Monday, November 22, 2010

Christ the King . . .

May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. -- As I have shared, probably enough times that you are all sick of hearing it, God seems to go to great pains to make sure that I “get it” each week. Usually, there are one or two lessons to which it is obvious He wants to direct my attention. This week, however, will stun even those of you tired of hearing it.
This week, as we gather in worship, we celebrate the Last Sunday after the Feast of Pentecost, also known as Christ the King Sunday. In the church year, this is our New Year’s Eve party. As Americans, we might find this Sunday a bit difficult to accept, particularly at a time when we are all giving thanks for the recent elections in which we were allowed to participate (though admittedly I am simply thanking God that there are no more commercials until the caucuses pick up). It is in our DNA, I think, to oppose kings. We were founded, after all, in protest to a king’s actions. Our form of government was deliberately created to avoid any individual possessing too much power. We sometimes like to claim that our greatest export is our democracy (besides, as our trade balances show, the rest of our goods are way too expensive to be bought by anyone).
So we gather this week, mindful of the fact that God calls us into His kingdom, that He will remake our bodies and give us eyes to see what He sees, ears to hear what He hears, hearts to love what He loves, and so on. One day, we hope to be admitted into a kingdom with a ruling king. But the promised ruler is not just a king; He is not just a Lord.
How do we know? Luke starts us off in the right direction. Think back some months ago. Jesus has been approached by two Apostles asking to be seated at His right hand and His left hand when He comes into His power. The other Apostles are mad. They should have thought to ask Jesus first. But Jesus tells them that they do not know what they are asking. His coming into power, His coronation, will be unlike the coronation of any king in human history. And today, we read Luke’s account. Notice as well, the taunts of those present. Think of their diabolical nature: “If you are the Son of God, “if you are the Messiah,” then save Yourself. Of course, Jesus is the Son and the Messiah. He certainly had the power to save Himself. Yet His purpose was first to serve and to save us. By force of will, despite our taunts, He stayed nailed to that cross. The two thieves might have wanted to come down, but Jesus could have made it happen by a simple thought. Yet for love’s sake, for mercy’s sake, He stayed and absorbed the taunts. And because of His faithfulness, He is exalted! He is King of kings and Lord of lords. All things, we are told, will bow before Him and His authority. But, not just yet . . .
We, you and I, are sent into those situations we described last week, and given the message of hope to proclaim. You and I are called to remind the world that this is not all that there is. The hopelessness that we feel, the hurt we experience and cause, the pain that agonizes us—it is all passing away because our Lord is coming to make all things new. And He, unlike every other ruler on earth, has the power to accomplish whatever He wills! Better still, nothing is beneath His notice. There were many more examples of His saving grace this week, but two incidents really stood out.
As most of you know by now, I was on my way to the Cathedral with glasses for Nzara when the phone rang. Dick, of Bernice and Dick on our prayer list, had killed himself while we gathered and praying for healing. It is hard not to care for someone when we have prayed for them for years, but it is harder still when one has been given the privilege to reap where others have sown. Since the days of Kathleen, parishioners had invited Dick and Bernice to come to church. Both admitted that they gave all kinds of excuses until it was too late. By the time they realized they needed God, Dick was too sick. So I was invited out. I wish I could claim profound insights as to Dick’s mental state. He had, among other diseases such as COPD and some facial nerve problem, the so-called “suicide disease.” He was racked by pain. He could not sleep. It hurt to breathe. No position was comfortable. But in my visit, I was able to remind him that this was not what God had intended. God felt his pain acutely. And Christ had died to heal even that terrible disease.
Now, less than a few days later, a family was in mourning. Friends and neighbors were asking the questions that no one wants others to ask. Guilt was running high in that neighborhood. If I’d only . . . I wish I would have . . . . maybe then he’d be alive. Somehow, Dick had gotten hold of a shotgun and a shell, and he ended the pain. Now I found myself in a room with police, with a coroner, with other first responders, pitying them and their job. And it was my job, my calling, to speak His power of redemption even into this mess.
You might be wondering what can be said at those times. I must admit I found myself wondering as well. But as I found myself thanking the first responders and the coroner and empathizing with their jobs, I found myself speaking against the guilt of the family. What Dick had done was senseless and tragic, but God was so powerful, so sovereign, that He could redeem even that. And slowly, over the course of the week, it became apparent that He did. People who had had no appetite for church for many years suddenly found themselves confronted with the realities of their lives. Did their friends, did their neighbors even know that they were Christians? What did they believe? Was church just something to do to pass the time, or was it something of infinitely more importance? Was God really good? If so, how could He allow this to occur? By the time of the funeral, I had lost count of the number of important conversations I had had. Heck, I had even forgotten some of the names, though not the faces. Yet, even those who rejected God admitted that His existence would be the only thing that could make such tragedies into a way to force humans to reflect, to discern, and to choose. Life serving Him? Or life serving themselves?
Of course, lest you go away this week feeling sorry for a family and really wondering if God is at work in the world today, we received another lesson. Thursday, Michelle called Vern to say that she had figured out a problem. We had not ordered all the food we were supposed to have ordered. In other words, people were not going to get food that they were expecting and for which they had paid, and at Thanksgiving to boot. To say that there was some stress would be a life. We had spent hours reconciling the orders and double-checking our math, and a book with more orders had been found. Thankfully, Michelle and Vern bore it all as I was too tied up with the funeral. And yet, our sovereign Lord was already at work.
“Father, could you find people that need some turkeys for Thanksgiving?” I was asked by a member of another church. Like you, I laughed. Little did I know. This disciple had asked his boss to donate the turkeys that the employees did not need. And thankfully, mercifully, the boss agreed. Saturday rolled around and I found myself confronted by two caring Christians worried sick that people would go hungry. I already had 5 turkeys. You had been generous at the end of October for Clergy Appreciation Day. Annette had cut the Discretionary check. We could buy another turkey and the ‘fixins (that’s southern for all the potatoes, green beans, stuffing, and other stuff that goes with the meal) and make sure nobody went hungry on Thanksgiving. Problem solved. Yet His ways are not our ways, and we sometimes often forget that.
By the time distribution was over, I had too much food. People had donated meals to offer thanksgiving to God for your prior service to them. They were paying it forward and trying to be a blessing to others in need. And so, we who expected to be short 6 boxes found ourselves 14 boxes to the good. Instead of lacking 6, we had 8 boxes too many. And, yes, we still have 5 more turkeys in need of those fixins. God does not only provide, He provides abundantly!
Brothers and sisters you and I are a sent people. We are a people that live in a world in which we do not belong, proclaiming the power and resurrection of our Father in heaven and His Son. When the rest of the world is forced to lament the sufferings or shrug them off as too powerful, you and I are called to remind ourselves, one another, and any who would listen that He has already begun the recreation and that nothing can overcome Him. And nothing, no single person or thing can thwart Him. And unlike kings who calls others to serve them and to be supplicants, our king adopts us. Our king makes us firstborn children and promises each one of us that we will be inheritors of the firstborn’s double portion. The world might tell us to expect the scraps, but our Lord promises us the choicest portions. Our Lord promises us abundance. And our Lord promises to prepare us to face anything that opposes His will with hope, with love, and with determination. We weep with those who mourn, we cry with those who cry, we hurt with those who hurt, but we give thanks to God for making us His and giving us the message of His love and His grace to proclaim to the world around us. And we thank Him that He is a king who led by example who first saved us, that we might be reshaped into ambassadors of His love and heralds of His power!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Shifting focus . . .

