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2.28.2006

Paczi Day and Nerves

I'm feeling a bit of an early morning malaise. Perhaps it is the hour; more likely it is the paczis - specifically, two cream-filled with chocolate frosting paczis which are presently resting a bit uneasiliy in my stomach. But, they were delicious. . . reminds me a bit of the William Carlos Williams poem, "This is Just to Say" which, if you don't know it, you should read - "so sweet and so cold."

Tonight I meet 4 members of the Transfiguration vestry. . . prayers that I may spill not my dinner upon myself and that I may spill forth at least one intelligible thought despite my nervousness. Thanks!

2.26.2006

The Transfiguration: Separating Facts from Truth


At 4:27 a.m. CST today, Andrea's father, William, passed away. He was 85 years old. Until recently, he was able to attend mass every Sunday at St. Mary Parish in Buffalo Grove. He was a model of faithfulness to his family and loved ones. When Andrea or her sister, Mary, would pick Bill up after mass, they would ask him, "what was the homily about today, Dad?" As he aged and his dementia worsened, he was unable to remember the details of the homily, but his answer to this question remained the same, "Be good." So, for those of you who do not have the time to read the following sermon, I urge you to remember Bill's summary: Be Good.

May angels surround William, and saints welcome him in peace. Merciful God, whose Son Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus: look with compassion on all who are bound by sorrow and pain through the death of William. Comfort them and help them to find sure trust and confidence in your resurrection power; through Jesus Christ our deliverer. Amen.


Sermon Preached at St. Nicholas Episcopal Church
Epiphany - Last - Year B


Several weeks ago, a man named James Frey made big news when it was discovered that his book, A Million Little Pieces – a memoir of his recovery from drug addiction – that this book was not factual. Oprah made big news too because she had selected Frey’s book for her book club back in September. When the controversy began to heat up in early January, Oprah stood by Frey and his book. In fact, Oprah called in to “Larry King Live” when Frey was being interviewed to show her support. She said, the “underlying message of redemption in James Frey's memoir still resonates with me.”1 But then, something shifted as eight days later, Oprah had her own live broadcast in which she interviewed Frey and had him reveal some of the lies in his book while Oprah offered an apology to her fans for selecting his book for her club and for defending its author.2

In this morning’s gospel reading we are told that Jesus, Peter, James, and John climb up a big mountain. Things get pretty cloudy up there and some amazing things happen. Let’s see if we’ve got it all: first, Jesus’ clothes become whiter than any white you and I can even imagine; then, Elijah and Moses show up and talk to Jesus (wouldn’t you love to hear what they were saying – sadly that part is left out!); reportedly, Peter, James, and John are pretty scared by now; imagine their reaction then, when a voice began to speak to them from a cloud announcing that this Jesus – the one who just walked up the mountain with them – is the Son of God – “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”; suddenly, everything becomes still – no Moses, no Elijah, no voice - just Jesus, Peter, James, and John left to walk back down the mountain; and Jesus saying, as they walk, “whatever you do, don’t tell anyone about what you’ve seen until I have risen from the dead.”

Two weeks ago, we heard the story of Jesus healing the leper and then ordering him not to tell anyone. Yet, immediately, that man went out and “began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word.” This time though, I bet Jesus’ command was obeyed because if Peter, James, and John did tell others what had transpired on that mountain top, who would have believed them? At least the leper had his cure as proof; all these men had was one another’s eye-witness testimony - not very compelling stuff. In our day, they might find themselves being grilled by Oprah and Larry King over the facts of their story.

What is our present-day fascination with facts? And whatever happened to the truth? For some, fact and truth have come to mean the same thing, but I would like to suggest that they are actually quite different. According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, a fact is defined as “a thing done”; truth, on the other hand, is defined as “sincerity in action, character, and utterance.” In fact, the word truth is derived from the Old English word for faithful.3 And, when it comes to the Bible and our praise and adoration of God, I would much rather they be described as faithful and sincere than factual.

