Tag Archives: Romans

The plumb-line, the cross, and the circle

A parishioner reminded me earlier this week that I sometimes get political in my sermons. That was before two black men were killed by police and before five Dallas police officers were killed and seven others wounded by a lone shooter, a veteran who had served in Afghanistan. This morning I promise not to get political.

First of all, I am not a black man. And I am not a police officer. And I am not a military veteran. And I do not want to presume to speak about their frustration or their suffering or their families’ grief.

Instead I must offer some prophetic and pastoral words today. I am a Christian and an ordained minister, and the words of the Scriptures are directed at me, at us. It is my responsibility not only to heed the words of the Scriptures but to help you heed them, too.

We cannot judge,

            we must not justify ourselves,

                        but we can act like neighbors.

But first, let me start with a joke.

The Plumb-Line

I spent six hours driving back and forth from Charlotte through the mountains of western North Carolina for a business meeting on Friday. As I drove, I couldn’t help thinking of George Carlin’s observation that “anyone who drives slower than you is an idiot, and anyone who drives faster than you is a maniac.”

This is precisely the kind of “judgment” that the Scriptures condemn, the judging of other nations as good or bad, the judging of other religions as right or wrong, the judging of other people as worthy or worthless.

The prophet Amos shows us, in a vivid image, why our judgment is flawed.

He sees in a vision “the Lord standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand … then the Lord said, ‘See, I am setting a plumb line in the middle of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by’” (Amos 7:7-8).

plumbline1

A plumb line, for those who may not know, is an ancient tool to help builders make their work straight and level. The heavy weight at the end of the line was originally made of “plumb,” or lead (that’s why the chemical symbol for lead is Pb).

But that’s not the point; the point of Amos’ vision is that only God’s judgment is perfect, and when he holds a plumb line up to humanity everything is crooked in comparison.

Every nation, even our beloved America, is crooked.

Just last Monday – it hasn’t even been a week! – we prayed on Independence Day to the “Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace.”

Righteousness and peace? What a crock! What a self-righteous, violent, chaotic nation we are proving to be, if we could only see straight!

Just like the king of Israel, our nation won’t stand for judgment. And too often, our denominations and we religious leaders do just as Amaziah did and turn away the prophets for disturbing the peace. “Go somewhere else with your protests and activism; stop calling into question our righteousness and peace.”

Just like the priests of Israel, compared to God’s plumb-line, every denomination, every religious leader, is out of true. We offer our “thoughts and prayers” again and again and again, but we don’t get political in our sermons because we don’t want to rock the boat or offend anyone. Or we do get political in our messages, teaching (whether we mean to or not) that power and politics and success are what really matter.

But every person, every single one of us, is at least “half a bubble off plumb,” too. And here’s where it gets personal. What’s really happening when God’s plumb line hangs beside us is that we are ashamed. We see ourselves clearly, and we are ashamed.

Reflecting on “Dallas and American Contradictions,” Alexandra Petri wrote in the Washington Post on Friday that,

Being told that you aren’t living up to your own standards is an uncomfortable thing. …. [T]hat is an unpleasant thing to discover about yourself. So a lot of the anger in America now resembles the anger that you have at your mirror. ‘This isn’t what I look like,’ you say. ‘I look much better than that.’ It hurts to realize that the only reason you thought you didn’t have wrinkles was because the lighting was poor. But it’s not the fault of the light.

We cannot judge,

            we must not justify ourselves …

The Cross

We see ourselves clearly, and we are ashamed. The plumb line just hangs there, but we feel like we are being sentenced. Because we are ashamed, we try to deflect attention away from ourselves, to justify our behavior.

The lawyer came back at Jesus with a second question “wanting to justify himself.”

That’s an important “hinge word” to pay attention to. Because our behavior – our living up to our national ideals or our keeping the commandments – has been called into question, we are ashamed and we try to justify ourselves.

“Our nation is not so bad.” At least America is not a warlike country invading other sovereign territories at will and destroying people’s homes and cities.

