Monday, December 12, 2011

What will you be wearing?

     Although many Christians believe that Paul is the only biblical writer to use the image of the wedding dress and the marriage feast to describe God’s plan for humanity, such an understanding could not be more incorrect. Isaiah is among those in the Old Testament who use this theme of a wedding dress to explain what God is going to do for His people. Why do I bring up this imagery? I know that when many of you head to work on Monday and you hear or read on the internet what was preached this Advent 3 weekend at other churches, there will be a common theme of deliverance and transformation. God will deliver us; God will transform us.  Truthfully, I think that is what our lectionary editors wanted to be the subject of the week’s sermons. And from an Advent perspective, it makes total sense. We have been delivered from our sins (though we still sin and repent), and we will be transformed completely when He returns. The subject matter certainly seems to fit the season. But I want us to think of the wedding dress for just a moment. It is an imagery to which many of us can relate, and it, too, is an image which captures the essence of what it means to live in the season of Advent, a season of expectant waiting.

     Weddings in the ANE were an excuse for a community party. Depending on the size of the wedding, the economic and social importance of those being wed, the wedding could have been a cause for celebration not only in communities proper, but in the surrounding countryside as well. Extended families would travel in for the wedding.  Supplies for a lot of parties and feasts needed to be purchased.  Heck, musicians needed to be found.  Usually, the weddings would last a week or so, depending upon the resources of the family. The men would gather in the groom's home and celebrate while the women would gather in another place and celebrate. No doubt the men’s party included copious amounts of alcohol and advice (as if that were a bad thing). I am (sarcastically, of course) equally certain that the women’s party included tea, chocolate, and more advice. The eating and storytelling would continue until the time of the wedding proper.

     At that time, the bride would adorn herself in a dress given to her by her prospective husband and process with all the women to the main feast. Think of that for just a second. The groom selected the wedding dress for his bride. Can you imagine the possibilities for mistakes, for errors? I know. Men here are now thanking God that they only had to buy a ring and plan a honeymoon. Can you imagine, gentlemen, the pressure of picking out the right dress? What if you got the style wrong? What if she thought it made her backside look too fat? What if you bought a color that clashed with her skin or eyes? You think making the proposal story memorable was tough!  We can't select colors or songs, how would we have ever functioned in those days?

     And ladies, can you imagine the utter helpless feeling? What in the world is he going to select for me? Will it be my size? Will it cover what I want covered and show what I want to show? Will it make me look skinny? Will it be white? Will it be ivory? What if some slick salesgirl convinces him that red or black is the new white? What if he buys a knockoff at WalMart or K-Mart? Does he even know what a designer is? What if he makes me a laughingstock in front of all my family and friends?

     And can you imagine the marital fights later in life if the dress was not up to expectations? “My mother was right. I knew it when I opened that box. You never loved me. You never paid any attention to me. I should have processed the other way as quick as my feet would carry me!”  I know some of you cringe when you hear an engagement story started by one of your wife's friends.  You know what I am talking about, right, men?  You are going to get to hear about it all over again.

     All kidding aside, think of the seriousness with which wedding dresses would have been purchased. What the bride was given to wear told not just her, but all those in attendance, just what the groom thought of her. In those days, in all of Judea, men wanted their women to become Proverbs 31 women. She was to be esteemed more than anything in the world. Her value was incalculable. In New Testament terms, we might say that she was a woman for whom he was willing to die for, just as Christ died for His church.  And her dress signified to those present that the groom recognized her worth. As she processed with the ladies to the groom’s house, there would be murmurs of approval. Tears of joy might well be shed. The wedding would take place, and then the real feast would begin, with everyone present.

     You and I, brothers and sisters, are living in that kind of a celebratory week, a pre-honeymoon kind of time. Sorry gentlemen, but you and I and all the women here present are brides waiting on our Lord’s return. We live in that period of time where we are waiting on the wedding and the feast to begin. To be sure, He has already provided us with the garment of praise, the crown of beauty, and the oil of gladness that will mark us as His own forever. His death and resurrection have promised us an attire the likes of this world has never seen.  All that sounds amazing! But here’s the part we often overlook: the intimacy that is offered.

     It is hoped at every marriage that there will exist true intimacy. The freedom and ability to share everything, hurts, fears, joys, you name it. What is most amazing my friends is that our Lord calls us to that kind of intimacy with Him! Despite knowing our blemishes, despite knowing our faults, despite knowing our inner being and all those things about ourselves which we loathe, He chooses us to clothe us in His garment, a garment which ultimately cost Him His life.  Better still, in that pledge of a garment is the offer to share in an eternal relationship of intimacy that we will never know on earth. The same Lord who fashioned ous, who created the world and all that is within it, who knows our inmost being, wants us to get to know Him intimately, in a way not too dissimilar from the way a bride and groom come to know each other over time.  And just as individual brides and individual grooms are transformed into couples through their intimacy, you and I and everyone whom we meet are able to be transformed into sons and daughters of the Lord.  Our minds, as we will pray in a few minutes this Healing Sunday, begin to think His thoughts.  Our eyes begin to see what He sees.  Our ears begin to hear what He hears.  Better still, we become equipped to become His hands and His feet in the world, sharing the Good News of His offer, and showing off the wedding dress He has provided each one of us and offers to all who would look upon it.  Why do we long so much for His return? Because we know the love that He brings for each us, a love that He demonstrated both by coming into the world for our sake and by walking that road to Calvary some 2000 years ago!  And because we know that then, when He comes again to start the beginning of the feast, we can be rid of these tattered clothes that we each put on ourselves, and find ourselves clothed in attire that He, the Creator and Redeemer of the world, has selected for each of us, attire that makes us stand out in His eyes as pillars of righteousness.



Monday, December 5, 2011

He comes and He gathers . . .

     I so enjoy those weeks when the sermon is done by Tuesday. One reason, of course, is that it does not happen very often. The second reason, though, is that it is usually very obvious and I feel a bit of excitement about sharing it. This week was one of those weeks in spades. I so wanted it to be Sunday by Wednesday that I thought I would not make it until today! It sounds weird, I know, coming from me. But wait until you hear it. If I do my job well, you will share the excitement too! That’s not to say that I had no difficulties this week. I felt rushed all week, as a result of a number of these conversations. Plus, while I have the stories, I lacked the big unifying theme until Pauline asked me a question this morning.

     Why do the members of AA keep coming in earlier and earlier when we meet? To put it in context for those of you who do not join us on Thursday mornings, we meet in the Parish Hall from 10:45am to about 11:45am. We do book studies and Bible studies, depending upon the desire of those present. It is a question we have all wondered at from time to time. Our scheduled time used to run until noon, but we found it easier to stop a few minutes early so they could get settled in time.  Admittedly, some of those present for their meeting will have loud conversations. But, when we look closer, we often notice other people straining to listen to our conversations while wanting to keep their distance. I have chalked this response up to the ladies of Thursday morning. They are a fabulous group of ladies, excepting Joshua and me. What makes the time so valuable is their willingness to share both the good and the bad. Youngsters would say that these matriarchs are “keeping it real,” the “it” being their faith journey. Those present will talk about their peaks and valleys and how God was at each, carrying them, cajoling them, or even encouraging them to come back down the mountain. How do I know this? Sometimes, those straining end up spending the most time with me that week. This was one of those weeks.

What made it interesting to me, however, was the subtext in many of the conversations. What’s the big deal about Advent? Why do you guys get all decked out in purple and black? And, do you think He knows my hurt, my pain? Those questions have been similar to your own. What is a holy Advent? Why is it such a big deal? Our conversations, and our reading from Isaiah, remind us of Advent’s importance and our needs.

     Chapter 40 of Isaiah reminds us of a dilemma that we all face in our lives. Just as with his contemporary Israelites, who wondered in the face of the Babylonian Exile whether God had been defeated and whether they could ever be restored to their ancestors’ relationship with Yahweh, you and I sometimes face the same questions. Sometimes they are our own: Does He really love me? Why doesn’t He ever answer my prayer? Why won’t He changed me? Why won’t He listen to me? Sometimes, those questions come from those in our midst: why do you follow Him? Do you really believe? If He is good, why did this happen? There are tons more questions that can be asked, but you get the idea. Thankfully and mercifully, God has given us the answers to those questions in a beautiful way in chapter 40. Comfort, comfort My people, says your God. How?, we ask. See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep is His answer and our proclamation.

     Sometimes, as Christians, I think we get too caught up in the cross and the empty tomb. It might surprise you to hear those words coming from my lips, but I do think it is true. Often as Christians, when we are confronted by people or by life’s events with those big questions, our default answer is “Jesus saves,” or "Give it over to God," or something along those lines. To fellow Christians, such a statement might make sense. But what of the non-Christians in our lives? Do they have any understanding about the power of those words? Do we even understand what we are saying when we parrot them? Part of the hope and promise of the Gospel, brothers and sisters, is that our Lord comes and and that our Lord gathers. Our God is so powerful that He can accomplish whatever He wills. If He wants the river or ocean to part, it parts. If He determines to execute judgment on His enemies, they cannot escape Him, His power, or His judgment. Even death must yield in the presence of His power; His rule is that absolute. But, despite all that power and all that authority, He gathers. Like a shepherd looking for his lost sheep and fragile lambs, He gathers His own to Him and protects them. Part of our cry ought to be that He comes in power to break power of evil and death with His strong arm, but part of our cry must contain the idea that this power is exercised while He is, at the same time, gathering all those broken by the world and its powers into His loving arms. Can you imagine a more comforting message? Yet how little do we speak in such words.