With these definitions in mind, it is probably safe to say that the statement “Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves” is a fact – “a thing done.” Once atop that mountain did Elijah and Moses appear with Jesus? Did a voice speak to them from a cloud? Are these things facts – did these things actually occur? Maybe we are asking the wrong question. Much of Jesus’ life is beyond our capacity for finding facts. But that doesn’t make it any less true. Madeleine L’Engle is a wonderfully, gifted writer from within our own Episcopal tradition. In a sermon she preached more than a decade ago, L’Engle spoke of many of the stories in the Bible as myth. For those of us who accustomed to thinking of the Bible as fact, consider substituting the word truth or faithful – just for the moment. The Bible is Truth; the Bible is Faithful. And myth, according to L’Engle offers us a way “to see beyond limited fact into the wonder of God’s story” – it is a way for us to seek “for that truth which Jesus urged us to seek, and which he promised would set us free.”4 For L’Engle, “Mythic stuff . . . [is that] which makes life worth living” and it is that which pushes us in love “to move beyond the limited world of fact and into the glorious world of love itself. Of Jesus standing with Moses and Elijah. . . .” L’Engle continues, “The brilliance of God is indeed blinding, and we need myth, story, to help us bear the light.”5

Peter, James, and John knew this intuitively and so they obeyed Jesus’ command to “tell no one . . . until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” Their story, if told too soon, would be judged by the world of facts, not truth. Their story, if told too soon, would have resulted in ridicule and condemnation – just as James Frey’s book A Million Little Pieces has been condemned despite its message of healing and redemption. Peter, James, and John understood that the world had first to see the death and resurrection of the Christ in order to hear and understand the Truth of Jesus’ transfiguration on that mountaintop.

You and I will never know the facts of what transpired on the mountain top, but what we do know is the Truth: in this moment everything and everyone changed as it became clear once and for all to these disciples – and later to all of us – that this man, Jesus, was and is God’s “Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”


1“Transcripts - CNN Larry King Live: Interview with James Frey,” Aired January 11, 2006, accessed online on February 22, 2006 at
.

2Jonathan Darman, “The Wrath of Oprah: How James Went to Pieces, Oprah Got Her Groove Back, and Other Tales of ‘Truthiness’ in the Publishing Trade,” Newsweek, February 6, 2006, p. 42-3.

3“Fact” and “Truth,” Merriam-Webster OnLine accessed online on February 22, 2006 at
.

4Madeleine L’Engle, Transcript of “The Mythical Bible,” 30 Good Minutes, Program #3501 first aired January 6, 1991 accessed online on February 19, 2006.


5Ibid.

2.23.2006

The Downside of an Invisibility Cloak

What they don't tell you in Harry Potter books (or films) is that there is a downside to having an invisibility cloak. Here are two examples in my own life today:

I am Andrea's partner, not a sister-in-law
I am a friend-of-the-family, not a daughter-in-law

On the other hand, when I've had enough, I can go home and pout. . .and, oddly, that does feel somewhat better. Oh, and the cats - they ALWAYS know who I am (or at least what I do - feed them, clean the litter box, and give them fresh water).

2.22.2006

On Making Lemonade

  • Andrea's father is still in the hospital.

    God our creator and our end, give William grace to bear bravely the changes he must undergo, the pain he may have to face to come to his home with you. Give him the courage to welcome that unimaginable moment awaiting him; give him trust and confidence; and at the last give him peace. Amen.

  • Yesterday I arrived at church to find the Sunday School classroom flooded.

    Savior, deliver us from discouragement in the face of disappointment. Touch our eyes, ears, lips, hearts, feet and hands, that we may accomplish the work you give us to do. Amen.

  • Last night I learned that my field ed supervisor is in the hospital.

    O God, the source of all health: So fill Steve's heart with faith in your love,k that with calm expectancy he may make room for your power to possess him, and gracefully accept your healing; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

  • This morning a customer at the coffee shop shared with me that her 19 year old nephew died yesterday.

    Heavenly Father, the strength of all who believe in you, comfort this family in their sorrow at the death of their child. May they find hope in your steadfast love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

  • Tonight I will lead the last session of Spirituality for Living. We will be discussing and developing our Lenten Rule of Life.

    Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us, we pray, as you will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

2.16.2006

What a Week . . .