“Our political candidate is not so bad.” You know, the other ones misbehaved, too.

“Our religion is not so bad.” At least we’re not preaching violent fantasies and subjugating women and minorities.

So much of what we say and share on social media serves this self-justifying need – “I’m not so bad.” Other people are much worse.

At least I’m not like other people.

Does that sound familiar? It should, because it was the punch line of another parable Jesus told, the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other.” (Luke 18:9-14)

Justify is a hinge word because it has two meanings – we justify ourselves because of our shame, but the Gospel tells us our shame has been lifted and we have been justified by the grace of God through Jesus’ self-offering on the cross.

Paul writes that

while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8).

We must not try to justify ourselves – we must not try to take away our shame by deflecting attention onto others. We ourselves are the ungodly, the sinners for whom Christ died on the cross.

But do you hear the good news? We cannot justify ourselves, because in Christ we are justified by grace, through faith.

In the Advent season, the priest prays right before Communion that “we may without shame or fear rejoice to behold Christ at his coming.” Christ’s self-offering on the cross is the hinge that turns our self-justifying into justification.

The cross, standing stark and upright, takes up the plumb-line of God’s judgment and transforms it into the symbol of God’s grace, erasing our shame and fear.

We cannot judge,

            we must not justify ourselves,

                        but we can act like neighbors.

 The Circle

One of the loveliest prayers in the Book of Common Prayer is this prayer for mission:

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen. (BCP 101)

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What could you accomplish if you could act without shame or fear, without the need to judge others, without the need to justify your actions?

You could accomplish just what the Samaritan man did in Jesus’ parable. You could stop focusing on yourself as better than anyone else, you could stop justifying your action (or inaction), you could see someone hurting and stop and help them.

The “Good Samaritan” is not actually the focus of today’s parable – even the way we talk about it shows that we miss the point. The Samaritan man focuses on the one in need, cares for him without judging him, and doesn’t have to spend any time justifying his inaction.

The Samaritan man – and us, if we follow Jesus’ invitation to “do likewise” – doesn’t waste any time deciding whether the man is worthy or deserved what he got, or should have given the robbers what they wanted. He simply binds his wounds and takes him somewhere safe.

My wife recently had tears in her eyes as she described to me how one father of an Orlando shooting victim refused to claim his son’s body — he hadn’t known his son was gay until he was killed — and how a local Seventh-Day Adventist Church offered to hold funerals for victims of the massacre who had no other place to go. She grew up in the SDA church, and had given her denomination up years ago for their judgmental attitudes, but here they showed that their focus was on the victims and their hurting families.

What Jesus says to the lawyer is that inheriting eternal life has nothing to do with judging others wrong. God’s plumb line makes clear your own crookedness.

It has nothing to do with justifying your actions by deflecting attention onto the sins of others; the cross casts its long shadow on your own sinfulness, at the same time taking away your shame and freeing you to act without fear.

Inheriting eternal life, according to Jesus, has to do with lessening the suffering of the people in your path. You don’t have to care for everyone, but you do have to respond to those who cross your path who are hurting.

Whether people meet you online or in person, on social media or in social settings, you create the circle of Christ’s outstretched arms of love; you bring people into Christ’s saving embrace.

Alongside the cross and within the circle of Christ’s love, the new plumb-line hangs as straight and true as ever: Did you lessen the suffering of the people you encountered today?

We cannot judge,

            we must not justify ourselves,

                        but we can act like neighbors, for God’s sake.

Go, and do likewise. Amen.

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Feet don’t fail me now | St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:11-15)

Gospel means good news

How often do you hear from Christians about God’s generosity?

How often do you hear from Christians that no one will be put to shame?

How often do you hear from Christians that there is no distinction between people of different cultures and races?

Within the church, I hear about these things a lot. I am fortunate to serve with many generous, empathetic, and open-minded people.

But outside, especially in the world of social media and TV news, not so much. In the popular culture especially, the Christian message too often sounds exclusive, judgmental, and fearful.

Who are you afraid of?

