Monthly Archives: August 2015

Jesus is a hot mess | Have faith in God

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is a hot mess.

After he curses a fig tree that has no fruit (because it’s not the season for figs), and after he drives out of the temple the sellers and buyers and moneychangers (who are going about their normal business), this is how the story winds down:

And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city. In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. Then Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God.” (Mark 11:19-22)

Cursing, driving out, having faith. What are we supposed to make of this?

The Collect for the Renewal of Life, which we read on Mondays at Morning Prayer, seems to provide an interpretive key.

O God, the King eternal, whose light divides the day from the night and turns the shadow of death into the morning: Drive far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to keep your law, and guide our feet into the way of peace; that, having done your will with cheerfulness while it was day, we may, when night comes, rejoice to give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 99)

Drive far from us all wrong desires

Jesus, the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith,” is hungry and wants some figs. The fig tree is not in season, so he can’t have any figs. “Dammit,” he says, “I want some figs. Screw you, fig tree!”

Unreasonable expectations, right? Why would Jesus expect figs when they’re out of season?

He doesn’t live in the United States in the 21st century, after all — he doesn’t have Whole Foods or Piggly Wiggly. He can’t just have anything he wants anytime he wants.

But we can. So why are we so pissed off all the time?

Why are we so put out at the slightest inconvenience, so quick-tempered when things don’t go exactly as we want them to?

“But I want Fig Newtons!”

Incline our hearts to keep your law

Jesus brings that angry energy with him into the temple precinct. “I just want some peace and quiet, guys … is that too much to ask?”

“Doves! Get your doves here! Two birds for one gold zuz!”

“Gold changed here! One gold zuz, only $250! Today only!”

And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. (Mark 11:15-18)

I’ll bet he really enjoyed a nice, quiet prayer time in the temple after that. What do you think?

Can’t you just picture him, rocking back and forth in his pew, muttering to himself?

“Now my foot hurts from where I kicked that guy’s table. And I think I have a splinter from that other guy’s stool.”

So serene, being in the “house of prayer for all the nations.” So soothing and spiritual.

Guide our feet into the way of peace

So yeah, now Jesus and the disciples are leaving Jerusalem and the next morning Peter can’t let the fig tree thing drop.

“Look,” he says, “here’s that withered old fig tree!”

“Dammit, Peter!” Jesus stops.

christ-in-gethsemane-p

And with that, the anger dissipates. The restless, irritable, discontented rabbi breathes in and out, exhaling a prayer:

“Have faith in God.”

“Have faith in God.”

The disciples look at each other.

The rabbi smacks his forehead. “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” (Mark 11:26)

Have faith in God

What is forgiving, anyway, but acknowledging that you didn’t get what you wanted?

“That company didn’t hire me.”

“My parents won’t let me do anything.”

“All I wanted was some peace and quiet.”

They frustrated me … they upset me … they paid no attention to my needs.

“Whenever you stand praying, forgive.”

Letting go of your frustration and disappointment and anger may seem as impossible as making a mountain go soak its head, but if there’s anything that Jesus can teach us this morning, it’s that letting go is both necessary and within our reach.

If the Son of God himself was a hot mess sometimes, who are we to think we’re any better?

If the Word of God incarnate, the wisdom from on high let slip a curse or two in his frustration — “but I want figs!” — who are we to expect smooth sailing?

Whenever you stand praying, forgive — let go of what you want, admit that you are angry and out of sorts, and find instead cheerfulness and rejoicing.

Let go of your frustrations, and find instead the peace that passes understanding.

It makes about as much sense, seems about as ineffective, as telling a mountain it’s all wet.

But it turns the harsh light of morning back into a moment when we can hear the still, small voice of God as we breathe in and out, just like Jesus.

“Have faith in God.”

“Have faith in God.”

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These trees are prayers

In this morning’s email, Richard Rohr shares a poem by Rabindranath Tagore:

Silence my soul, these trees are prayers.
I asked the tree, “Tell me about God”;
then it blossomed.

Rohr continues: “Now look around you, wherever you are, and find something of beauty. Sit in spacious silence, observing without words or judgment. Let this beauty teach you the mystery of Incarnation, of God’s indwelling presence in all creation.”