     I was reminded of His coming this week in several excited phone calls and visits. Too often, only our Intercessors hear of the results of their labors, but this was one of those weeks when the stones would cry out even if I did not. It began with Pete. Doctors were arguing in the hospital ICU over whether they should operate. The pledge to “first, do no harm” was in play. Something was terribly wrong with his body. He had lost pints of blood. They suspected his tumor had simply grown and was causing his body to finally break down. Surgery, they thought, might get him a few weeks at best. Was the pain of recovery worth the weeks? During my last visit, he simply asked for me to pray for healing. I anointed him with oil and prayed to God that He bring true healing to Pete. Truthfully, I thought such healing would result only when Pete was carried to our Father’s arms. But God had other ideas. Pete went to Iowa City and had surgery. Iowa City was one of the few places that could balance all his needs and the difficulty of his case. Genesis could not. Pete went through the procedures and now is at home expecting to celebrate at least one last Christmas with his family—something not believed possible by doctors as close as three weeks ago!  And Pete and his family have a chance to make a good ending, a chance to be reconciled for hurts and sins, this Christmas season. He comes with power!

     Following quickly on that call from Tanya, his niece, I got another excited call from Sue. Allison had been pronounced in full remission by her doctors! You might recognize her name. We pray for her each Healing Sunday by name. You may not know her story. Allison is a three year-old girl. She had been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer by her doctors. It was a diagnosis confirmed by other hospitals and doctors. Her time was expected to be measured in a couple months, rather than in a long life. Her family went in search of prayer warriors. Amazingly, through a couple different connections, they discovered ours! Within hours, three Intercessors had contacted me about getting the word out to the rest of the Prayer Chain that Allison and her family needed prayers, desperately. Talk about answered prayers!  A little girl goes from full blown stage 4 cancer to remission in the time she was expected to die!  He comes with power!

     The last one I will share, many of you know. I had to share it on Facebook. Larry, not our Larry, but rather a gentleman from Houston, showed up in my office. He asked if I remembered him. Weirdly, I remembered he had a great story and I remembered he was from Houston. I mention his story because it was one of those stories I had to reward for creativity, if not true need. Listening to him a couple years ago, I decided either it was true or he was the absolute best storyteller I had heard in many years. I bought him so gasoline and some insulin. He was on the prayer list for a time, until I gave up that he was never going to tell us what happened to him. He beamed when I remembered his story and his hometown—he was not the least disappointed that I had forgotten his name. He said he had a couple favors to ask. He tossed on my desk more than double what I originally gave him. I swore to God that day if He provided for me in my need, I would pay in back multiple times. He did through you. I thought to myself this week, as I prepare to finish medical school, who better to give it to serve Him? I reminded him that I don’t expect ever to be paid back. Discretionary funds are reminders of God’s grace, we serve because He first served us. Larry said he understood but that I needed to understand that he had sworn an oath to God, and such oaths always had to be kept in light of answered prayers. I asked if he wouldn’t rather wait until he had graduated (kicking myself with the words get behind me Satan ringing in my ears over what I had just asked). Gracefully he answered that he could see the light at the end of his long, dark tunnel, and it was beautiful to behold. Whether he gave up something over Christmas did not matter much to him now. But that money he gave me might well get another desperate soul in sight of their own tunnel’s end. I accepted the money and asked about the other favor. He wanted prayer for provision for a good landlord and place to live. He had decided to settle here in the QCA and wanted a place to live, a good place. He figured, given how powerfully God answered prayers here, he could save a lot of running around by having us pray that he find a landlord. We prayed. He gave me his number with instructions to call if the landlord showed up here. He promised to call if the landlord showed up in his life—we can never be sure how He will fulfill a promise like this, you know. He might go through you. He might cut out the middleman and just have the landlord "bump into me" out there. Whichever way, it does not matter. He’ll provide. He always does! I still wonder who's jaw was closer to the floor, mine or Vern's, as he whistled on his way out of the office.  He comes with power!

     But he also comes as a shepherd to gather up the broken. Though He can accomplish amazing things in the world, He cares for those forgotten and abandoned in the world. I was reminded of that, too, this week. One of my visitors included a lady who had fallen away from the church for a time. Her story might be familiar to you. She was married to someone who was abusive. Her faith had dictated for many years that she put up with it. So she did. Trying to be a religious lady caused her to raise a daughter in an abusive home. It should come as no small surprise to us that her daughter, upon reaching the age of maturity, fled the church and fled God. What kind of sick God expects a woman to take a beating? This lady that I mention has travelled quite a distance. As you might imagine, she, too, had no use for such a God. She had been quite content not to serve Him or worship Him in her life. But “events” conspired to draw her back into His loving arms. She eavesdropped of Jane, and Jan, and Karen, and Maralyn and the rest of us on Thursday mornings. Our discussions, she later told me, were real. Some of our ladies had the same problems, the same thoughts, the same hurts and pains as she did. Through it all, though, they had seen God’s deliverance. Listening to them for a few months prompted her to return to church. Her return was one of those perfect “God-incidences” about which we talk. She happened in on a sermon where the clergy apologized for the mistakes of those who had come before, of himself, and of those who will come after. She realized, listening to his words, that God was speaking directly to her hurt and her pain. Yes, humans had failed her. He was sorry. He would never fail her.

     Her story would be beautiful, if it ended there. A prodigal daughter returns home! But another part of her is broken. She is a mom. She is a mom who realizes the damage she has wrought in her daughter, a damage that could have eternal consequences if she does not “fix it.” She jokes from time to time that she loves strolling into my office and asking all these really hard questions. All those questions, of course, come from her daughter. You see, her daughter claims to embrace atheism. She fires questions left and right at her mother trying to dissuade her of her faith in God. Mom, not being a trained theologian, admittedly struggles with some. Those are the ones she brings to me. As her story has unfolded before me over the past year or so, I like to think we have caused the daughter to think, to reconsider her relationship with God. Certainly He knows how important that relationship is to the mother, the mother who blames herself for her daughter’s rejection of our Father in heaven. Truthfully, she is wracked by guilt over this far more than over her divorce. Through it all, though, our job has been to remind her of her daughter’s questions and her own circumstances. Prior to the last year, it had been ages since she stepped inside a church to talk with a clergy, rightfully so! Yet day after day and week after week, we chat. And when the daughter has a hard question, we struggle together. And it has become my job, as an extension of your ministry here in Davenport, to remind her of God’s work even in such a singular circumstance. If the daughter is such an atheist, why all these questions? (Truthfully, mom gets excited by the questions now because she recognizes that the daughter may only be prodigal) Better still, how can she explain the fact that she knew a clergy, who was willing to struggle with tough questions, given her life circumstance, save the gentle gathering and direction of her Father? He will gather the lambs in His arms.

     Another story comes from one of our local care facilities. I had gone to visit a parishioner with my trusty box. I know with some of you I do not have to, but I bring the box as much as an announcement to the rest of the facilities that God is present as much as anything. He is, after all, the great physician! Missing a parishioner and leaving, I was grabbed by someone I did not know. Understand, some people like their clergy to be anonymous. If they don’t know me and I don’t know them they do not have to fear me being judgmental. He asked if I would hear his confession and absolve him. Things were not going well, and there was a decent chance he would die. It had been quite a while since I had heard the word shriven. So I entered and began to talk with him. He confessed his sins; I granted absolution. As we were wrapping up and I was preparing to leave, the family came in. Why was I there? What was I doing? Who did I think I was? And if I managed to get a word in edgewise, two or three more questions were thrown at me. I note that I have the pastoral skills of a slug oftentimes, but it was clear even to me that there was a fight happening in that room that was essential to that family. When they demanded that I leave never to return, I turned to ask if he had any other needs. One of the boys began to yell at me for not hopping to it. Now, I must confess my hackles were more than raised. I had not gone to see the man—he had asked me to come in. I certainly had not been rude to him or them—the same could not be said of them. Just as the words for the stinging retort formed on my lips, the patriarch spoke.

     “Father, I have one more sin I need to confess. I should have done it while we were alone, but maybe it is best that they hear it, too.” The room exploded in a cacophony of protestations about not needing absolution, about not needing a priest, about not needing God. “I repent before God, this priest, and you all that I have failed as your father, uncle, and husband. My chief job should have been to raise you to love and trust God. Instead, I let football, golf games, hangovers, and whatever else was happening in my life take precedence. I have failed you and I have failed God. Now, as you all face the possibility of my death I see the fear in your eyes and the panic in your voice. I have so failed each one of you. Father, do you think He can ever forgive me for that?” The cacophony of voices changed to a bunch of protests about his failure. I reminded dad that He had died for all our sins, all of them. He asked what he could do to atone. I told him absolutely nothing. Such a failure required the cross and His mercy. But, I suggested a prayer that maybe in their remaining time together he would fulfill his role. Dad agreed. Dad agreed so much that when the protests began, this man who, less than a half hour earlier had told me of his uncertain prognosis, roared and demanded silence. “We will pray, Father, all of us.” I have to confess it was a longish prayer. I prayed for healing for all in the room. I prayed that their time together would be spent in the glory of God. And I prayed that everyone in that room would experience that peace that passes all understanding. Though my eyes were closed as I prayed, I am not naïve enough to think that everyone enjoyed it. I am also a sinner enough that I laughed this week as I checked on dad. He had been sent home. The nurses were laughing at dad’s newfound strength. It had been a difficult family when he was on death’s door, as families often are, but something had changed in all of them. I chuckled as I left the facility. A dad got to repent of a terrible sin. Now he had been sent home to celebrate a priceless gift—the opportunity to try and live into the life expected of him even at this late stage—a gift worthy of our Lord’s coming! He will gather the lambs in His arms.