For the LORD spoke thus to me while his hand was strong upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what it fears, or be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall regard as holy; let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. (Isaiah 8:11-13)

Who do we fear?

Refugees … prisoners … all who are in danger …

The poor and the oppressed, the unemployed and the destitute, prisoners and captives …

Those who suffer in body, mind, or spirit …

Those who do not yet believe, and those who have lost their faith …

Our enemies and those who wish us harm … all whom we have injured or offended …

Who are you afraid of? Why are you afraid of them?

Perhaps more importantly, who tells you to fear them, and why do they do that? Who paints a picture of the world that causes you dread instead of joy?

How beautiful the feet!

Teresa of Ávila said,

Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

We are surrounded by stories and images designed to cause us to fear the stranger, the poor, the unbeliever, the other.

But hear the word of God that came to Isaiah: “Do not call conspiracy what this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what it fears.”

And hear the word that Paul preached: “The same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call upon him.”

And hear the collect that we pray every Monday, even on Mondays like today when we remember one like Matthew who preached the good news — the gospel — about Jesus.

Let these words remind you of the good news of God’s generosity and let them guide your feet into the way of peace.

Let them make you a beautiful messenger of the gospel like Matthew.

A Collect for the Renewal of Life

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.

Putting away all earthly anxieties

As the body of Jesus lies wrapped in grave clothes in the tomb on this Saturday, we “praise and highly exalt” God for the earth and its creatures:

Let the earth glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.
Glorify the Lord, O mountains and hills,
and all that grows upon the earth, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Glorify the Lord, O springs of water, seas, and streams, *
O whales and all that move in the waters.
All birds of the air, glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Glorify the Lord, O beasts of the wild, *
and all you flocks and herds.
O men and women everywhere, glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever. (BCP 89)

As God incarnate, made man in the person of Jesus, occupies the last part of creation — death itself — we pray on this Holy Saturday that we, “putting away all earthly anxieties” (BCP 99), may be prepared for the service of God’s sanctuary.

From “the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home” (BCP 370) to the microorganisms in the soil of the tomb, from the largest blue whale (“that Leviathan”) to the smallest child newly born, all creation is God’s sanctuary.

Every part of it has been made holy, not only by God’s creating it, but by God’s inhabiting it.

Paul writes that “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21).

Even the darkest night, even the fear of death, even the silent cry of loneliness, all of the creation’s “bondage to decay” and all of our earthly anxieties have been redeemed, made holy by God’s inhabiting them.

The Song of the Redeemed  Magna et mirabilia
Revelation 15:3-4

O ruler of the universe, Lord God,
great deeds are they that you have done, *
surpassing human understanding.
Your ways are ways of righteousness and truth, *
O King of all the ages.

Who can fail to do you homage, Lord,
and sing the praises of your Name? *
for you only are the Holy One.
All nations will draw near and fall down before you, *
because your just and holy works have been revealed.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Sermon for 2 Lent | Abraham, Peter, and a mustard seed

Then Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Mark 8:31-33)

I don’t know if Paul had this story in mind when he wrote today’s chapter of the letter to the Romans, but his rivalry with Peter might have colored the way he painted the story of Abraham’s faith.

Abraham

Before the portion of Genesis that we read this morning (Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16), Abram:

  • had already followed God to the land he showed him, “along with his wife Sarai, his brother’s son Lot, and all their possessions, and all the persons they had acquired”
  • had already gone down to Egypt because of a famine
  • had already separated from Lot so they wouldn’t get in each other’s way, then come back to rescue him
  • had already been blessed by Melchizedek
  • had already made a covenant with God, and “it was reckoned to him as righteousness”
  • and had already had a son, Ishmael, with Sarai’s servant girl Hagar, who went into exile with the boy

Today, God gives Abraham a new name, and God says Sarah will give birth to a son.

