Sunday, April 27, 2008


     In my father’s house there are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. -- We talked a bit this weekend about perspective, about how easy it is for us living in this world sometimes to forget that there exists a much bigger picture which ought to comfort us in those moments when we are called to bear crosses or in those times when we are allowed by God to deal with some of the consequences of our sins. It is our faith in Christ and our understanding that He keeps every promise which allows us sometimes to face the trials of our lives. I shared a story this weekend about "Ira."  Ira, one of the youths with whom I quest on World of Warcraft, lacks that eternal perspective. He is so caught up in the events of this world that he felt forced to run away from home, even run away from his parents, for fear of what his friends' drug dealers might do to him. When Ira asked me if I was ashamed of him for running, I told him I was not. I understood his fear was real. Fred (his best friend) had been murdered. A couple other youths had been murdered or attacked by these dealers. Certainly he had lived a life to this point which might make him seem like the “boy who cried wolf” were he to go to the cops. And, despite what he had put his parents through over the years, I also understood he was looking for boundaries from them. And no doubt he believe the threat that they might be killed were they to stick up for him.

     But I also shared that my response now would have to be different, were I to be put in the same shoes. Ira was floored. “Are you not afraid to die?” And so I was able to share the thrust of the Gospel with a teenager caught in a cycle from which he can find no escape. “The “real world” does not work that way.” “Nothing and nobody can stop these guys.” I reminded Ira that he was dearly loved by our Lord and Savior. I reminded Ira that Jesus knew before He ever came down from heaven all the “mistakes” that Ira would make. And I reminded Ira that our Lord understood our lack of or wrong perspective. He came that we might be reconciled to God, and He was raised from the dead that we might know He did come and do what the Father had asked of Him. And while He was here, He taught us that we far too often lack the “real perspective,” the eternal perspective of our Father in heaven.

     Our reading from John this week reminded us of the perspective we should have when the world is closing in on us, when we seem trapped by the forces and events which shape this world. He has gone to prepare a place for each of His disciples. And when He comes again, all of His followers will be taken to where He is. Nothing, not even death, can thwart His efforts. In the midst of life trials and tribulations, it sometimes helps if we try to take a step back and think of God’s perspective. “Does ___ really matter? Does it, in the long run, really matter?” While the Bible never makes light of human suffering, it does remind of the simple fact that, if we have no reason to fear death, we have no reason to fear anything. And because of that perspective, we can embrace life’s challenges and all our crosses with a joy, a joy that knows one day this will all end; a joy that we are living in an Easter Monday; a joy that knows one day, we will be called home to eternal life with our heavenly Father who loves each and every one of us.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Leftover Feast

