Thursday, January 28, 2010


I sometimes find myself marveling at God’s timing. Amazingly for us, the first two readings after the Haitian earthquake are the entirety of 1 Corinthians 12. Last week, Bishop Scarfe point out how the Spirit gives us each a gift as part of our baptismal and confirmational covenant with God, and that gifting takes place within the context of the wider body we call the Church. In a real sense, God equips His body, the church, with all the tools, talents, and resources necessary for it to accomplish His ministry.

St. Paul’s carries that teaching a bit further by reminding us how our parts of our body are dependent upon others to do their job completely and effectually. Hands pick up small things so that the eyes may examine them a bit closer; the feet take the head to various places so that it can examine, process, and understand better the world around us. And so, the whole body, just like the whole Church, requires all its members to function efficiently and completely.

But, like the Corinthians, we sometimes like to tell God what gifts we want. We often value miracle workers or healers or those gifted with tongues more that intercessors or teachers because of the “wow” factor. We neglect to honor the ones who show hospitality among us or the ones who interpret or the ones who provide assistance because they are so ordinary. We want a God who makes a splash! We want a God who does remarkable things! We want a God who makes us appear remarkable!

Yet, buried in these verses are the workers of power. We often think of them as miracle workers, as our translators think of dunamis (and its other Greek forms -- the words which become dynamic in English) as bordering on the spectacular. It does border on the spectacular, but not in the ways most of us think. For Paul, particularly in this letter, the true power (dunamis) of God and His people flows from the cross. And so, as Paul in 1 Cor 1:18-2:5 reminds us, true power reflects Christ’s cross and flows from our identification with Him. Thus, workers of power, for Paul, become those who reflect the sacrifice and love shown forth for us on the cross. And God honors that sacrifice, and glorifies His Son, by taking the ordinary and making it appear extraordinary, by taking death to one’s self and raising new life in others.

The world will no doubt, in the coming weeks and months, tell us how we Christians are wasting our times with Haiti. Thieves will steal our money. Politicians will siphon off the material goods meant for those devastated by the earthquake. Heck other Christians will explain to us that they are little more than pagan savages who practice voodoo. The need will be simply too great, and we will be far too few. And in that dying to self, in that willingness to trust God to redeem, life will be brought back to Haiti. And we, His people, will become workers of power! It may seem foolish to those around us that we concern ourselves with those such as the Haitians. Then again, St. Paul often reminded us that the way of the cross seemed foolish to the wise and those on their way to death. Only those who are alive in Christ and in the process of being saved see the cross for what it was and is: the promise of God’s mercy and the sheer redemptive power of His love!


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Nature, Sin, & Gospel

A tragedy such as what the Haitians have experienced cannot go unaddressed, particularly when there is some piling on by attention seekers and, worse, supposedly Christian voices. As I have shared with many in the congregation over the last three + years, it is in such tragedies where God’s sovereign hands are most visible. The resources required to overcome a natural disaster on the scale of the Tsunami of 2004, of hurricane Katrina, or even this earthquake are formidable. No less necessary, however, is the determination or perseverance to see the rebuilding through to the end. Sometimes, the devastation wrought by disasters can make all our efforts seem futile and impotent. But, for those who trust in God’s promises, such efforts and faith are required. And so we labor and labor and labor, knowing we might never see the fruits of our labors until He comes again.

Can God be present in such a catastrophe? He not only can be but He is. As the days and weeks unfold, we will likely hear amazing stories of survival, of sacrifice, and of provision. Similarly, we will also hear stories of tragedy, of lamentation, and of wondering why God spared this person and not that one. There will be stories of celebration, there will be stories of survivor guilt, and there will be stories of anger directed at God or government or still others. To be sure, the recovery for Haiti will be long and draining. And the costs will be tallied not only in dollars and sense, but in human lives.

That’s why the idiotic statements of purported Christian leaders such as Pat Robertson ("the Haitians made a pact with the devil") and pundits such as Rush Limbaugh ("we’ve given enough—it’s called our income tax") must not only be considered but spoken against in our own ministries and our own circles. Rush Limbaugh’s comments are certainly less problematic for Christians who want to present a God of love and mercy and justice and righteousness and whatever else we like to celebrate about Him. After all, Rush is part entertainer/part self-declared arbiter of truth. He says things to garner attention and to promote a political agenda. I do not know whether he holds himself out as a Christian, but I do not believe he has ever held himself out as one who disciples others. And who knows, maybe the Venezuelans and Cubans will hear his criticism of their lack of giving and respond in kind.

No, there more dangerous voice, and the one deserving of more criticism from our perspective, out to be that of Pat Robertson and other “Christian leaders” who pounce on such catastrophes and label them as God’s judgment on this people or that people. We heard such comments around the time of Katrina with respect to New Orleans. We hear them often about the natural disasters in California, I cannot remember them for sure, but I imagine we heard them about the Tsunami.

Part of our Gospel message that we carry forth into the world each day is that Jesus bore the curse of all our sins on the cross that amazing Friday before Easter so long ago. He became sin so that we might become His righteousness. Part of Jesus’ work and ministry was to take upon Himself the curse of the torah. He bore the punishments required under the law. That is why we no longer stone adulterers or unruly kids, that is why we no longer have to put to death murderers or repeat manslaughterers, and that is why we no longer execute God’s judgment on blasphemers. He has already paid the penalty! All we need to do is repent of our sins and ask of Him the grace not to fall into sin again. It really is that easy! The Good News really is that good!