     I know I am running long. You all have sales to get to or games to watch, but I heard this tale twice this week, such is its importance. I think He told me it twice, with different specifics, because I know many of you understand the pain of which I will be speaking. I’ll probably conflate the details, but that is ok; if you ever hear the tale firsthand from one of them, you will be enraptured by the differences. Why are all these churches celebrating Advent, Father? His question was unexpected. We had talked at least once a week for several months, but never of weighty matters. Our relationship had been one of polite conversation, until now.  When I pointed out that liturgical churches all follow the same season, he pointed out the number of other churches that were following Advent as well. I joked about those churches being led back into the fold and using the season to remind themselves that He has come and that He will come again. But it’s just lip-service. I wanted remind him to be careful of judging others, but the word’s that came out of my mouth were more along the lines of “what do you mean?” Advent is supposed to be a season of expectant waiting. It is a season when we are called to remind ourselves that we are to live our lives as if He might return any second, repent where we fall short and sin, and recommit to do what He commands. So far, so good. I wondered what made him so convinced they weren’t waiting in expectation? He gave his reasons. Truthfully, I still questioned whether he was being judgmental, so I asked what made him an expert in expectant waiting. Twice I heard an answer similar this week.

     He explained that his wife had left him. He was divorced. What had gotten him to this point was the result of that divorce. When his wife left him, suddenly from his perspective, he had given up on life (one had been suicidal, the other not). He quit eating. He started drinking. Bathing was an option, one that, as he reflected upon this period of his life, he chose not to exercise much at all. He lost a lot of weight, maybe as much as 60lbs in one case. By the way, it is not a diet that he commends to anyone.  Alcohol came to figure prominently in his life. In both cases, the family selected a brother to do the intervention. I’ll not bore you with the details but, the brother managed to convince him he was an alcoholic. After some time, the brother said he would be back in an hour to get him to take him to Genesis or Iowa City, whichever he preferred. When I asked him what had convinced him to seek help, he said it was his reflection. He did not recognize the person in the reflection of the china cabinet. All I can say, Father, is that I was not myself.

     Anyway, he turned the shower on super hot and began chopping at his beard with scissors. His wife had never tolerated whiskers, so the beard was new to him. In the shower he scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed. He shaved and shampooed. I tried to get the funk of whatever I had become off me, know what I mean? Once his skin was bright red, he got out and dried off. He went to the closet to get his suit. I’m not one of those people who has lots of suits. I own one suit and wear it to funerals and weddings. I work for a living, know what I mean? He distinguishes the suit by changing ties. I went back and forth over which tie. Then he gathered his things in an overnight bag, exited the house, locked up, and waited for the ride. You know, Father, as I stood there waiting for my brother, I didn’t know whether I was coming or going. I was kinda glad I had not eaten cause I might have messed my pants. Would this work? What was wrong with me? How could this happen to me? I wanted desperately to run back into the house, grab a drink, and hide. But I kept seeing my face in the mirror in my head. Who was that imposter? What had happened to the real me?

     Sadly, this is where the two stories diverged. In one case, the brother showed up and whisked his soon to be divorced brother off to detox. In the other case, the brother failed to show. You can well imagine the stories from there. In one case, a brother rescued a brother, got him to a place to find help, and loved his brother in thought and deed. In the other case, the brother’s own battles with drugs and alcohol got the better of him. He stood on the curb waiting for the help that never came. Both of them, however, understood Advent very similarly. He will gather the lambs in His arms. Each man realized that he needed something. What both needed was the love of God. In the case where the brother served him, he came to realize in treatment that the funk he so desperately was trying to scrub could never be erased by his own efforts. He needed God to fill him again and make him whole. As for the man whose brother failed him, he came to realize that expectant waiting that involves hope, must be focused on God. Two similar stories. Different twists near the rescue. Same wonderful ending! Both were found and know themselves to be loved by God. Advent for them is not a season. It is a way of life! He will gather the lambs in His arms.

Brothers and sisters, you and I are called to be heralds of His coming kingdom. We are called to a priesthood of reconciliation. It is our job, empowered by His grace, to lead other back into right relationship with one another and with God. One of the best ways we accomplish that task is to share with those in our lives both of His power and of His tenderness. Each of us gathered today knows the big stories in the Bible. We can speak to the Exodus, we can talk of the Exile’s end, and we can certainly speak with authority of His Easter event. Just as importantly, though, we can share stories of His power at work in the world around and through us, whether it is curing cancer or providing daily needs. Yet, not to be lost in those so-called big events is the tenderness of a loving God, who knows us each by name, and who meets us where we are. He meets us at our darkest moments, at those moments when we know ourselves to be most unworthy, most covered in our funk, and tries gently to lead each one of us home with the rest of His sons and daughters. Brothers and sisters, each one of us has a role to plan in His plan of eternal salvation. Advent is that time of the church year when we remind ourselves of His power to save and how He acted to save each one of us. Those are love stories which can reach the world, reach the world for His glory and His honor and for the welfare of all whom we meet!

Christ’s Peace,

Monday, November 28, 2011

A community of possibility . . .

     Too often in this modern world we see ourselves lacking possibilities. Like the world in which Isaiah prophesied, we seem to be more and more accepting of the idea that who we are, what we are to become, how we are to interact with others, and the like are determined. These things are determined by our genetics (good breeding tells, as does bad), by our family systems (families with addictive tendencies will tend to produce more addicts, families with histories of abuse will tend to produce more abusers and more victims), by our socio-economic station (money buys happiness, does it not?), and by anything but ourselves. Much of what seems to be going on in the world around us reflects this belief that the possibilities are not really there. Most of us here in this room remember the creation of the Euro. Within a few weeks, we might all see the collapse of that same Euro and the anarchy that may well follow, unless some economic white knight comes riding to the rescue to keep taxes and retirement ages lower in certain member countries. Occupy Wall Street is, among other things for some people, a demonstration that many people believe the American Dream to be dead to nearly all of us. Those in the 1% might be truly free to pursue their dreams, but it is at the expense of us other 99%, or so the argument goes, unless someone or something, like a government, breaks in and changes the playing field for us.

     This idea that we have no possibilities before us has even invaded our faith. We like to pretend that we are helpless victims. Yes, we are sinners. Yes, we wish we weren’t. But there’s not much we can do about it. God made me an addict. God made me an abuser. God made me slothful. I wish I weren’t, but this is who I am. If He would give me the grace necessary to act differently, I would. But He has not seen fit to, no matter how many times I sincerely ask Him. As pastors, we even encourage this attitude by reminding people and ourselves that it is ok, that we are all loved by God and accepted for who we are. All we do is claim the cross, and everything is fine. In many ways we do not even realize that we have bought into the world’s victimization and baptized it, if you will, to absolve us of our sins and of our failing to live into the glorious inheritance to which He has called us.

     In many ways, we find ourselves in a situation not unlike that described by Isaiah this morning. In this morning’s passage, the prophet declares that Israel sinned, so God had looked away. Because He was looking away from them and remembering His wrath, they could not hope to do anything good. It is a hopeless cycle described by the prophet. God has turned away because His people have sinned. His people cannot do anything worth anything to God because He is no longer with them. All our righteous acts are like filthy rags. What hope is there?

     Isaiah reminds us that when God acts, He is capable of doing amazing acts for the benefit of His people. Unlike the other gods of the ANE, Yahweh acts for the welfare of His people. Mountains tremble at His presence. Watercourses are changed by His command. Events such as the Exodus event, the various victorious battles of King David against military superiority, the covenant with Abraham--all testify that God acts, and acts in amazing fashion, for His people! And, as we look back on the work and person of Christ, we know that He acts amazingly for us even still. But is that it? Is that the end of the story? Are we, like the world and so many religious like to claim, finished? Or is there more to claiming our inheritance?

     Whom does God truly help? Isaiah reminds us that He helps those who wait for Him, who gladly do right, and who remember His ways. Our faith, brothers and sisters, is not a passive response and acceptance of the way things are. Yes we are sinners. Yes we have terrible faults. Yes, God must act to save us. Yes, God must act to circumcise our hearts. But part of living into our faith, part of keeping our covenant with God, is living into the possibilities He has made possible through Christ. Will we, in other words, do our part to see His intervention alive in our lives and in the world? In other places, Paul describes this holy living as a struggle. The Greek word for this struggling includes the root word for agony in the effort put forth. Does accepting our sins and shrugging our shoulders at God’s seeming unwillingness to zap us seem like a struggle? Of course not. Our walk in faith begins at our baptism, brothers and sisters, but it does not end until He calls us home or returns in victory and begins the separation described last week. From the moment of that adoption until our dying breath, you and I are called to struggle, in agony, to do what He calls us to do, to live righteously, to become sons and daughters worthy of our Father. Yes, Jesus did the worst of the suffering, but you and I each have a part to play both in our own spiritual growth and in salvation history. In a way the world cannot understand, you and I are freed to become the men and women and boys and girls He has called us to be, but like all freedom, it includes a terrible struggle.

     Why the talk of possibilities? The world, brothers and sisters, is taking the easy way out and forgetting the call of God and the glorious inheritance made available to all who claim His Son as Lord. It is a far, far easier thing to blame our addictions, blame our behaviors, blame our faults on our circumstances, our genes, on our upbringing or on the world around us.  Like a warm, soft blanket, such an attitude gives us an excuse to fall short of the glory to which He calls us. Yet it is that same God who speaks and causes mountains to tremble, who appears and causes the dried twigs to burn and the water to boil, who calls us to become men and women worthy of Him, Kings and Queens in His eternal kingdom. Why the talk of possibilities? Because you and I and all who accept Him as Lord have been redeemed and set free from failure and from "good enough."  Our struggle is a struggle for living into our Father's image, our potter's artistry.