It is that time of year, the time of year when we begin to shift our focus in the church from “green living” to thoughts of Advent and Christmas. Naturally, our readings begin to reflect that transition, and our readings this week do a very good job of reminding us of our jobs. You and I are called to worship and love God with all our hearts, but as St. Paul exhorts us this week, we are not called only to the worship of Him. Better put, perhaps, we are not able to worship God simply by showing up at church once or twice a week and singing songs. True worship of God also involves us be heralds, ambassadors of the in-breaking Kingdom of God. We live in the here-and-now, but we are focused on the results of His recreation in the future.
Isaiah starts us off by reminding us that this, the world around us, is not “as good as it gets.” This world, the things that so consume our time, energy, effort, and worry, are passing away. And God will be recreating all things new. No longer will mothers and fathers experience the deaths of unborn or newly born children. No more will people be stabbed in the back by co-workers or be stepped on like rungs as others try and climb the corporate ladder. There will be no hunger, no disease, no death. Creation itself will be renewed. Predators and prey will live together peacefully, as He intended in the beginning. Earthquakes, floods, famines, plagues, tornadoes, and all sorts of natural catastrophes will have ceased. You and I, and all members of His holy Church, are called to witness into the messes of this world, the tragedies of our lives, the hope and promise which He gives. And to remind each one of us of His ability and power to do all these things, the Father raised Christ from the dead! When things seemed most hopeless, when the Savior was dead, God acted once again to remind each of us that He wants to and can save us.
Our life in this world, He tells us, will be full of pain, suffering, persecution, and all sorts of evils. There are no “free passes” for the faithful. Indeed, the faithful will be the very ones called to remind the world of the love of God, of the power of God, of the grace of God especially at those times when the world cannot or will not see Him. We go into places like Nzara, torn by 40 years of civil war, devoid of the most basic services, and proclaim His saving grace despite world’s testimony to those residents. We go into places where human beings are treated like less than animals, where they are traded for others or used as toys or slaves, and we remind them and those with power over them that God created even them in His image and that no one has the right to treat Him or His in that fashion. He died to free them; no one has the right to sell them once again, without at least remembering that their actions will have eternal consequences. We even go into places of death. Places where hopeless human beings choose to take their own lives, and we remind the families, the friends, the neighbors, the coroners, the first-responders that it is for these reasons, and so many more, that He died. And all this, all this is passing away! He is making all things new!
Brothers and sisters, this coming week, Christ the King Sunday, we will remind ourselves that we are not really part of a democracy. We may live in America, but we are simply sojourners here. Instead, our residency is in the world to come, where we serve the Lord, the King. And we have been called by our Lord to proclaim His hope and His promise, just as He first proclaimed it to each one of us through His birth, His death, and His resurrection. We have also been reminded, and will again throughout Advent, that we need to tackle our callings with an urgency, an urgency which reflects the belief that the Lord could return at any moment, completing what He began that Easter morning, and wiping away all our tears, all our suffering, and all that reject Him. Come, Lord Jesus! Heal us and make us whole.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