     "What was the moment in which I felt closest to Christ?" -- I went to the Ultreya this weekend partly because our Senior Warden politely nagged me and partly because I wanted to support those members of our parish who had been transformed by the encounters with God in Cursillo. During the event, we divided up into small groups and considered questions of piety, study, and action. One of the questions we considered under piety was the one mentioned above. What stunned me, perhaps the most, was that I had to choose one. As I began to reflect upon the week, I realized that Christ had been very close a number of times last week.
     As I shared with the congregation yesterday, a number of health issues affecting members of our parish had been resolved in a good fashion. For a couple of our parishioners, I am certain that the restoration must seem like a true miracle. As I continued to reflect upon Christ's presence in our lives, I was also reminded of the discretionary check. As I shared with the congregation yesterday, God's fingerprints were all over that check, our messages, e-mails, and discussions. How will it end? God only knows, but perhaps we get a donation that covers a new physical plant? Then there was the Community Meal.
     I had saved the leftovers from our Christian Seder of Maundy Thursday with the express intention of serving it at Community Meal this month. I arrived to find everything set up this past Wednesday. I said grace and proceeded to begin filling cups with juice as people went to get their meals. As God would have it, a man who worked at a sheep farm for a number of years was present. He chose not to have any lamb. He explained to those around him that he ate too much of it when he worked the ranch. A few scoffed that it could ever be satisfying. This man explained that given the cost, he sure hoped we had prepared it well. As the man continued to instruct his listeners, he explained that the lamb had cost "this church" at least $100. And so began the ripples of conversation.
     By the time I made it to the other side of the room, one of the men got up the courage to ask me. "Is it true?" "Is what true?" "Is it true that you guys wasted over a $100 on meat for us? I mean, I am sure a parishioner gave you the meat or got it for you cheap, right?" "Nope, I paid full price for it." "Where did you get it?" "The Fareway on 53rd." "I don't mean to sound ungrateful, father, but you just wasted a lot of money on us." "How so?" "Well, that is money better spent helping people who deserve to be helped." Immediately, the Gospel lesson from John burst in on me. "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."
     I asked the gentleman if he understood the season we were in. He asked what I meant. I told him that in our church we are currently celebrating the season of Easter. I asked him if he "realized that the Lord of the universe had come down from heaven, hung on the cross so that the unworth he felt could be made right before God, stayed on that cross when we tempted Him to come down, and died for us all because He loved each of us, including you." "Yeah, but $100 . . ." Once again, I asked, "do you realize that the Creator of all that is seen and unseen loved you so much that He died that you might be restored to abundant life with God? I only spent $100 and a few hours preparing some meat and gravy." "Well, when you put it like that, your effort seems trivial." "Because it was. His effort for all of us was the most amazing evidence of love ever displayed. For a short time on earth, Love made history and reminded us of His call upon each of our lives. In a few hours, you will be hungry again, because my meal was just food. But Jesus calls you to an eternal feast."
     That conversation turned into about a half dozen more. I will not bore people with details a second time, but suffice it to say a number of people heard it. So often, as we labor in His fields, we never see the fruits of our labors. Yet, for a brief moment, those of us who served the homeless, the poor and the hobos heard the fruits. Easily a dozen people thanked us for the feast that we provided. Who knew? God can take leftovers, and some other faithful cooking, and turn it into a blessed feast and a teaching moment where His love can be shared. Of course, if we believe He was truly raised from the dead, why would we ever expect anything less?

Monday, April 7, 2008

But Whose hermeneutics?

     A great deal of press in the Episcopal Church over the next few months will likely center around a fancy word called hermeneutics. Indeed, much of the upcoming Lambeth conference will be devoted to Bible Study and a consideration of hermeneutics. Of what authority are the Scriptures in our life? What do the words that we study really mean? Can we be reconciled when faithful Christian come to diametrically opposed understandings of the same words, verses, or passages? As I mentioned at the second service yesterday, hermeneutics is related to the Greek god Hermes in mythology. How do we know what we know about anything, but especially about God? The Greeks held that Hermes had to deliver and interpret messages. But who or what interprets for us?

     Probably, if we pinned philosophers down and demanded an answer to that last question, they would fall into one of two camps with varying shades. Some would likely say that we apprehend what we know by reason; while others would likely argue that we learn through experience and experimentation. Unfortunately, as many of you know, I am far too familiar with the works of people such as Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Heidegger, Schleiermacher, Habermas, Gadamer, and the like to want to be this brief. But how do we, as Christians, answer the question of hermeneutics?

     Our Gospel reading this week gives us an insight to that question. The two disciples are walking on the road to Emmaus. The stranger approaches and ask them what they are talking about. In a brief testimony, they recite the events of Holy Week and the background of Jesus of Nazareth. Keep in mind, these disciples have walked and ministered with Christ for some time. They have seen or heard about the demons being cast out, the lame walking, the lepers being cured, the dead being raised, the deaf given hearing, and all the other miracles that we read in the various Gospel accounts. Perhaps, just perhaps, they have performed some miraculous works in His name when He commissioned them earlier in the story. Jesus was for them a prophet mighty in deed. In other words, they have experienced Christ's ministry to the point that they have given up their former lives and followed him.

     Further, as His disciples, they have been taught. Jesus, we know, would often take His disciples aside and teach them about the significance of the events which they just experienced. Often, these teachings to the masses were in parables, but Jesus was forced to explain His teachings to His disciples so that they would understand. Jesus was also a prophet mighty in word to them as He spoke with authority rather than in interpretation. In other words, we might say that their ability to reason fell far short. They needed to be spoon fed by the Incarnate Word.