     And redeemed, for you and for me, brothers and sisters, means a world of possibilities has been opened to us. Unlike the world around us which accepts the idea that “this is the way that it is” or “that this is as good as it gets,” you and I know better. We are freed to become the people He has called us to be. How do we know? Because we have experienced that redemption in our own lives already. Some of us gathered here have already experienced what it means to be redeemed in our own lives or witnessed it in the life of another. Ever known a hot-tempered person? To be sure, his or her image is distorted. But when God breaks in and they live a life in the manner God has set before us, what often happens? That hot temper is crucified on the cross in Christ’s death, and what was negative becomes an asset for the glory of God. Hot-tempered people become passionate people, people passionate for God and His glory when they engage in the struggle of their faith. Ever known or been an addict? Ever felt the need to fill that emptiness inside through the use of a bottle, a syringe, or some other self-destructive behavior? When that emptiness, through the engagement of our faith, becomes filled with His life giving water, addicts can become lights in a dark world, people grateful for the love which filled their emptiness, people who can speak from experience of the emptiness and the discovered joy at finding what can truly fill it. Ever known or been someone who could not love another? Perhaps you or they felt unworthy. Perhaps you or they were afraid to experience the pain that comes when others whom we love hurt us. Yet, what happens when such people discover the love, the hesed, of God? They become God-lovers, people who realize that their Father will never forsake them, not even in death. And such people can open themselves up to anyone and anything because they know the love with which they are held. And, even better, they can become people who speak lovingly of God’s work in salvation history to those whom the encounter in life.

     The past eight or ten weeks we have been looking at what a redeemed life looks like, brothers and sisters. We spent a great deal of time in Matthew’s Gospel recalling Jesus’ teachings from those last days of His life. It seems only fitting then, as we begin a new church year and enter Advent, that we remind ourselves why it is that we are called to do what we are called to do and just how unlimited our possibilities are. By virtue of our baptism, brothers and sisters, we have already received the gift of the Holy Spirit. What is left for us to do is to live lives which allow Him to remake us like Him. It is right that during this quick season of penitence and expectation that we take a spiritual inventory of our lives. What are those triggers which tempt we to act in ways which we know are offensive to Him, and unworthy of a child of His? Where is the struggle in our life from which we have shied away? Can I avoid those triggers or places? Can I avoid that temptation with His grace, and so live into the life He would have me live? What in each of us should we nail to the cross with our Savior, that He can redeem and restore in us to His glory? Better still! How can you and I live a life open to the possibilities of one born not of flesh but of His redeeming Spirit and so draw others into that same life with us?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Divine Appointments, smurfs, and other weird happenings while trotting . . .

     Why on earth would you run a 5k race on Thanksgiving?---It was a question frequently asked of me this year.  To be sure, I asked it a lot of myself.  For those not on the inside of the decision making process, my brother-in-law Jon, whom I used to think loved me dearly as I did him, called up my wife and asked who all was going to run in the Dan Gibbons Turkey Trot with them.  As we are working on the local YMCA’s Lazy Man’s Triathalon, it seemed an easy way to knock out 3.1 miles, at least to some.  But, I had gone off my diet the past week, I did need the miles, and hey, how bad could it be?

     Truthfully, my intention as I ran was to thank God for all the blessings of this past year.  I often pray as I ride my bike, and so it made sense to use the same tactic while running.  I figured my prayer list would be good for at least a quarter mile while running.  I thought that the unasked for prayers that I pray for parishioners might total close to a half mile.  I could pray for help in the Human Trafficking ministry, in the Community Meal ministry, Winnie’s Place, and a bunch of others that needed His grace.  I even knew that at some point, prayers for deliverance would kick in.  (Please, Lord, don’t let me die like this!)  If they were early enough, this might be a truly prayer-covered event.  Plus, the run was for a great cause.  More than a quarter century ago, the race was started in Elmhurst, Illinois with the proceeds going to benefit the homeless in DuPage County, a suburb of Chicago.  They estimate today that there are 160,000 homeless in the county.  They could certainly use the help and the awareness so that all those people can be helped.

     Unfortunately for me, bicycling does not come close to the problems one faces while running.  First of all, there were lots of people to serve as distractions.  Did I just get passed by a family of smurfs, including Papasmurf with a cane?  It is 40 degrees and a wind chill of “it’s too cold to be out here running” and these nuts are running in speedos!  I haven’t had so many little kids pass me since I was last on a ski-slope. At least Superior Ambulance is the best in the business, locally, and the hospital is a straight shot from here.– Things like that were running through my head, and while distracting, they were not productive or helpful.  Plus, there are obstacles that are in one’s way.  “Walkers in the back of the starting area” apparently means “walkers, bring strollers and dogs and line up across the street with your friends near the front” to some.  All the bars in Elmhurst opened early Thanksgiving Day to help some runners get fortified for the run.  Hey, I'm a big boy.  I embrace the Episcopal gospel that when three or four are gathered there is always a fifth, but c'mon!  Think drunk drivers are bad?  You should try and navigate drunk joggers or sprinters or men on their knees offering the pavement gods their pretzels and peanuts offerings.  I wonder how far ahead Jon and Nathan are?  What happened to Karen and Sarah?  At least I am not like those poor dads whose kids, when asked by runners, "are you lost, little boy/girl?" respond simply "nah, I'm just waiting on dad to catch up!"  And there is always the panicked thought “Will I come in dead last out of 8-10,000 trotters?”

     But, after a while, things sort themselves out. The crowds thin as people settle into their running rhythms. The joggers and runners make it through the vise grip of walkers. All that’s left is the runner, the pavement, the internal cadences and thoughts, and the pain. Running in the cold causes its own problems. It hurts to breathe in the cold while getting so hot. There’s a reason God gave us noses with vessels to warm the air that we breathe. Unfortunately, the body’s demands for oxygen trumps His design. And each step causes the lungs to hurt a bit more, to say nothing of the ankles, knees and hips.
It is at this time that it is good to start one’s prayers. Though I was mightily tempted to begin with the prayers for survival, I spent time on the others. Unfortunately for me, I was not even halfway done by the time I finished my prayers and began praying to God for the run to be over. At about the point where I did not care whether the race for me ended at the finish line or the back of an ambulance, I encountered a young boy and his father. Nearly ran over is more like it. The little boy was upset and in pain and wanted it to be over. He was my hero. Then he asked the question.

     Why are we doing this? Why can’t we stop and go home and eat? I give the dad a lot of credit, if he ever finds and reads this. He was sucking wind and trying to reason with an exhausted child. Dad was teaching the son a lesson about finishing the things that we start, a true family value here in the Midwest. But why? was the only answer he received from his son. When he noticed me, he apologized for doing this in the middle of the road. No worries, I assure him. It was a great excuse for me stop for a minute. I asked the little boy why he wanted to quit so badly. He told me because it did not really mattered. We got no money for running. We had no chance of winning. Nobody but us was really paying attention.
I asked him if he knew why we were running. Because dad had told him it would be fun. I asked if he knew why dad wanted to run this day. He didn’t. I then asked if knew about all the people around his town that had no home, were sleeping in the cold and the rain, and who would not be feasting on turkey later. He asked if they were very many. And I told him there were more than could fit in two Soldiers' Fields. He asked what good our running was for them. I told him that we had paid money to run, money that would be used to fix them food and give them a place to sleep and to take a shower. Ya. But who really cares if I finish the race or not? I asked him his age. He said he was 8. I asked him what he thought would happen if someone serving a meal to a homeless person or giving a towel or blanket to someone in a shelter happened to mention to that needy person that an 8 year old boy like himself had run, on Thanksgiving Day no less, to help raise money or help raise awareness of that needy person’s condition. You think someone might notice and tell them? I know I noticed. Would you tell people? Of course, but then I’m weird like that. How so? It is my calling to tell people where God is at work in the world today. Wow! Will you really tell people? I will. But you know what will make a great, happy ending? What? If I can tell people how you ran so fast your dad couldn’t keep up with you all the way to the finish.

     Just like that, he was off. Dad took just enough time to glare at me and sarcastically thank me for inspiring his son. What do you do for a living, that you tell people where God is at work in the world around them? Oh, sorry, would you tell him I am a priest. A priest! Yep. Why are you running this, isn't this a special day for you? Apparently it was so I could visit with your son and remind myself that His power is made perfect in weakness? What? Never mind. You better catch your son. I don’t know what the finish line will be like, but if it anything like the start . . . But tell him I will share the story, if I am lucky, for many years to come. I will even tell people that God used an 8 year-old like him to feed people who had every reason to believe that no one cares, let alone 8 year-old boys. He waved me off as he scanned the crowd ahead and took off in pursuit.

     As I climbed the little hill on the way to the finish line and began to suffer in new ways, I also gave thanks. I gave thanks that so many people took the time and gave of themselves that people most will never meet would be fed and clothed. I gave thanks to God that I was apparently going to live through this race. And I gave thanks for little 8 year-old boys who aren’t afraid to ask questions, questions which most of us asked that day, but had to trust that God would one day answer, especially those who would benefit directly from our sweaty efforts that Thanksgiving morning.  Most especially, I gave thanks to God for giving me ears to hear, eyes to see, and the perfect pace so as to come upon an unnamed dad and his boy.  But so help me if Papasmurf brags again about running faster than me with a cane, he will be walking with that cane somewhere else for many days hence. Such is the life of those He has redeemed! We are a work in progress, progress that is sometimes slow and often painful.  Happy Thanksgiving to all, and a blessed Advent Season.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Loving them because He first loved us . . .