November 10 Rankings

November 10 Rankings
1. Auburn 14.00
2. Boise State 13.50
3. TCU 13.30
4. Oklahoma State 12.67
5. Oregon 12.33
6. LSU 12.00
7. Nebraska 11.78
8. Ohio State 11.67
9. Michigan State 11.60
10. Stanford 11.11
11. Utah 11.00
12. Wisconsin 10.67
12.(tie) Missouri 10.67
14. Alabama 10.56
15. Oklahoma 10.44
16. Iowa 10.33
17. Nevada 10.22
17.(tie) Virginia Tech 10.22
19. Arizona 9.89
19.(tie) Arkansas 9.89
21. Mississippi State 9.78
22. Central Florida 9.44
23. Temple 9.20
24. Florida 9.00
25. Hawaii 8.80

Temple? Yes, I know. They seem to be winning (I know, a shock in itself), against teams in their own division who occasionally beat teams in their division.
Can anyone explain why the Big East gets an automatic bid to a BCS Bowl and why TCU and Boise State and Utah have to win out to hope to get in one? Yeah, yeah, I know. People all over the country are going to put eyeballs on a VaTech-Central Florida matchup in a bowl.
Of course, there is still a lot of games to be played. If your school beats good competition and it will likely rise. Stumble, and you find yourself falling down the polls like Texas or FSU.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Saints in our midst . . .

