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So sorry, Mickey

I don’t have much to say regarding this sermon. I wrote it, I preached it, no one threw anything. I consider that a win.

Later this week, I hope to have something up regarding the proposed budget for The Episcopal Church. In the meantime, you should read this.. (Actually, read everything he’s written. He’s a smart guy, and I still owe him for patching up my small, international incident with the Russian Orthodox when I worked in the Ecumenical office.)

Anyway: sermon. Here!

March 4, 2012
Lent 2, Year B
Psalm 22: 23-30 (whole psalm)

Disney World, Disney Land, has some of the strictest rules regarding their workers and performers of any workplace in America. Up until this year, men could not have facial hair of any kind– and now, only neatly trimmed mustaches. Women may not wear obvious earrings, or obvious makeup, or nailpolish at all. Employees may not ever point; they may only guesture with two fingers or the entire hand. Characters may not speak at all, and they must not ever appear outside their designated ‘land.’

Above all, no one should ever do anything to ever disabuse any visitor that this is, indeed, the happiest place on Earth, inhabited by giant friendly Mice.

The illusion is always complete; the employees are even called cast members, and being with the public is called “being on stage”.

And it works– Disney is crazy-successful.

Lots of people really like to travel to Florida and California and have a wonderful, magical, paid-to-be perfect experience.

But, as great as Disney is, it’s not what you might call authentic. Granted, the giant mouse wearing clothes gives that away, as does the singing lions, but so does the relentless cheeriness.

Humans are never that happy all the time. We are not. And despite the refrain of “God is good, all the time,” neither are Christians.

Once you have gotten over your shock, I direct you to the psalms.

If you have ever experienced an emotion in your life, behold! It is in the psalms.

Have you been happy? Psalm 150: which details all the many and sundry ways you can praise the Lord– on the harp, on the timbrel and lyre, each verse staring with Praise him!”

Feeling angry and vengeful? Psalm 109: in return for my love, they accuse me. May his children be orphans! May his wife be a widow– may creditors seize all he has!

Even th bargaining stage of grief is covered! Psalm 88: do you work wonders for the dead? Will the dust praise you? Is your steadfast love declared in the the grave, or loving kindness praised in Sheol?

Essentially, every human emotion is expressed in the psalms. For every feeling you have that you can’t find good God-words for, there’s a psalm. A record of someone’s dialogue with God that you can listen in on and steal if needed.

And today’s is a good example.

You might not have realized it, but this is Psalm 22. That psalm we will get a lot of use out of in about a month or so, come Holy Week.

It starts out with a full lament– the one that should sound familiar, the one that Jesus echoed on the cross. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? ”

From there, the writer laments the many afflictions that have befallen him, crossing into tortures. Wild dogs of Bashan surround me, i can count all my bones, my mouth is dried up like a potsherd.

No only is this person feeling abandoned by God, he or she is suffering physical and emotional agony as well. This is as low, as awful as you can get. No Disney castle to be seen.

But it is authentic.
Who among us as not had at least one moment of feeling alone, and abandoned? Who among us has not had a moment of feeling fury, anger, jealousy, or any of those less- than pristine emotions that fuel our humanity?

The psalms give voice to all of that– not just our pretty emotions, our nice feelings, and everything “proper and correct.”. They talk about the human experience when it comes to a relationship with God. Sometimes we get angry at God. Sometimes we get jealous of God’s seeming favor towards someone we are sure is a horrible person. Sometimes, in our pain, we want to call for God’s wrath upon the heads of our enemies. Sometimes,we’re convinced God has left us for dead.

All of this is a part of being a person of faith. A person of faith, now– we get into big, big trouble whenever we confuse our human, messed up impulses with God’s. [Just because I think it is a great idea to smash babies doesn’t mean God does.]

But see where the writer of Psalm 22 ends up. After the lamenting, after a bit of bargaining too, the writer ends with the song of praise we heard today. My praise is of him in the great assembly.

And not because of obligation, or duty. Not out of empty routine, or because it’s what’s expected, but because this is the God who hears the cry of the poor. This is the God who has listened to everything that has come previous, and answered. This God isn’t scornful of the painful emotions of abandonment or agony, this God doesn’t expect Disney-fied worshippers– this God wants to hear it all from his people. The good, the bad, the indifferent. And God doesn’t hide his face from any of it.
That’s the sort of God we have here in the Psalms– that’s the sort of God Jesus shows us in his life, and especially on the cross. Not a God to hide from, or pretend towards, but a God who wants to hear everything we deal with.