     This day we celebrate Christ the King Sunday. In terms of feast days within the church, this is a very new feast. It was not instituted until 1925. Pius XI, the pope who added the feast, realized that the members of the Church were engaged in a terrible spiritual and intellectual battle. Chiefly, the Church saw its members becoming supporters of dictators in Europe and questioning both the Church’s authority as well as that of Christ’s. To the leadership of the faith, secularism seemed to be winning. Pius published a work called Quas Primas, in which he detailed the reasons for the new feast and the effects he hoped the feast would have in this battle. I mention it not just because we celebrate Christ the King Sunday this day, and not because it is an interesting read for those wishing to examine the world in the light of their faith, but because we seem to be involved in the same difficult struggle which gave rise to the feast in the first place.

     I noticed this need last week at the Churches United Thanksgiving services last week. Most of you know of my work with Ron Quay, their director, of Bev’s work on the Board of directors, and our own parish efforts to stay involved in the many ministries of Church’s United. When Ron called me last week, he asked me to speak about the ministries of Church United in an inspirational way and to inform the members present of our work in Human Trafficking in 5-7 ½ minutes. Off hand, he had forgotten the text, but he promised to get back to me. Knowing that time was an issue, I began crafting a sermon. For three or four days I worked on doing my best, within the time allotted, to educate Churches United about Human Trafficking and to inspire those that would be present to continue the good fight. I succeed in keeping it to 8 minutes.  No small feat on my part.

     Unfortunately, when I arrived, I was able to engage in and overhear a number of conversations. Chiefly disturbing to me was the spirit of oppression that seemed to be hanging over so many faithful workers in the field like a pall. I had gone to the celebration expecting to meet with a group of Great Commission Christians like ourselves and prayerfully hoping to gain a couple necessary volunteers in our efforts to combat human slavery. What I found was a terrible sadness. People working at food pantries commented how the need was up and they could give only half the food they had before. Some were disappointed that, of 165 member churches or so, fewer than 75 people were showing up. A few were griping about monetary resources. A few were grousing about how overworked they were and how little a difference they were making. Now, as you know, I may have the discernment skills of a slug. But this was so obvious that a blind man would have said “would you look at that!”

     Thankfully, before I strode to the pulpit, Bev preceded me with these words from Matthew, the words that we read, study, and inwardly digest on Christ the King Sunday. I promised them only two stories, as I was constrained by time and wanted to honor Ron’s request. I sneaked in a third story, by way of telling the first two. You know them well. I told them of “horseradish man” and his Ash Wednesday lesson for us, and I told them of Sarah and her white flower which led, eventually, to her escape from human trafficking. By way of introduction, I also managed to work in the death of Stevie’s sister here on Garfield and our neighborhood’s response to the circumstances of her death. And then I led them back to the passage which we read.

     Notice the response of both groups to Jesus’ judgment. Neither group thinks they have had the opportunity to serve Jesus. In the case of the sheep, they claim never to have helped Jesus by giving Him food or drink or clothes or simply visiting with Him. They would have remembered that. He must have them confused with someone else. Similarly, the goats claim that had they seen Him, they would have certainly helped Him. Obviously they did not see Him, and that is why they gave no help. Jesus, however, in answering them takes us back to Genesis. As you did this to the least of these . . . you did it to Me. Jesus reminds us that everyone we encounter has been created in His image. He ties our service of others to our service of Him.

     When we are like the sheep, we serve Him through the gifts and service that we give to the least in our midst. That is why we reach out in love to the homeless and provide them with feasts when a meal will do. That is why we work hard to meet the needs – spiritual, emotional, and physical – of women and children in our community who are victims of spousal abuse. That is why we gathered for almost 5 full years unloading trucks and loading baskets for 5100 families who, in the end, had little or no interest in joining us in our walk with God. That is why those in the choir meet week after week and work hard when, in reality, they’ll be a new song to learn tomorrow. That is why we try hard to meet the discretionary of as many as possible while trying to discern whether the need is real or the “victim” a con artist. And what difference do we really make? The hungry are still here. Battered women still come in. AFM collapsed because of who knows what reason. And we, like fools, have decided to take on a $300 Billion business and are actively recruiting others to come and join us in our efforts. Were the tragedies not so terrible, it would be laughable. But we are called to continue the work, not because of the successes, but because such work glorifies Him.

     Similarly, when we are like the goats, we ignore Him when we ignore the needs of others. When we cross the street to avoid a beggar, when we feel that tug to offer a ride to someone without reliable transportation, when we decide to keep that article of clothing we haven’t worn in years because “you know, I might get back down to that weight this year,” we are choosing not to serve Christ. We are choosing to ignore the fact that those in need were created in His image every bit the same way as you and I. And for our willful resistance to serve Him, we are judged as goats.

     Notice this is not a singular success or failure. The sheep respond to the Master’s call with no thought that they are serving Him. Their service simply flows from their hearts, hearts that have been circumcised by the Holy Spirit. Similarly, the goats ignore Him at all opportunities. Just as the sheep’s service flows from their hearts, the hearts of the goats cause them not to serve others. Had they seen Him, they admit, they would have served Him. Their lack of faith blinds them to His presence in the least.  Their hearts are still stubborn and fat because they have not yet been circumcised.

     Such service, though, becomes second only to acceptance of His offer of salvation. For the past several weeks, we have been reading about Jesus’ last teachings during Holy Week. During these final days of His earthly ministry, Jesus spent a great deal of time reminding us of our need to bear crosses and to serve Him. He has explained that the greatest of His disciples will be the servant of all. On and on, He has taught the distinctions that exist between His people and others in the world. Now, near the end, He takes up His scepter and reminds us of the judgment that we all face. That judgment will be without fail. And that judgment will remind us how we served or how we failed to serve Him. It seems a strange way, perhaps, to end a church year by talking about judgment. Yet we are beginning a season of expectant waiting next week, a season in which we will ask Him to come again and usher in His rule, a rule He tells us that begins with a separation. Until then, though, we are called to labor in His fields, honoring and glorifying Him through our service of others. It is through such service that we see His face, a face that first put aside the crown and scepter for a cross, and it is through such service that others may see His royal face in our own, loving them because He first loved us.

Christ’s Peace,


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How we use our gifts . . . .

     Why is the poor guy who only got 1 talent condemned? Our Gospel lesson from Matthew this week centered on the Parable of the Talents. It is a parable which probably shocked Jesus’ hearers as much as it does us. For starters, the wealth of the landowner was prodigious, to say the least. Jesus describes a landowner who had 8 talents of gold accessible! In modern money, that probably approaches $2 million, but that sum does nothing to teach us about the shock value which would have been imparted to Jesus’ hearers of the parable. We are a far wealthier society and are coming off a dot-com bubble. We can imagine a couple million dollars with no problem. Heck, many of us around here do not even bother playing the lottery until it gets over a certain amount because, you know, we want to make sure it is worth it if we win--as if a couple million dollars would not really significantly alter our lifestyle.  The amount described by Jesus would simply have been almost unimaginable. A silver talent was worth about 6000 denarii. A denarius was a day’s wage. And Jesus is speaking about gold.  You do the math.

     So, this master places two million dollars into the hands of his slaves, each according to his ability. That is an important phrase. We are told in a very few words that the master understands the gifts and talents of his slaves. The one with more ability is given greater wealth; the one with the least ability is given the least wealth. There are no false expectations in this story on the part of the landowner.

     The first two slaves, the ones entrusted with more wealth, double the master’s money and receive his blessing. We are not told what they did specifically nor how long the master was away, but both did well with what they had been entrusted. In fact, each receives identical praise even though one clearly made a lot more money for the master than the other. The third slave is where the spiritual wedgies begin to be formed by those of us listening to the parable. The slave, we are told, buries the talent in a hole in the ground. He tells the master that he was afraid of him. You are a hard man, reaping where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. Rather than demonstrating love and respect of the master, the slave confesses to fear. That fear causes him to misapprehend the master. Rather than working for his master, as he would have been expected so to do, the slave is alienated from the master and eventually becomes lazy.

     In fact, the master describes the third slave as being so lazy that he does not even protect the money by giving the entrusted talent of gold to the bankers. Remember, the master recognized that this slave, in comparison to the other two, was the least talented (no pun intended). Perhaps, had the slave given the money to the bankers, that might have been all that the master could rightly have expected of him. Perhaps he had no real skill or talent to make money. Instead, the third slave stands condemned because he did nothing with that talent entrusted to him.

     Perhaps shocking to us, Jesus tells us that the master ordered the talent to be taken away and given to the one who made 5 talents of gold. More shockingly, he orders the third slave to be cast into the outer darkness. Why the judgment?

     Jesus is teaching His audience and us about responsiveness. How we use our own gifts and talents will testify as to our own relationship with God. If we respond properly, we will be like the first two slaves, using the wealth and gifts of our Father to glorify Him. If we are like the third slave, however, we will respond to His love of us by using those same gifts poorly. Perhaps we will use them to benefit ourselves, rather than those for whom He has entrusted the gifts. Perhaps we will try to hide them, rather than displaying them for His glory and the advancement of His kingdom. How we use His gifts demonstrates our relationship with Him. In this parable, Jesus is teaching us for the need for a productive response. We are not called to sit back and rest on His laurels. Instead, we are commanded to take what He gives us and use them for His glory and His honor. Any other use dishonors Him, devalues the gift, and testifies to the world that we do not honor nor love our Master, our Lord.