  • Sunday, Feb. 12th - "Team Awesome" leads worship at St. Nicholas (see photos). Did I tell you all how proud I am of these young people?! Really, really proud and truly delighted to have the opportunity to teach them (as they continue to teach me)

  • Monday, Feb. 13th - Chicago area Hoffman Institute graduates met for a great evening of visioning, fellowship, and good eats! (Click here for the latest news from Hoffman).

  • Tuesday, Feb. 14th -
    Andrea's dad admitted to hospital
    I learn that a St. Nick's parishioner who has been battling cancer passed away during the night
    GOE results come in

  • Wednesday, Feb. 15th -
    Andrea's dad had a stroke
    taught 2nd to last session of Spirituality for Living (I am SO going to miss this!!!)

  • Thursday, Feb. 16th -
    arrive at St. Nick's at 7:00 AM to work on Sunday School plan for Sunday only to realize two hours later that I'm supposed to be having breakfast with a classmate
    call classmate to apologize profusely only to learn that breakfast is scheduled for 10:30 and I can still make it! (what a relief!)
    enjoy breakfast and conversation
    go to school for seminar
    come home (now)
    leave soon for visitation at funeral home for parishioner

I am tired. Please pray for me and my loved ones.

2.09.2006

In the Name of Religion

At St. Nicholas, a 9-part series on sexuality and spirituality has been ongoing since September. The first three sessions focused on homosexuality and spirituality - primarily as depicted by Hollywood. The most recent sessions, in January and February, focused respectively on St. Chrysostom's understanding of marriage and how it might inform our own understanding of that institution today and on the Song of Solomon and how it establishes a richness of humanity and of human expressions of love.

In early March, we will be viewing the documentary "Fish Can't Fly: Conversations about God and Struggling to be Gay." This film is described by its director, Tom Murray as an opportunity for people "from both sides of the issue" to "gain a better understanding of the difficult process people can go through trying to establish a harmony between their sexuality and spirituality." I intend for the film to be the starting point for a broader discussion of how sexuality is often described and defined as right or wrong "in the name of religion."

When I Googled that phrase, I found this blog entry. Its author, Bill Brewer, states, "The Christian faith has a unique prophetic nature in manifesting the mind of God" and then goes on to suggest that it is the American ethos of "pervert[ing] the forces of sexuality" ( through anti-intellectualism and radical individualism) that has subverted Christian faith by putting "a religious stamp of approval on same-sex marriage." Brewer's conclusions are, in my opinion, highly suspect, in that he also refers to sexuality as "disturbing" and, in its context, this seems to be referring even to heterosexual marriage. I commend the Song of Solomon to Brewer.

How does one's faith - individually or institutionally - manifest the mind of God? And what is it that any of us are promulgating "in the name of religion"?

2.08.2006

On Preaching Three in a Row

My sermons have gotten too "sprawly." Preaching three Sundays in a row pressed this still-seminarian, not-yet-priest a bit and by last Sunday that showed. J.D. says pick one thing - one phrase, one idea - that speaks and preach it. So, J.D. - how does one juggle "Team Awesome" (12 teenagers seeking education), "Spirituality for Living" (7 adults seeking direction), 1 Field Ed seminar, 1 small group seminar, 1 discussion of Song of Solomon and a sermon? Oh will this get easier!? And, if not, will I at least keep having fun?!

Next Wednesday's Spirituality for Living class is focusing on the discipline of Simplicity - perhaps I can practice what I teach and my preaching (and my life) will regain some balance.

2.06.2006

The Woman from Shunem: Take 2 (or Yelling at God)

Sermon Preached on February 5, 2006 [see this entry for the initial conundrum]
Elk Grove Village, Illinois

We didn’t hear the whole story! That’s right. The story of the Shunemite woman and Elisha was incomplete. You see, our lectionary allows us to shorten readings when they are particularly long – and today’s was particularly long. So, we removed one of the sections in brackets. The lectionary itself includes the brackets – so it’s legal – we didn’t cheat. But here’s the thing. The story as we heard it this morning sounds like a story about great faith – she lays her son on the man of God’s bed and, next time he’s in town, sure enough – just like she expected – he, through some great miracle, resurrects the boy. Problem solved!