Here’s how Abraham responds, at least according to Paul:

He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:19-22)

Peter

Now before Jesus started talking about suffering and dying, Simon

  • had already left his nets and followed him
  • had already seen a man with an unclean spirit healed
  • had already seen his mother-in-law healed, for goodness’ sake
  • had already seen a leper healed
  • had already seen a paralyzed man get up and walk
  • had already seen a tax collector leave the money follow Jesus
  • had already been appointed one of the Twelve and given a new name, Peter
  • had already heard Jesus teach in parables, calm a storm, heal a demoniac, raise a girl to life and heal a suffering woman

And Peter had already gone out on a mission with the rest of the apostles and done all of these impossible things himself!

And then …. Jesus fed 5,000 people, walked on water, cured a deaf man, and fed 4,000 more people.

And then Peter said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”

Today, Jesus talks about yet another impossible thing: “the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

Peter starts to argue with Jesus, saying that’s not how it’s going to be! We’re on a roll here – look at everything we’ve accomplished – and it’s just going to keep getting better from now on!

Jesus is sharp in his rebuke, calling Peter on the carpet in front of everyone. “Get behind me, you adversary, you tempter! (That’s what “Satan” means.) You’re focused on human things, not divine.”

I can just imagine Peter’s face burning red with shame.

In his book Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Richard Rohr writes “Jesus praised faith and trust – even more than love. It takes a foundational trust to fall, or to fail, and not to fall apart.”

How Peter must be humbled by Jesus’ rebuke, though he still has to fall, and fail, a couple more times before he finally falls upward into the identity his name points to: Peter the Rock.

The Mustard Seed

But today I want to turn from rocks, and from the mountain-top where the tempter lives, and focus down on a little mustard seed.

Jesus said, according to Matthew, that “if you have faith the size a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).

Both Abraham and Peter had trust.

Both of them had seen God acting and had followed God in trust.

Abraham also had just enough faith to be “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”

That little faith, small as a mustard seed, was “reckoned to him as righteousness.”

However, Peter is most like us – that’s probably why he’s first among the Twelve apostles.

Like Peter, we have already seen Jesus and his Spirit acting in our lives:

  • In two powerful Faith Alive weekends that have revitalized the congregation
  • In vibrant healing ministries that we offer each other every week
  • In so many Bible studies, EfM groups, and reading groups every week
  • Through our mission partners and mission prayer links
  • Through our children and young people
  • In our retired clergy, so generous with their wisdom and time
  • In the 85 people who came out on Wednesday night to gather with our bishop for a Lenten study

But like Peter we have a hard time hearing Jesus when the talk turns serious, when he sets his face toward Jerusalem and the cross.

The transformative dying that Jesus describes, what we now call the Way of the Cross, demands of us not just trust that Jesus is leading us where we need to go, but faith that our falling and failing actually moves us upward toward the share in the kingdom that he promises.

That kingdom, Jesus says, is within us (Luke 17:21).

That kingdom, he says, “is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade” (Mark 4:31-32).

Jesus says elsewhere that unless a grain of wheat is planted and dies, it cannot rise into new growth (John 12:24).

We are so like Peter in our falling and our failing — afraid to let go of our success, afraid to risk even a tiny mustard seed of faith.

Today, may we be like Abraham, fully convinced that God, in Christ, can do what he has promised.

“For those who want to save their life,” Jesus says, “will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

Our little faith is enough. Our little mustard seed of faith, if we are willing to lay it down for Jesus’ sake, and for the sake of the good news, is enough.

And that little mustard seed of faith will “be reckoned to us as righteousness,” just as Paul said it would be.

He also said, “The promise rests on grace … “

And the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all, now and for ever. Amen.

Those who bring good news

There is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:12-15)

Beautiful Feet

We Christians know that our feet were made beautiful by Jesus himself, who on the
night before he died …

“took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the
towel that was tied around him …. After he had washed their feet, had put on
his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I
have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is
what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also
ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also
should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater
than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them”
(John 13).

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord

Peter certainly isn’t “greater than the one who sends him”; in fact, Peter is the
patron saint of leaping before you look.

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the
water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the
water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became
frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus
immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little
faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:28-31).