Friday, November 11, 2011

A change of perspective . . .

What are we to make of the Penn State scandal?

     As we live in the middle of Big Ten country, it is a question that is asked by those who drop in and by parishioners. Listening to people here during the last week, people seem divided on JoePa, presumably giving him some credit for the decades of running a program with nary a hint of scandal. Some have questioned whether the firing makes sense, but most realize the position of the Board. Quite a few people have been quick to condemn the 28 year old Graduate Assistant who fled rather than rescue the young boy named as victim #2 in the Grand Jury’s proceedings. All have been universal in the condemnation of the assistant coach who allegedly victimized at least 8 youths considered “at risk” by the commonwealth and common sense. And everyone wonders whether the AD and other school officials were part of a cover-up to protect the pristine image of PSU (prior to last week’s revelations, Penn State was one of only four members of the NCAA never to have been the subject of an investigation for its athletic department) or whether they were browbeaten by JoePa into leaving the former assistant coach alone.

     What are we to make of it? It is a tragedy of epic proportions. The innocence of anywhere from 8 to maybe as many as two dozen young boys was stolen by a trusted figure. Worse, many adults, when alerted to the problems over the years by the victims, chose “not to hear” what the boys were saying. Those that needed to be safeguarded the most were ignored by those charged with the responsibility of watching out for them, even after the accusations had grown in number and credibility. Imagine, this predator was known this year to have brought youths to campus, and nobody said anything. The reputation of an amazing leader has been tarnished by a series of bad decisions. That JoePa had an amazingly positive impact on thousands of (mostly) men during his career cannot be overstated. That his blindness, whatever its root, allowed the victimization to occur far longer than it should also cannot be overstated. I know, he reported the suspected activities to his immediate supervisors. Make no mistake, JoePa was the face of Penn State. Once he became aware of the details of the rape of victim #2, he had an obligation to prevent such a tragedy from ever occurring again! He, better than anyone else on that campus, could have preserved the innocence of other victims, the reputation of the school, and his own legacy.

     To a point, I have some sympathy for the Graduate Assistant. People have been quick to condemn him for not rescuing the young boy from the middle of the actions he described to the Grand Jury. While I understand the criticism, I do not believe that such criticism is fair. None of know how we will respond in the face of events. We like to think we know, but until we come face to face with the events, we can never be sure. I am not as quick to condemn him over a failure to act when he walked into the locker room and encountered the events described in the proceeding. However, this same assistant coach encountered the former assistant coach in the presence of other youths and admits he said and did nothing. Really?! Absolutely nothing?! Those events all occurred after he had had time to reflect upon the events he witnessed initially. Yes, I understand the former assistant was a beloved friend of JoePa, but he was also running an organization that helped troubled youths! But the assistant knew, absolutely knew, that his former coach was a predator--he had seen it with his own eyes and heard it with his own ears. He chose poorly in choosing to keep his mouth shut.

     What should we think about the mess? I came across some words from Tim Henderson, who works as a pastor in State College. Mr. Henderson did a fabulous job of refocusing Christians on the real problem at Penn State. He reminded us, in the context of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, that there is a deficiency of love in State College. Godly love, he asserts, would have insisted upon far too many people acting far sooner to protect these youths. They failed to act, he asserts, because there was a lack of godly love, a lack of love for one’s neighbor. The scandal, he thinks, will shake many to their core before it finishes working itself out, because as a community they failed to love their neighbors as themselves. Powerful words, to be sure. And I commend his entire sermon to your reading. They are words which we can take to heart when confronting any evil. How do such terrible things happen? More often than not people, and even His disciples fail Him. The whole mess, as with much in life, points us all to our need for a Savior.  PSU was a "clean" program, JoePa was one of the "good guys," and this occurred. . . . Perhaps, with that change in perspective, you and I can begin to change the discussions of blame and loss into discussions of discipleship and of true, godly love. Perhaps, just perhaps, we can begin to get people to see their own need of mercy and God’s grace, just as all those impacted by this scandal at Penn State are also in need of that same grace, that same mercy, that same hope.



Wednesday, November 9, 2011

For all the saints . . .

     Intercessors, Choir, Altar Guild, Community Meal, Winnie’s Place – The ministries card began to fill up pretty quickly last Saturday. As we enter the next phase of our diocesan strategic plan, the diocese is looking at specific ministries which are being done by parishes. They had passed out note cards at convention and asked each parish to fill out four, each color tied to a specific question. Vern and Judy handed me the ministries card, figuring I knew more of what was going on than they. So, it was my task to list all the ministries we had undertaken the past twelve months. Ministry of Presence, Food Pantry, Winnie’s Wishes, healing, World of Warcraft – My card was quickly running out of space, and still I was not done. Ice Cream Social, Picnic, Nerf Wars, Trivia, Canterbury House, Christmas families – I even resorted to changing the orientation of the card in an effort to get more ministries listed. Gas cards, meals, and budgeting for the needy, AFM, offering space to AA, Girl Scouts, the residents of our Ward, and a couple families in our area – That filled the other side, and still I was not done. Jeff and Christine offered the care for the yard, which we in turn make available to the children and preschools in our area. Scott offers plowing. Bev and Linda and Wanda, in particular, take care of the garden – a place appreciated by those struggling and looking to hear God’s voice. How many pastoral visits? How many calls?

     Our collect this day begins with the words “Almighty God, You have knit together Your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of Your Son Christ our Lord . . .”. Sometimes, they are merely words that are said aloud in gatherings. But here, thanks to the intentional effort of so many of you, the words begin to describe a mystical, almost sacramental, reality, a reality made possible only through God’s grace and our willingness to risk failure and humiliation as we try and serve Him faithfully. Think for just a second. I did not run out of ministries to name. I ran out of space upon which to write all your ministries! Mission Trip to Tanzania, Befrienders, our Carillon system, ECW, HospiceCare, Churches United – And just how do we name the faithful witness of you in your daily lives? How many co-workers came in to speak with me because of your efforts? How many in your families? In your neighborhoods? How many called? How many e-mailed?

     That same grace, which causes us to be knit together in one body is the same grace which allows us to follow prior saints and become saints to those who follow us in virtuous and godly living. Better still, it is that same grace which causes us to repent when we go astray, and leads us into His loving arms once again. Brothers and sisters, this day we celebrate not just on behalf of all those saints who have come before us but also on behalf of all of you who have struggled, strived, and occasionally succeeded in loving God and in loving our neighbor as ourselves. You might be uncomfortable with the idea that you are a saint, but are you not washed in His blood and clothed in His righteousness? That, brothers and sisters, is one of the joyful rewards of a repentant heart! We can face life, and all its darkness and evils, with the certainty, and the peace that comes with it, that He is preparing that place and reward for each one of us. More amazing still, we can offer to share that joy, that heartfelt thanksgiving, with all those whom He places in our path in ways limited only by our imagination and willingness to serve.

     In a bit, I will end this gathering ith one of the blessings which I love to pronounce:  "May God, who has given us, in the lives of His saints patterns of holy living and victorious dying, strengthen your faith and devotion, and enable you to bear witness to the truth against all adversity."  Remember, as you hear those words and reflect on your life's toil that for many in the world around us, you are the one living a holy life and you are the one willing to face death triumphantly in the lives of others.  This day we celebrate your obedience and your faithfulness, even as we celebrate all those who led each one of us to Him!

Thanks be to God!


Another Senator joins the fight!

Thank you, Saxby Chambliss, for lending your support to the passage of the TVPRA!  We are now up to 31 Senators!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Week 8 Rankings . . .

Yes, I know.  The season is more than half over.  It takes time for some of the wins and losses to allow teams to separate.  I only did the top 20 this week, because so many teams were clustered between an 8.5 and 8.75.  Similarly, the difference between the 6 unbeatens at the top is a matter of the opponents' wins, with OSU's opponents having more wins at this point in the season than the others.  So without further ado:

1.  Oklahoma State        13.625
2.  Boise State                 13.571
3.  Alabama                    13.375
4.  LSU                           13.125
5.  Stanford                    13.000
6.  Houston                     12.375
6.  Oklahoma                 12.375
8.  Clemson                    11.444
9.  Michigan                   11.375
9.  South Carolina         11.375
11. Virginia Tech          11.111
12. Nebraska                 11.000
13. Penn State               10.555
14. Arkansas                 10.375
14. Oregon                     10.375
14. Southern Miss.        10.375
17. Kansas State            10.125
18. USC                          9.75
19. Georgia Tech           9.444
20. Michigan State        9.375

As far as this week's game of the century, Alabama will edge LSU (barely).  LSU's victory over Northwestern State means they trail the Tide by 2 bonus points.  As they say, there is lots of football yet to be played, but this gives us an idea of what we would be looking at, were the NCAA to adopt a 16 team playoff.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

We just hit 30 co-sponsors in the Senate!

Thank you, Jon Tester, for joining us in the fight to eliminate Human Trafficking by co-sponsoring the Senate’s version of the TVPRA.  Sen. Tester’s action brings the total number of Senators as co-sponsors to 30!  You Representatives in the House better get to work.  We would not want the Senators to beat you in terms of total numbers of sponsors.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A little more support . . .

Thank you, Michael Bennet, for joining us in the fight to eliminate Human Trafficking by co-sponsoring the Senate’s version of the TVPRA.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What do bad leaders look like?