Of course, as this tragedy unfolds around us, the movie Avatar is garnering tons of money. Psychiatrists are noticing an increased occurrence of depression among those who see the film and find themselves back living in the real world once the movie ends. Pandora seems so perfect, and our fragile island home is anything but that. Events such as the Haitian earthquake serve to remind us that creation does groan under the weight of sin. This world is not perfect. To be sure, much of that groaning is our fault. We strip resources, we create imbalances, we subjugate rather than steward. And God reminds us that this is not as it should be. We had a garden of Eden, and we rejected Him. We had eternal life, and we elected death. We had a God who walked and talked with us in full communion, and we created a gulf between us by our sin. And still, His love for us was such that He made it possible for us to be restored. And He is powerful enough to make all things right.

Is God in this Haitian tragedy? Absolutely. He will inspire us and other to amazing works and ministries in His name. He will bend to His purposes those things we meant for evil. And where there is death and dying, He will be there crying with us as He did for Lazarus, empowering us to minister to His glory, redeeming and restoring all things!



Monday, January 4, 2010

Tis the season and our calling . . .

During the course of the six weeks or so leading up to Christmas and the first week or so after, I have found myself in a few discussions with people who are struggling mighty this time of year. Thankfully, none are “formal” members of this parish, but all are “in orbit” of us through our various ministries. I find it terribly ironic, and no doubt a work of His enemy, that so many people in the world find this time of irenic peace, joy, and hope to be so depressing, stressful, and burdensome. They have found themselves strung out worrying about gifts, worrying about what families and friends will think of them, worrying about how they measure up. A few have even remarked how they understand the allure of suicide at this time of year. And each has remarked at the beginning of their conversations that “you [Christians] have nothing to offer me that can help. I have tried the church thing and it failed.” Part of the problem, of course, has been their trying “the church thing.” Few have spent significant time in the church. But, to be fair, part of the problem is how we present church. We often build up in people the expectation that God will solve all our problems quickly. When the vicissitudes of life continue after a month, many give up. “The church thing” has failed them, and so they go looking for a better solution. And yet, our whole season of Christmas reminds us of the ups and downs experienced by God’s people until He comes and re-establishes our rule. What do I mean by the up’s and down’s?

Consider the liturgical calendar. We celebrate Christmas. Then, on the 26th, we remember the first martyr of the Church, Stephen. Then, on the 27th, we celebrate the life and ministry of John the Evangelist. On the 28th, we are back to remembering the sacrifice of the Holy Innocents (the babies killed by Herod in his futile attempt to destroy Jesus). And on the 29th, we celebrate Thomas Becket, whose ministry and martyrdom hit a little closer to home (he was killed in Canterbury cathedral by the king’s men, and the relationship between the crown and the Church was changed forever). On the 1st of January, we celebrate the Name (circumcision) of our Lord. And finally, on the 6th, we celebrate the Epiphany to the Gentiles. You might say we are on quite a roller coaster of up’s and down’s in this holy season of the Church.

And consider our readings. This week’s reading reminds us of the joy that follows sorrow, the celebration that follows mourning, and the peace that follows struggles, when one is a member of God’s people. Each of our readings reminds us of the vicissitudes of life. Jeremiah, who prophesied the Exile to the people, prophesizes their return in our periscope from this week. The psalmist, whose idyllic psalm is often read with the 23rd psalm at funerals, reminds us of the desolate valleys that must be traversed before we can dwell in the House of the Lord. Though St. Paul is praising the church at Ephesus for their response to the needy churches in and around Jerusalem, we cannot forget the need that provoked their generous response. And even our wonderful nativity scene is interrupted by Herod. The Silent Night of the birth of our Savior and the homage and awe paid by the Shepherds, the Angels, and the Magi are interrupted by the fear and ambition of a despot.

Brothers and sisters, you and I are called to remember the life to which we are called. While each of us likely would rather sit around the manger in silence, or dwell in the mountaintop experiences of our faith, or praise God at the empty tomb, you and I are sent out into the “real” world, where tragedy occurs daily. You and I are sent as His messengers into those struggles, those mournings, those sorrows known all too well by those there with us, and we are charged with proclaiming the Good News of His birth and His wonderful offer of salvation. And that offer is not meant for just a few, select individuals, but to the whole world! And so, brothers and sisters, we would do well to watch and to listen to those around us. We would do well to hear the stress in their voice, the ache in their hearts, see the depression in their countenance, the downcast in their eyes and empathize with their pain and remind them, as our collect did us this morning, that He who created them has more wonderfully offered to restore them. Better still, He has called them, as He has called each one of us, to share His divine life just as He shared our human life. That, my friends is our joy, our hope, and our peace that we celebrate at His birth. And that, brothers and sisters, is why we give thanks and praise that He has made us heralds of His birth, death, and resurrection! That, brothers and sisters, is why we look on the babe in a manger wrapped in cloths, with such love and such awe and with silent voices and love-filled hearts. We, the lost, have been found and rescued by Him!