock, with real darkness only truly descending after 7:30. The rubrics of the Prayer Book constrain us really, then, to a first “convenient” time of 8pm.

But how convenient is 8pm for folks who cannot easily drive in the dark?

We do have other options, I suppose. “Between sunset and sunrise” means a midnight service would be appropriate, and midnight’s always cool. Or, for those who have trouble seeing in the dark, we could begin the service at 4:30am, timing it so that it would end just before sunrise (which will occur at 6:07am). That way people would only have to drive one way in the dark, and at a time of the day when there is very little traffic.

Still, neither of these options strikes me as any more convenient than 8pm.

The Prayer Book continues:

“The service normally consists of four parts:

  1. The Service of Light.
  2. The Service of Lessons.
  3. Christian Initiation [i. e., baptism], or the Renewal of Baptismal Vows.
  4. The Holy Eucharist with the administration of Easter Communion.”

In other words, it’s like a normal Sunday service—which consists of two parts, the Service of Lessons and the Holy Eucharist—with a couple of additions: the Service of Light and baptism.

That “Service of Light” part really does constrain us to the dark—a time between sunset and sunrise—which, let’s face it, really does feel inconvenient, no matter how we look at it.

And it feels even more inconvenient when we think about that other part, that baptism part!

I mean, really? The Prayer Book would rather we baptize at the (dark) Great Vigil than wait for the next day, when the sun is up and the Easter Lilies are smiling along with everyone else who got a good night’s sleep? What if that baptism is of a young child, who’d probably be in much better spirits on a bright Sunday morning than a dark Saturday night—not to mention his parents? Or what if the hoped for godparents aren’t able to make it out at night for whatever reason? Or what if? . . .

Okay, okay, I hear your questions. Yes, they are reasonable. Yes, a nighttime, dark service does indeed feel inconvenient. And yes, we could just as well forget about the Vigil and revert to the way things used to be around here, when we simply waited for Easter Sunday to roll around, stress day.

But if there’s one thing about me you’ve gotten to know by now, it’s that I highly respect our Episcopal tradition. And by “Episcopal tradition” I don’t mean the way we did things last year, five years ago, fifty, or even a hundred; I mean the tradition that goes back before the Reformation, before the marriage of the Roman and English Churches in the seventh century, even before the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. I want to go clear back as far as history will take us. How did the early church do it? That’s the tradition I’m talking about.

The reason I value this tradition so greatly is because many, many saints before us have thought long and hard—a lot longer and harder than any of us have—about how best to worship and glorify Christ. By the way, this is the rationale behind our Book of Common Prayer, leaving little room in our assemblies for novel, innovative liturgies.

And, even more importantly, there’s this: Jesus inconvenienced himself a great deal—when he emptied himself of the glories of heaven and became human; when he washed his disciples’ feet; when he stayed up all night praying fervently in the garden that his Father would take his cup from him; when he stood trial before Pilate; when he was stricken, smitten, afflicted, and nailed to the cross mercilessly; when he eked out his last breath—all for us! We break these dark inconveniences when we come to worship him at the Great Vigil, the fitting end to this drama known as the Passion, where we celebrate new light and life together—something the bright Sunday morning service just can’t replicate.

And thus, when it comes to worshiping Christ as God, the term inconvenience takes on new meaning.

Let’s celebrate this inconvenience—the Great Vigil, the tremendous conclusion to Christ’s Passion—together on Saturday, April 15, at 8pm. There will be a baptism this year; and, immediately following the service, a champagne-and-hot-cross-buns reception!

The Drama of the Call

Posted in Doing Church with tags , , , , on December 11, 2013 by timtrue

Human lives are chock-full of drama.

From the very beginnings of life—both in the love act itself, from which conception occurs, and in the birth process—all the way to death and burial: drama is an omnipresent reality.

Recently I baptized a baby girl.

Put yourself in her shoes for a moment.  There she was, safe in her mother’s arms.  But why in the world was she in the middle of a crowded group of people with bright lights blaring all around?  And what were they all saying, chanting in unison, like a mantra?

Then, already on edge a bit from the unusualness of the situation, some big, burly, bearded guy dressed in a white robe with a scarf-like thingy draping over his neck (how odd is that!) takes her from her mother’s arms into his own: from soft, warm, familiar-smelling love into hard, knotty, hairy, wizened, unfamiliarness.  Maybe it’s love too, she thinks, for she trusts her mommy absolutely, and Mommy would never let anything out of line happen; but this is probably what Mommy means by the overused term “tough love.”

And if that isn’t enough, the big bearded unfamiliar man dips her, like she once saw her daddy dip Mommy on the dance floor, and pours water over her head.  Three times!

Then the people watching say amen and clap.  The whole thing’s just a bit weird, she thinks.

Drama!

Today a significantly tattooed man came into my office and told me his story:

I’ve been in jail for eight-and-a-half years and I’m still on parole and I can’t pay all my rent so my wife and me and my three kids were kicked out of our apartment and won’t be allowed back in till I pay the rent in full but that makes it look like I’m trying to run but I’m not trying to run except my parole officer don’t see it that way but I won’t get paid till Friday because that’s payday and did I mention that I do have a job but I’m just waiting on my paycheck and my wife works too but she just had an operation and needs to take a few days off to recover and so can I just have a hundred bucks?

And I wanted to say, hey, take a breath, buddy.

Instead I asked his name, to which he replied Manuel Gonzales.  Then I told him I didn’t have any money I could offer, but would he like a gift card to a local grocery store?  That would at least get him and his family meals through Friday, when he would allegedly be paid.  To which he replied that, yes, that would be helpful.  So I asked him for a form of identification, standard procedure, you know, to make a copy of it so I can keep track of what I give and to whom.  He agreed.  But the name on the ID card most certainly wasn’t Manuel Gonzales.

Drama!

Also today I experienced my most difficult visitation yet.

It began yesterday, actually.  With Prayer Book in hand, I routinely journeyed to the assisted care facility I had predetermined.  So far so good.  But when I entered her room, the ninety-something year-old parishioner I sought was nowhere to be found.  The bed was made, in fact, and the room quite tidy.  Not allowing myself to think the worst, I asked a nurse where said parishioner was.  “Oh,” the nurse replied, “she just went to the hospital.  Blood clot in her leg.”

It was the end of the work day, so I went home resolving to track down my nonagenarian friend today.  Which I did.  And I went to see her this morning.

When I arrived in her hospital room, in the MICU, she lay beneath a bundle of blankets unconscious from sedation.  Her son and daughter were with her, very glad to see me, but also with eyes puffy from apparent tears.  I inquired about my friend’s condition.  And that’s when the shock hit me, for the daughter answered that her mom’s leg had been amputated this morning, severed just above the knee.

I uttered a tearful prayer–barely able–and said my goodbye; but I will return to see her on Sunday after church, and I’ll bring Eucharistic elements with me.

Drama!

It’s omnipresent for us humans.  And I count it one of the greatest privileges to be involved, sometimes even immersed, in it.