St. Mary the Virgin

Today is one of the feasts on the church calendar centering on the “mystery of Incarnation,” on God becoming human and sharing our lives in the person of Jesus.

His mother, Mary, plays a central role in this mystery. Her “yes” to God makes room for all sorts of blossoming.
2015-08-15 08.17.13Like Hannah, who sings that “the barren has borne seven” and the needy are raised up from the ash heap (1 Samuel 2:5-8), Mary sings of God lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry with good things (Luke 1:52-53).

Something new is bearing fruit in the world just as it is in her womb.

And in Jesus’ first sign, the miracle at the wedding in Cana, it’s Mary who puts the fruit of her womb on the spot and urges him to provide the fruit of the vine, overflowing amounts of wine for the feast, good wine that gladdens the heart.

Blossoming in place

Like many who pray the Daily Office, I have a favorite place to pray, a place that gladdens my heart.

From my chair on our porch I look out on our backyard, a Japanese garden with a screen of trees in the ravine behind it.

2015-08-15 06.37.59Looking at the trees in my garden, I “ponder these things in my heart” like Mary.

What trees bear witness to your prayers?

What place helps your heart to blossom? How does the place where you pray help bring Jesus to life again in you?

Reclothe us in our rightful mind

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways!
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.
-John Greenleaf Whittier

I reflected in my sermon yesterday that the unity we share as Christians comes not from group membership but from the individual relationship each of us has with the living Christ.

In him, we are united in one body, because each of us has known his forgiveness.

The words of this beautiful hymn came to my mind this morning, especially the phrase, “Reclothe us in our rightful mind.”

People in recovery from alcoholism often speak of the “stinking thinking” that is as much of a problem for the addict as the drink itself.

People practicing recovery and learning to live well with mental illness also know what it is to suffer from problems in the mind, medical conditions in the brain that make living such a struggle.

Forgiveness, for me, began with admitting how badly my drinking had affected me and those around me.

Forgiveness felt first like being stripped naked, being fully known, being seen in the unlovely state I was in.

The grace I have received in recovery — in the love of family and friends who looked with me, in the support of my church and recovery group who held me, in the reawakening of my appreciation for the Daily Office and the practices of the Christian life and of recovery that shape me — all of these feel like by grace I am being “reclothed in my rightful mind.”

And now another lovely hymn springs to my lips: “O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!” Where pride and frustration once colored my life, gratitude paints a different picture.

If you for a long time have “worn no clothes,” and feel like you’re living “not in a house but in the tombs” — like the Gerasene man whom Jesus healed in the story from the Gospels (and the source of the hymn) — know that in forgiveness and in recovery you, too, can be “found … sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in [your] right mind” (Luke 8:35).

From Pravmir.com commentary on the healing of the demoniac by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh.

From Pravmir.com commentary on the healing of the demoniac by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh.

Reclothed in our rightful minds, we then find our fulfillment, as Whittier suggests, in trying to lead “purer lives” of “deeper reverence.”

Not that we are perfect by any means, but our service and praise show God how grateful we are and can offer hope to others who still suffer.

Top 10 differences between Green Bay Packers Family Night and Church

10. We cannot fit 69,700 people into St. Thomas Church, even if people do sit over on *that* side of the church.

9. We don’t give away the altar party’s vestments after the Holy Eucharist, though in summer they’d be just as sweaty.

8. The choir doesn’t sing “Back in Black” at every service.

7. We don’t even give the acolytes incense, much less fireworks and a laser show.

6. When our rookies — our children — do the Lambeau Leap up to our altar rail, they are slightly less likely to get beer, ketchup, or nacho cheese spilled on them.

5. It’s farther to walk for refreshments — here at St. Thomas. The whole “concourse” in the side aisle is, frankly, wasted space without pretzels or brats.

4. Even with our recent resurfacing project in the parking lot, there’s still more parking on Hwy. 41 than at St. Thomas.

3. We’d rather watch and analyze every move of Rodgers’ 12 than Jesus’ Twelve.

2. We wear green and gold on more Sundays … at church. (If you wonder how that’s even possible, Episcopal 101 classes start again in September.)

1. The pews are less comfortable … at Lambeau Field. But there’s no waiting list to get assigned seats right here at St. Thomas.