Joseph, on the other hand, doesn’t doubt. He has always known he was his father
Israel’s favorite – he has the “coat with long sleeves,” the coat of many colors to
remind him. It’s left out of our reading this morning, but Joseph wasn’t the easiest to get along with – he kept dreaming that his brothers, and even his father and mother, were bowing down to him. Even so, when his jealous older brothers saw their chance and sold him into slavery, his faith in God remained strong.

Joseph’s faith is remembered and his story retold in this morning’s psalm:

He sent a man before them, *
Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
They bruised his feet in fetters; *
his neck they put in an iron collar.
Until his prediction came to pass, *
the word of the LORD tested him.
The king sent and released him; *
the ruler of the peoples set him free.
He set him as a master over his household,*
as a ruler over all his possessions,
To instruct his princes according to his will*
and to teach his elders wisdom. (Psalm 105:17-22)

Joseph is an example of endurance, of embracing his new role as servant to Potiphar,
of integrity when falsely accused and sent to prison, and of reliance on God to
interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. Pharaoh recognizes Joseph’s exemplary character and
puts him in charge of his house and the whole land of Egypt.

Much later, when Joseph is about 45 years old, when the famine he predicted has
struck the land and his older brothers come to Egypt in search of food, Joseph’s faith leads him to bless them instead of cursing them – to be a messenger of good news.

Messengers of good news

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

There’s a wonderful backwards series of sentences in Paul’s letter this morning:
“How are they to call on – to believe in – to hear – to proclaim – unless they are
sent?”

We have been sent – by our baptism into Christ’s body, by the washing of our feet
that Thursday night on Jerusalem, by our participation in his death and resurrection,
by the empowering of his Holy Spirit – we have been sent to proclaim good news.

We proclaim the simple message of the Gospel: that Jesus is Lord, and that
“everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

There’s nothing more to it than that. The good news is simple.

And we are simple, like Peter, mindful of our own doubt and sin, but grateful for
God’s power to save us and for the gift of a new spirit.

Like Peter said “not my feet only, but wash my hands and my head,” we proclaim the
good news “not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to [God’s] service” (BCP 101).

The good news is not just what we say, but how we live.

We are like Joseph, mindful that we are beloved, but resolved to live with integrity.
When others are in trouble, even if what they do hurts us, we have it in our power to
bless and not curse. When others are hurting, most of us have plenty to spare, and
our generosity speaks volumes about God’s grace.

The good news is simple: Jesus is Lord, and “everyone who calls upon the name of
the Lord shall be saved.”

We are sent to proclaim the good news by word and deed.

The rest is not up to us

We cannot control what other people hear.

I’ve just spent weeks learning how to teach a course for physicians, nurses, and hospital administrators on “Leading Change” – a course that underscores that very point. People receive what we say to them filtered through many layers of perception. We can tailor our message to reach people better, but we cannot control what they hear.

We cannot convince people to believe.

Any of you who have tried to have a political “discussion” on Facebook know how well that works. We’re called to witness to new life and transformation, more than we are called to deploy proofs of logic. We cannot reason people into risking the leap of faith.

And, we cannot make people call upon the name of the Lord.

The ISIS fighters in Iraq are trying to do that at gunpoint and at the tip of the sword. They are preaching hate, not love. Our own Christian history is also full of too many examples of forced conversions and coercive use of power. We cannot make people into Christians; we
must invite them to join us.

Beloved, we are sent to proclaim a much simpler good news, free from force or
distinction or coercion – “the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call upon him” – and to proclaim it by word and deed.

So, this week …

Like Peter, let Jesus draw you outside of your comfort zone into something that feels
a little risky.

Like Joseph, proclaim good news in a way that goes beyond righteousness and into
material help.

I am taking my own advice here – like Peter, I feel that I need to step “outside the
boat” in my prayer life, to risk leaving some of the familiarity and comfort of the
Daily Office and to spend more time silently resting in Jesus’ presence. I have to trust that his hand will be there to catch me, and I do trust him.