     Of course, as the story continues, Jesus chastises His disciples. How foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Jesus then goes on to explain to them that all that Moses and the prophets wrote pointed to Him. Salvation history points to the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth. The entirety of God's saving work has been directed towards the Incarnation of the Son and His redeeming work on behalf of humanity. That we might know that all that Jesus taught and said, God raised Him on that third morning and He ascended to the Father. Were Jesus anyone other than who He claimed to be, the Father would not have vindicated Him that Easter Morning and Ascension nearly 2000 years ago! And look at the transformation in the disciples. When their eyes were opened, they remarked to one another, "were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?" In fact, they are so transformed that they travel back the seven miles, when they had only a brief time earlier encouraged the stranger to stay and dine with them!

     In short, our faith has always held that God is a revealing God. Were He to choose not to reveal Himself to us, we would have no way -- not reason nor experience -- of ever apprehending Him. We come to know Him and know about only Him through His revelation to us. Because He is a revealing and loving God, we do not think that He is trying to trick us as did many people of the Ancient Near East thought about their own gods and goddesses. We are encouraged to call our Father in heaven, Abba -- "daddy."  Daddy's do not trick or mislead intentionally.  

     One of the questions with which faithful Christians must struggle, however, is the question of that revelation. In this respect, we are no different than the two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus. As Episcopalians, we have acknowledged that struggle in our BCP on page 853. "How do we recognize truths taught by the Holy Spirit? We recognize truths to be taught by the Holy Spirit when they are in accord with the Scriptures." Certainly, faithful people in the Church throughout history have argued for the inclusion/exclusion of slavery as an acceptible practice, for the exclusion/inclusion of women in ministry, for war, for polygamy and a whole host of other practices. The questions we, as faithful, discerning Christians, no matter our time, must grapple is whether we misunderstood then or are currently misunderstanding. Certainly, no one today can read Deuteronomy (if anyone ever does) and God's demand that His people garland their slaves with flocks and crops as they are freed, both male and female, and think that God demanded slavery. Similarly, it is hard (though Paul gives some fodder in his letters) to argue for the exclusion of women's ministry given the claim by God that females were created in His image and that Jesus allowed women to call Him Rabbi and even that the first recipients of the apostolic mission "Go and tell" were the women. Do you think that war is encouraged by God? Read His implicit criticism of warfare in Deuteronomy. Want to argue that God encourages polygamy? Certainly many of the family dysfunctions in the Bible center around the envy and sin aroused in polygamous families (Sarah and Hagar; Jacob and his treatment of the sons not of Rachael; Solomon -- ton name a couple). And, again, within that book that so few of us read, God has to remind father not to favor sons of an unfavored wife.  Whatever the church has gotten wrong, the corrective teaching was confirmed by the Scriptures.  Some may have been led to their insight to question the church's position through the world's experiences, but the Scriptures were necessary to confirm that the experiences and thoughts were not in opposition to the revelation of God's Holy Spirit.

     It is because of the fact that God is not a trickster that we Christians can approach a wide number of subjects from different understandings.  And because we believe that He is remaking us in the image of His Son, we can wrestle for many years before we ever accept His authority on any given subject, even the presenting issue facing our church and communion.  And because we know that He has revealed to us everything He wants us to know now, we can face those discussions and debates without fear and with much love, knowing that He came to us when we were ignorant sinners because He loved us so dearly.  No challenge to us or our thinking is above Him.  And some of those challenges may well prove to be the refiner's fire at work in our minds.

     What can we do in the midst of this ongoing dispute on the western edge of Davenport, Iowa? We can continue to pray and to study. As inheritors of God's kingdom we can ask Him to make manifest His truth to His church. As pilgrims on our own faith journeys, we can continue to study His word and to study our own hermeneutics. Does what we know exist in accord with the Scriptures? If not, we may have more studying to do, or we may be in error. If so, we may be in need of even more of His grace to proclaim by word and deed that knowledge which leads to His Son. It may sound exhausting and tiresome, but is there any greater knoweldge to posses on earth?