     Back when I was in seminary, I was placed in a small group of people I barely knew and asked to share in a discussion about our respective calls. Each member of the group was asked to share a brief story of his or her call and his or her perception of how that call would be expressed in future ministry. During the course of that effort, one of the seminarians joyfully expressed her call in terms of a wedding. She was so looking forward to that day in the future when the choir would vest and line up, the acolytes would get themselves lined up, the music would start, and every head would turn to see her resplendent in her chasuble and simply be touched by her presence among them. She had obviously given a lot of time to the consideration of this image because the detail was amazing. Believe it or not, my pastoral sensibilities were even worse back then (truth be told, I was probably trying my hardest to get drummed out of the ordination process so I could go back to work and make money, all with the sense of “OK, God, we tried it your way and it failed), so I asked the question on the minds of several in the group (I know this because I was thanked for asking it afterwards). “How is God honored in your vision of your call?” Clearly, at least to those who listened to her vision, she had never once considered how God figured into her call. That is not to say that some of us were not naïve at this point in our journey and in our discernment. Some of us were going to build, with God’s obvious blessing, a mega Anglican worship church to rival Willow Creek. Others were simply hoping to draw incredible numbers of unbelievers or unchurched to the love of Christ. A few just wanted to speak the language just so they could blog intelligently about growing the Church of God and laboring in His fields. Most were centered upon doing great things to honor God, and most had a need to stand before Him hoping to hear the “well done, good and faithful servant,” but not her. She wanted to be the focus of her perceived call.
     At first, stories like this might initially surprise and disappoint us. We have high expectations for our clergy (rightfully so), and the thought of them being concerned about such perceptions ought to offend us. Heck, my seminary’s name included the words “for ministry” in its name. You would think that every student that went to school there would have a love or a call “for ministry.” But no. Each of us gathered here probably has horror stories about bad clergy. Many of us can probably name clergy who really liked to be served rather than to serve; who liked to spend time on the golf course, not in an effort to reach the other three members with whom they were playing, just so they could say they had played and tell us what they shot; or who expected always to be treated as special wherever they went, rather than be bothered to be a servant of all. Knowing some of your stories, I know a few of you were told cruel things, simply because the clergy in your lives did not want to put in the work or did not want to empathize. For a time, at least, terrible burdens were given you to bear with no thought to the consideration that He had already born those burdens. Yes the Church of God is full of such “leaders.” But it comes as no surprise to God, and it really should not surprise us.
     In our lesson from Matthew this week, Jesus points out this tendency to His disciples and crowds. He points out how the religious elite wear big phylacteries, have long tassels, love to sit at the head of the table and in the important seat at synagogue. These are the same leaders who go about moping while fasting, who make sure that everyone knows how holy they are, and are warned by Jesus that they have already received their transitory reward. You and I, however, are cautioned not to be like them. We are to remember that we all live on a level playing field. I am loved no more or no less by God than any of you or any of those men and women we serve each month or any slave or slaver we encounter in our life. He walked that path of Holy Week which ends within a couple days of today’s story fully aware of the cost to Him and of our need. He also teaches us that leadership among His disciples is radically different from anything God’s people have ever expected. Those exalted by Him among us, He says, will be those who serve Him by loving God and their neighbor, who truly die to self and allow Him to call them to a new, Risen life which glorifies Him.

     To be sure, it is a temptation for each of us. How many of us really want to serve others? How many of us cannot relate to the Pharisees and the Sadducees and want what we think are the spoils of a righteous life? How many of us really want to believe we are special, and unique, knowing all the while that He thought everyone was special and unique? It is not an easy walk with our Lord -- that much is certain. But then again, nothing worth while is ever easy. Egos are hard to crucify, particularly among those of us who have been set aside to lead us. What we must remind ourselves each day is the fact that our Teacher wants to be everyone’s Teacher, that our Father, wants to be everyone’s Father, and that our Savior wants to be everyone’s Savior. Anyone who models or professes anything else, might ought to be heard, but they ought not to be followed. Armed with that knowledge and certain of His power to redeem, you and I are sent out to assist in the building a of a kingdom not transitory, but eternal. It is a kingdom built, not of our doing or effort or design, but of His grace poured out and through our lives. It truly is only by His gift that we offer Him true and laudable service. So, in which part of the story do you find yourself? The crowds and the disciples? Or the “leaders”? Do you wish to be served and find yourself apart from Him and His teaching, or do you seek to serve?  They are simple questions, truly.  But the answers speak profoundly to whom or what we serve and hold dear.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The costs of committment . . .

     I am often asked “How in the world could you all spend more than three years in a study of one book of the Bible?” The questions come from laity and clergy alike. Who has the patience for such tediousness? Why not pick a book with better stories? Why not go faster? When I am asked those questions, I invariable point to this passage (and a couple others like the temptation story) in Matthew, and a few others in Luke and Mark, as justification. To be sure, we did not start out with that kind of time commitment in mind. But we did take our Lord’s assertion seriously. As a group, we tackled the book with the premise that every single commandment in the torah flowed from one or the other of these Great Commandments: loving God or loving the neighbor. As a group, we struggled mightily trying to figure out how a particular instruction accomplished one of these two commandments. Given that there are some 613 instructions, we probably should have been pleasantly surprised that we finished it in just over three years. Over the course of the study, we discovered that there were 248 do’s and 365 don’t’s. That is a lot of instruction. Now, imagine yourself trying to figure out whether one of those was loving or not loving God or was loving or not loving neighbor. That’s what we faced.
     When considered as a sum of parts, the torah certainly seems expansive and even tedious; but when one remembers its purpose, it becomes a very challenging teaching. Why? Because the torah, as described by Christ, ultimately points to Him. Remember, as we just read a couple weeks ago, the torah was given by God to a redeemed people to teach them how to live in full communion with Him. The torah teaches us both the things (248 things specifically) which we should do to love God and to love our neighbor and things (365 things specifically) to avoid which cause us to act against God or against our neighbor. Admittedly, such detailed study is not for everyone—that’s why it was a voluntary Bible Study (by the way, the members of the class selected it, not me). I can even say with certainty that we did not agree upon which Great Commandment from which each instruction hung. I can also say that, although each member of that study is, for the most part, able to chew meat rather than needing to be fed gruel, all of us came away with a greater sense of how we had sinned against God and just how magnificent the grace was that He showed us. Better still, as we have continued through other books and through worship, each of us has noticed just how foundational Deuteronomy was to Jesus’ teachings. In many ways, these intrepid scholars have plumbed depths which they never before knew existed within Scripture.

     Those of us, of course, who are not yet able to sit down for such an extended period of time in quite as exhaustive a study, might wonder at Jesus words this week. I say that because all of our ability to begin to keep God’s instruction flows from the idea of love. It is precisely in these discussions of love that we forget the meaning of what Jesus was teaching. For us, today, love has become almost synonymous with passion and feeling, little more than gratification. I love ice cream. I am in love with my sweetheart. I love chocolate. I just love your shoes. For us in modern times, love has become a fleeting passion or “feel good.” Witness the number of Christian marriages which end in divorce. Think of the number of so-called Christian parents who walk away from their responsibilities to their children. Consider for just a moment, the loss of perseverance in many aspects of our life. What Jesus is talking about in these Great Commandments, however, was something far more permanent, something far more important than good feelings.

     Jesus was talking of a love which more closely resembles commitment than it does passion. The Greeks distinguished between three different types of love, and Matthew chose the selfless love of agape, which could barely be considered as possible in Plato’s Symposium or other such works. Why? Who does not act for their own self-interest? Who does not prefer the tings which feel good? This idea of doing things at cost and no benefit to oneself is as foreign today as it was when Christ walked the earth. Yet consider Jesus’ model.  No greater love than this . . .

     Jesus is calling upon God’s people, in particular those students of the torah, to emulate the love discussed in the Old Testament. God, throughout the entirety of the Old Testament, is often described as loving His people. But His love is a unique love. The Old Testament speaks of God’s hesed toward His people. No matter what they do, no matter how they act, God stays committed to His people. Even when He is disciplining His people, God is committed to His people (like a Father chastising properly a wayward child) and working to redeem them. We might say, we should say really, God's love is a covenant love. Yes, God loves His people passionately. But no matter what His people do, God will continue to keep the obligations His love of His people places upon Himself.  That's part, I think, of why He uses the descriptions of a marriage to describe His relationship with His people.

     Compare that to the above mentioned way of marriage in this age. Marriage is hard work. Very hard. A number of us here have been through divorces and remarriages. perhaps some of us, or some of our loved ones are in the midst of these break-ups or newfound relationships.  We know that there are spousal behaviors which grate upon us. Worse, we know that there are substantive differences – we are, after all, two distinct persons in a marriage. We might find it inconvenient that he leaves the toilet seat up constantly or that she always wants to talk about serious things during the climactic finish to the week’s big sporting event, but those are , in the end, no big deal. No, the real fights begin when we start discussing how the I is to become part of the “we.” The less able we are to make a marriage into a “we”, the harder it becomes to see the point in staying committed to one another. The same lesson can be applied in parenting, at work, and in a number of life’s activities.
     The selfless love which you and I are called to offer to God and to our neighbor, by contrast, continues simply because we view such activities as a commitment. Some couples commit to staying married because, let’s face it, there are times when that lack of commitment would have driven them to divorce. The same is true of parenting. Who like the nagging, the screaming, teenage angst, and the general lip that children sometimes have? We do it, and try to do it well, because we are committed to the relationship. No matter what the child does, we still remain the father or the mother.  And we pray we survive those difficult ages, or perhaps, we pray that the kids survive those difficult ages.