Like Joseph, I am also feeling that I need to go beyond praying for Christians who are being persecuted in Iraq and do something more direct to help them. So I have given a donation to Canon Andrew White, the “Vicar of Baghdad,” and his work at St. George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad through his Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East.

How is God sending you this week? How will you risk stepping outside the boat?
How will you go beyond prayer and into action to help those who suffer?

Trust that Jesus’ strong hand will catch you if you falter, trust that you have enough to share with others in need, trust that your feet, your hands and your head have been washed by our humble Lord. Trust that the rest is in his hands.

“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Amen.

Following the way of the cross

From the Society of St. John the Evangelist -- www.ssje.org

From the Society of St. John the Evangelist — http://www.ssje.org

A Facebook friend whose opinion I respect, William Henry Benefield BSG, posted yesterday about reading the Passion Gospel during Holy Week:

“Perhaps one day, parishes throughout the world on Palm Sunday and Good Friday will have all of us present — the baptized Eucharistic assembly — saying or chanting the part of Christ during the Passion and not playing the ‘crowd’ as our liturgical tradition so often dictates. Our theology teaches us we are the Body of Christ … so it looks and sounds rather strange, not to mention theologically questionable, for us to be shouting ‘Crucify, Crucify’ and ‘Give us Jesus Barabbas.’ Maybe one day we the Church will finally realize who we actually are, break with the previous liturgical tradition when chanting the Passion on these two sacred days, and claim our true identity in the world.”

I’ll admit I had never heard of that being done before, as William said he had experienced at an Episcopal church in New York City.

His thoughtful post got me thinking, and I enjoyed figuring out why I disagree with him.

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It seems to me that while we are the Body of Christ, we are not Jesus. The tension in our lives of faith is between living “in Christ” or “following the crowd.”

I think playing the part of the crowd in the Passion is entirely appropriate as a way of realizing that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 4:8). It also helps us accomplish the movement Paul describes to the Colossians: “You have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator” (Col. 3:9b-10).

Our creator, “being found in human form … humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8).

In our old self, I think we are the crowd, preferring spectacle, resistant to change, and easily led. By the grace of God and through the self-offering of Jesus, we are given a new way.

Being the Body of Christ means stripping off the old self and following the way of the cross instead of following the crowd.

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While I completely agree with the ancient homily for Holy Saturday that William shared — “together [with Christ] we are now one undivided person” — I’m also conscious at this time in my life that I am not always the “one person” I want to be. Like Paul, I “find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand” (Romans 7:21).

Like AA members do when they share their stories of encouragement, hope, and strength, perhaps we in the Church use the Passion Gospel during Holy Week to remind ourselves “what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now.”

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The collect for today, Monday in Holy Week, is very familiar to us as the Collect for Fridays at Morning Prayer.

I hope it will remind you as you journey with Jesus during this Holy Week what you used to be like, what happened as a result of his obedience and death, and what you are like now.

May this Holy Week open the way to life and peace for you.

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 99).

With sober judgment

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For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. (Rom. 12:3)

The Psalms are the heart of the Office because they have for centuries expressed the “needs, hopes, and concerns” of God’s people. They are very human songs, and more often than not I am caught short by the emotion of the psalmist.

Today, for example, the psalmist’s simple love for the law rings false in my ears, perhaps because my own path has been too twisted lately. The version running through my head as I pray sounds more like this:

Oh, how I love your law!
Even though all day long it’s out of my mind.

Your commandment has made me no wiser than my enemies,
Because it is too little with me.

I have less understanding than any of my teachers,
Though your decrees have been my study.
(Psalm 119:97-99, para.)

Some days the Office is inspiring, giving us a glimpse of the ideal we long for. Other days it reminds us how far we still have to go.

But it always points us to Christ and to the Church, reminding us that we are not alone on our twisted path, that we are not truly separated from the love of God.

The “sober judgment” that Paul urges us to have places our real failings in the proper context of God’s even more real love for us shown in Christ Jesus.