No. The problem is not solved. We left out the anger. We’ve all been angry at one time or another – angry that we haven’t gotten what we think we deserve or angry that we have gotten something we know we did not deserve or, like the Shunemite woman, angry that we’ve gotten something we never asked for only to have it ripped mercilessly out of our hands along with our hopes and expectations. The discernment process for me has been a bit like that. I didn’t ask to be called by God to be a priest. In fact, I ran the other way for quite a number of years convinced that I could outrun God’s calling. I was wrong – which is why I’m here – and today I am grateful. But in any event, I didn’t ask for this calling. So when I ran into some difficulties along the way with various diocesan committees, you bet I was mad. So, I did what many of the great Bible heroes and heroines before me have done – I yelled at God; I let God know I was not a happy camper.

The Shunemite woman is one such heroine. Here are the words that were between a set of brackets – the words we left out of this morning’s story:
“She went up and laid him [her son] on the bed of the man of God, closed the door on him, and left. “Then she called to her husband, and said, "Send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, so that I may quickly go to the man of God and come back again". . . Then she saddled the donkey and said to her servant, "Urge the animal on; do not hold back for me unless I tell you." So she set out, and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel. . . . When she came to the man of God at the mountain, she caught hold of his feet. . . .Then she said, "Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not say, Do not mislead me?" . . . . Then the mother of the child said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave without you." So he rose up and followed her.”
Can you hear her yelling? She’s not alone. Job was a yeller. We often think of him as the patient man of faith, but no, he yelled – “I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul” [Job 7:11]. And what about the Psalms? One of the Psalms we read this morning provides an example. It is Psalm 142: “I cry to the LORD with my voice; to the LORD I make loud supplication. I pour out my complaint before him and tell him all my trouble.” And what about Jesus? Certainly not in today’s gospel reading, but there’s a story familiar to many of us about what he did in the temple. John’s Gospel describes it this way:
“In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple. . . He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” [John 2:14-16].
So, with all these scriptural examples of anger, why are we so reluctant to express it – or, when we do express it, why do we feel so guilty? The answer is, no doubt, complicated – related in part perhaps to what we see in the world around us – anger that quickly escalates into violence can, indeed, cause us to fear anger – our own and others. But this is anger that is left unchecked. There is a chapter called “Praying with Anger” in Jane Redmont’s book When in Doubt, Sing – some of you who are in the Wednesday night Spirituality group may have read it. In this chapter, Redmont writes: “Anger is. It is no ‘should’ or ‘should not’ in our lives, but a natural response to loss, illness, personal misfortune, and social injustice” [p. 130] and, she continues, “our anger is no burden for God. God can take it. Go ahead. . . Yell at God. God will still be there, God will still love you. The earth will not open and swallow you up” [pp. 132-3].

[Ad Lib here about the “recycling God”]
--- sorry blog-readers, you had to be there---

Yes, anger keeps our relationship with God alive in our hearts at a time when all else around us is falling apart.

Very often, in our personal lives, we express our anger and frustration to the person we love the most, the person who loves us most, because we trust that even through our anger, they will continue to love us. How much more so with God! Expressing anger is not sinful; expressing anger keeps us connected in times of vulnerability and deep pain. And expressing our anger at God can, in fact, be a great show of faith – after all, would you really be yelling at God if you no longer believed in God? And so it would seem that the story of the Shunemite woman and Elisha is still a story about great faith – even when - or especially when - we leave in the part about her anger.

2.01.2006

The Woman from Shunem

She doesn't ask for a son, but Elisha says she will be blessed with one.
She conceives and bears a son.
The son grows older, becomes ill, then dies.
The mother goes to Elisha, at wits end because she didn't ask for this son, was given the son, and then he is taken from her.
Elisha returns to her home and the boy lives again.

So

  • do I preach on the power of her faith in the healing power of Elisha? maybe.
  • do I preach on how angry she is that God gives and then God takes away? maybe.
  • do I preach on how wonderful Elisha is in that he not only "gives" her a child once, but does so a second time through a resurrection miracle? maybe.

or

  • do I go right to the gospel and talk about the importance of self-care after caretaking!? - or is that of caretaking immediately after being cared for!?

So this is why preaching every Sunday is challenging. . . Thoughts anyone? Other directions?

In the News . . .

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