     Jesus, in these two great commandments was calling us to that kind of relationship, that kind of love. Knowing that God has acted once and finally to redeem us, how can we ever not love Him? Yet, how many times do we withhold our love and choose, instead, to love ourselves and trust our own efforts? Knowing that He died to save us, how can we ever not reach a helping hand out in love? To be sure, neither of these committed or covenant loves are easy. Too often, the world makes God’s seem like He is anything but a Father in heaven. We begin to seek passion in the arms of lovers, balms to our pains and sufferings in an empty bottle or drug, and validation in our rung on the corporate ladder or the various material goods that we try to possess, rather than seeking to trust and follow and commit ourselves to God.  We think we have needs, we think we know the best time and best way for Him to help, and complian bitterly how rarely does He seem to act when we tell Him.  Does that still sound like His love?  Does that sound like something can draw others to Him?
     And who wants to risk truly loving His neighbor? If we get nothing back, why do it? Never mind the fact that sometimes, the best love one can show, is to say no. Just as a parent tells a child no, hopefully for the child's benefit (don't eat that and spoil your appetite, don't you dare leave the house dressed like that, yes, you must be home by . . . ), you and I are called always to act in the interest of the other. Who wants to tell a young couple that they should not live together even though everyone else is doing it and we don’t want to seem to prudish? How many of us really want to argue with a tax cheat and remind them that God has declared tax cheating stealing? It’s a victimless crime, right? Who really wants to speak the peace of God into a relationship that is about to be severed or about to result in war for fear that we might be considered “Jesus freaks?”  It sure is not easy.
     Following God, though, is hard work. He described it as a cross. Let's be honest, the perfect love for Him was the cross.  When we undergo that sacramental experience of baptism, we remind ourselves that we have died with Him. We ask God for the grace to bury our selves, the I, in the tomb with Him. And we ask Him to give us His eyes, His ears, and His heart -- we ask Him to give us life.  We have, in other words, committed our mind, our will, and our heart to Him and to doing what He wills. Committed love, brothers and sisters, is the love about which Jesus was speaking to the Pharisee. Committed love, brothers and sisters, is the love that God had for you and for me and which ultimately drove Him to the cross for our sakes. Committed love, brothers and sisters, is the only way that you and I can be freed from our bonds. Committed love, brothers and sisters, is the obedient love which leads to true freedom and true joy, both now and for all eternity!

A half dozen join the fray

It has been six days since any member of Congress decided to join the fight against Human Trafficking and 10 full days since any members of the House of Representatives got behind the TVPRA!  Thank you James Moran, Michael Doyle, Steven LaTourette, Hank Johnson Jr., and John Garamendi for lending your support in the fight against slavery and becoming a co-sponsor of the TVPRA.  Not to quibble or anything, those of us engaged in the fight would like to point out that it has been 25 days since the TVPRA expired.  That means law enforcement officials have lost the ability (and hammer) to charge perpetrators with harsher, more deserving crimes and that NGOs who work with victims have lost funding.  How about doing us all a favor and encourage your co-workers to get to work for a minute and pass this bill!  If your Senators are not listed at as co-sponsors or your representative is not listed at as a co-sponsor, please take a moment to contact them and be the voice of those forgotten.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Guess WHo is coming for dinner . . .

     Our community meal provided another one of those “God moments” which I have come to enjoy. As is our habit at St. Alban’s, I was asking those present what they preferred next month. In years past, they have asked us to avoid turkey because everyone kept bringing turkey. More recently, however, at least with the dip in the economy, turkey for November has been rare at the site. This year, they asked for a real thanksgiving dinner: “you, know, Father, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, the works!” The request by some of the “old guard” of the meal did not set well with some of the newer faces. “Who do you think you are to tell him what to bring?” “Had he not wanted to know, he would not have asked.” All I could do was smile and hope that Thelma had heard the exchange from her position near His throne. But, little did I know, there was still more teaching to come.

     Three of the so-called old guard asked me if I had a relationship with a particular pastor. I had known this pastor for almost 4 1/2 years. “Would you mind speaking to him about the quality of the food his church?” For the next few minutes, I heard story after story about how a church was outsourcing its service ministry. A food preparer was being paid by a wealthy church to create a nice meal for the homeless, hobos, and hungry. Knowing this pastor and a few of the members of his church, I have no doubt that this effort was well-intentioned. People are busy. Cooking for up to 135 people takes time. If one has the resources, why not farm it out? Plus, if a restaurant is given the business, they are usually well prepared to create a seamless meal for so many people. Those of us who still do it ourselves often end up with a hodgepodge of food. Even when we try and make the same things, we all have our personal flair to recipes which end up making some items a bit different. The problem, at least as seems to be according to the stories, is that the business tasked with preparing the meal is a bit more concerned with the profit and less concerned about feeding the hungry. The attitude seems to be “Beggars cannot be choosy.” Why was this a great teaching? Let me digress a moment and then I will get to the rest of the story.

     I had been at St. Alban’s less than two weeks when the invitations came. In the course of a couple days, Charlie, Robin, and Sue all invited me to go to the Community Meal. Being a new pastor and wanting to get an idea in which ministries the church and the members of the congregation participated, I quickly obliged. It was a well-oil machine. The food was set out buffet style, the bread was buttered, and servers were ready to go. I asked for an “out of the way job” and was handed a gallon of milk by Charlie and told to head into the dining area. I had a blast! People were asking for a drink, for blessings, and for prayer. Talk about an awesome ministry. Plus, I was accompanied by about 14 parishioners, and that didn’t include those who had made or purchased the food and were not there with us to serve. This was Gospel ministry at its best.

     Little did I know that my simple willingness to serve and watch would ingratiate me with the spiritual matriarch of the church. 45 years before I arrived (5 years before I was born), Thelma and two friends had noticed the hungry in our community and had decided to do something about it. The Catholic Workers’ House agreed to host a meal that these ladies would prepare. Over time, the ministry grew. It grew both in terms of numbers served and in terms of churches participating. Looking back on the history of the ministry, it is no wonder.

     Thelma shared that the ladies wanted to make it a meal. Some places did soup and bread. They wanted a meal. They recognized that the need was so great, more people, preferably more churches, would be needed. What could have been viewed as their personal fiefdom was, instead, thought of as an effort that needed way more help. It was also important to them that the meal be a sit-down meal rather than brown bag or take out. This, as one can imagine, can caused some logistics issues over the years. It is far easier to find places from which to distribute food than to find places where people, perhaps not bathed and a bit unkempt, can sit down and eat.

     When I asked Thelma about this last bit, she explained that the ladies had felt they wanted to get to know those whom they intended to help. Giving them a bag of food and sending them on their way kept the process too sanitary. They wanted to hear the stories, to get to know the victims of hunger, so they could maybe help fix some of the root causes. The ministry grew, she explained, and was able to survive attacks by local politicians because the recipients were no long anonymous faces. They were real people with real problems. I should add, as a by note, that Thelma was driven by her encounters to do, or make her beloved husband do, some amazing things for those placed in her path. Can you imagine washing the underwear of the homeless in your community? Thelma (via Norm) did it. Can you imagine helping the homeless in your community get a job? Thelma did it. Can you imagine going to the culverts and abandoned houses and delivering food to those too sick or too afraid to come to the meal site? They did it. Can you imagine taking individuals from your homeless community to the doctor and paying for the visit because you feared they had tuberculosis, pneumonia, or some other serious ailment? They did it. Theologically speaking, Thelma’s ministry was a restoration of dignity. Those ladies that gathered together with that new idea in the 1960’s understood, even if they could not articulate, that part of our job as Christians is to remind people whose image they bear. Said more simply, she simply tried to remind them of the dignity with which they were created and of the Father who loved them deeply.
Fast forward more than fifty years. Homeless people were speaking up and asking someone to speak gently about the food being served. While the new faces were telling them they had no right to criticize the food, the old guard was saying “yes we do. Like them, we are children of God and ought not be expected to eat garbage. If they are His children, they should be making or buying real food.” It sounds a bit ungrateful to the ears of some, but the man who runs they shelter says this particular third party food is by far the worst that they eat. But is it ungrateful for the hungry to call those blessed with food in abundance to account? I think not.

     As disciples of Christ you and I are called to be good stewards of whatever resources He gives us. We are also called to love our neighbors as ourselves. And we are to remember that when we clothe the poor or feed the hungry, we have clothed and fed Him. As it turns out, this other church simply was not doing quality control. Nobody there was tasting the food (they were making sure every bite was available for the hungry). Now that they know what is going on, I am sure the quality will improve or the contract will be cancelled. But how many of us, when we are serving the hungry the few times that we do it settle for “that’s good enough?” How many of us cut corners when fixing food for the hungry? How many of us serve food that we would not serve our families , let alone our Lord were He to join us for a meal? And how many reading this brief summary of a Wednesday night’s meal thought that the homeless were ungrateful to criticize the food? How dare they? In our faith tradition, the Eucharist becomes that “pledge” which reminds us of the bridal feast to which He calls us. In our ministry, the food that we serve at meals can serve the same purpose. Our meals, done right, can serve as moments of hope for the hopeless and as a reminder of the love with which our God holds them. IF WE REMEMBER HIS CALL AND IF WE REMEMBER IT IS HIM WHO WE SERVE IN THE FACES OF THOSE PRESENT. So, what are you making for your next effort to feed the hungry in your midst? Do you think He would like it? Or would He look at you with those knowing eyes and wonder why you settled for good enough knowing that the King was present?