I find it appropriate that on this day, when we celebrate All Saints’ Day, for us to reflect upon the Saints in our lives. Too often, we as a church are often guilty of remembering the past while trying to look and plan for the future. As a consequence, the Saints in our lives are often overlooked, or at least unacknowledged. And while such acknowledgement always runs the risk of offending those not mentioned, it is sometimes worth the risk to point out to each other what is happening around us.
I give thanks and praise this week to God especially to Nicole. Nicole had no idea what she was doing when she took a little girl aside, hugged her, and allowed her to cry for some time. Nicole had no idea what she was doing, but she was comforting one among us who has not had a good life. How had I heard the story? Her mom came in to thank me and let me know I had an angel in my congregation. Maybe she exaggerates a bit, but Nicole was certainly a saint.
I give thanks and praise this week to God for Vern, Connie, Gay, Sherry and anyone else who had a hand placing AFM menus in the schools. For the first time in almost two years, their tilling of the ground brought forth a green shoot even as winter rears its head in our lives. Three weeks ago, thanks to all of your generosity, I enabled a school employee to help a desperate family. To be sure, that family took the fun out of dysfunction. But I had her call and tell the family that the food was here. The family picked it up, and once again that school employee apologized. This week, I received a call. “Father,” she said, “the more we talked about what you did, the more excited we got. I have heard of churches like this, but I had never experienced it for myself. Anyway, we took up a collection to thank you, and we raised enough money to purchase 6 Thanksgiving boxes for needy families. Do you think you could find 6 families?” I laughed ironically, as need knows no season. But I asked her if she could not find 6 families nor could not those who helped her contribute. As a result of your faithful giving, teachers have now collected among themselves and identified 6 needy families in their school to help. And that joy of serving that we each share, will no doubt be given to them.
I give thanks and praise to God for the ministry of Fred. Four years ago, as a priest newly landed in Davenport, I called Fred and asked him if he could help with a problem. Fred bought a pair of steel-toed boots for a man newly employed. Three weeks ago, his boss walked in and gave me $50 for the discretionary fund. When I asked why. He said, “Four years ago you helped John. I want you to know I had to fire him this week. He wasn’t lazy. He wasn’t stubborn. He was just grateful for a job. And you made it possible for him to work for me until my business dried up. I’m hoping you can pay it forward for me, because I am broken up about having to turn him loose.”
I give thanks and praise to God for Bev, who doggedly got the word out about our need for freezers and then stubbornly refused to give up finding out the identity of one of the donors so that we could properly thank her on behalf of the hungry.
I give thanks and praise to God this week for Sherry, Michelle, Sue, Robin, Linda, Larry, Pauline, Patty, Mary, Julie, Polly and everyone else who has a hand in the Community Meal. As I shared with 8 o’clock this week, I was reminded last month just how much they appreciate the effort and the love with which we serve them.
I give thanks and praise to God for Charlie (though if people yell at me for forgetting their ministries I might change that!), who often nags and nags and nags that I need to share these stories more often, and who is never afraid to speak into any situation.
I give thanks and praise to God for George, Annette and Robin, who took the modern incarnation of bingo, and turned it into an opportunity for us to teach others about God (and to make a bit of money for our church as well).
I give thanks and praise to God for those that have served on Vestry, who kindly and gently try to meet the needs of all of us while trying hard to discern God’s will for this parish and then leading us appropriately.
I give thanks and praise to God for our Intercessors, whose faithful ministry has convinced others that God is still moving and working in the world today.
I give thanks and praise to God for those who have served as my sounding board, as wonderful pastoral counselors in my life, and as elders in the faith when I have need it.
I give thanks and praise to God for Karen, who wonderful work as a mother frees me up for all the stuff that goes on around here, and who is never afraid to speak her mind, even when I do not wish to hear it.
I give thanks and praise to God for our ushers, our altar guild, our choir, and all our service participants, who faithfully labor that each of us, but most especially the visitor among us, might see, hear, and feel God during our services.
In short I give thanks and praise to God for all your ministries and the trust with which you have enabled me to represent you and your love for God to the world around us, both here in Davenport and even in the “virtual” world as we tackle the adversities in peoples’ lives on behalf of the God who calls us to such servant ministry. It is only because of your faithful labors that I am ever seen and known as the “Death sucks pastor,” the pastor the church that “Rocks,” the pastor of the church that “feeds people,” the priest tackling Human Trafficking, or a great herder of cats!
This week, as we reflect on that “great cloud of witnesses” which God has given us both as examples of holy living and, sometimes, as examples of victorious dying, take a moment to remember those in your life today who have taught you how to bear witness to His truth and who have helped strengthen your faith and devotion, and to thank God and praise Him for their roles in your life. Who knows? Maybe someone will hear the joy and love with which you speak of a brother or sister in Christ and be moved to ask you to account for that joy.
Christ’s Peace,

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Week of November 1 College Football Rankings

Week 9 Rankings

Team Ranking

1. Auburn 14.11
2. Boise State 13.00
3. TCU 12.56
4. Utah 12.13
5. Missouri 11.75
6. (tie) Oklahoma 11.63
6. (tie) Oklahoma State 11.63
6. (tie) Oregon 11.63
9. Ohio State 11.44
10. Michigan State 11.33
11. Nebraska 11.25
12. Alabama 11.13
13. LSU 11.00
14. Arizona 10.75
15. Wisconsin 10.38
16. Stanford 10.25
17. Maryland 9.88
18. Mississippi State 9.78
19. (tie)Iowa 9.63
19. (tie)Nevada 9.63
21. Hawaii 9.56
22. Virginia Tech 9.38
23. South Carolina 9.25
24. Baylor 9.11
25. Central Florida 8.75

Ok. It’s out, for all those who have been nagging me to rank the teams again. Obviously, the Auburn Tigers benefit from their early schedule strength, and, should they win out, will likely win the mythical championship. The TCU/Utah winner will obviously benefit, but it remains to be seen if either can leap Boise State with Hawaii and Nevada still on the Broncos’ schedule. Oregon is punished in this system because 1 of their victories is over a 1-AA team (Portland State) and because they have beaten two teams with no wins against 1-A competition (New Mexico & Washington State) and 1 team with only a single win against 1-A competition (Tennessee). There are still a number of important games to be played, so it will be interesting to see who rises and who falls from here. And while I do not encourage the use of these for gambling purposes, that discouragement is really important right now. Auburn and Boise State have separated themselves a bit from the field, but #5-#24 look pretty jammed up at this point. It's a sure sign that anybody can beat anybody!