So, thanks be to God, who has lovingly made us as human beings, not cartoon characters, and expects nothing less from us.


Requiem in pax

It’s fall in Flagstaff.  Or, more precisely, since I turned on the heat this morning, and snow (!) is forecast for tomorrow, it’s the beginning of winter.

And while that means nice stuff like pumpkin lattes, turning aspens, and my endless scarf collection, it also means, as I have learned from time in parish ministry, that people tend to die.

My mother has been a hospice nurse all my life, and so I grew up around death, and am not unfamiliar with its rhythms–people die around holidays, around days of importance to them, and around the changing of the seasons.  When I was first starting out in ministry, one of the weird ideas I had was that somehow, I would get more used to this rhythm of losing people.  (Then CPE happened, and that’s another story.)

Turns out, no one ever gets used to it.  Each loss is unique, and that’s just all there is.  In the past month, we’ve had two sudden deaths, which is tough on a community.  This time, however, it was one of those stalwart couples whom everyone knew, and who died within weeks of each other.

On Sunday, I got to celebrate all three services at Epiphany, and it’s our practice to dedicate the Eucharist to the recently deceased.  Usually, I don’t know the person who has died.  I haven’t been here that long, and frequently, the memorialized person is a relative of a parishioner.  This week, however, it was someone that I saw almost every week, sitting out in the congregation.

But using the ancient prayer for the dead (May their soul, and the souls of all the departed, rest in peace, and rise in glory), and then going into the eucharistic prayer language about how we “join with the saints and angels and all the heavenly chorus” was an interesting experience.  Because now I had named one of the heavenly chorus–like watching a sporting event on TV and realizing you know someone in the massive crowd.

We’ve held onto the communion of saints idea for centuries for this reason, I suppose.  It gives words to the idea that no one is really gone from our congregation–they just move positions a bit.




Basic Anglican Texts 101

Sorry this is so late. The past few weeks have been chaotic and filled with colds that consumed everyone on campus, and emergency conference calls.
In any case, last week I preached all three services at Friendly Local Episcopal Church (whose website now links here. Hi, y’all!)
The rector was on some extremely well-deserved vacation, so I got to sub in, with the help of Friendly Retired Lutheran Pastor.
Here’s what got preached.
(For reference, I also include the following: ).

September 25, 2011
Ordinary Time, Proper 21
Matthew 21:23-32

​In that foundational text of traditional Anglicanism known as “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, at one point, early in the movie, King Arthur strikes up a conversation with a peasant named Dennis and his elderly female companion, regarding the inhabitant of a far-off castle. Dennis doesn’t know who Arthur is, or why a king has appeared suddenly in their field. When the old woman asks Arthur how he got to be king, since she didn’t vote for him., he explains about the Lady of the Lake, holding aloft Excalibur from the depths of the water. The scene gets quiet, a choir sings off in the distance, everyone sort of stares off into the middle distance. Clearly this story is important.
​But Dennis is unimpressed. “Look, strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government! Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not some farcical aquatic ceremony!”
And in one fell swoop, the legend of the sword in the stone crumbles into hilarious pebbles. Arthur is enraged, and poor Dennis gets whacked about the head and neck by a belligerent king, yelling “come and see the violence inherent in the system! Help, I’m being repressed!”
​Though, he’s right. And through our 21st century eyes, something as purely by chance as swords! Or birthright! Seems like a ridiculous reason to wield authority.
​So what does give authority? Because that’s a question that still gets people going. From Arthur beating the snot out of Dennis,(the violence inherent in the system!) to the bloodletting in the GOP debates these past few weeks, to Jesus versus the temple priests, who gets authority and why is always a contentious issue.
​Look again at the gospel—we’ve skipped ahead in time a bit—this encounter with Jesus and the priests is during what we consider Holy Week. Jesus has entered the city of Jerusalem to great acclaim and attention. He went into the Temple and threw out the moneychangers and the guys who sold the animals for the sacrifice—caused a bit ruckus there. He went around saiying that the Temple would get destroyed, ripped to pieces, and he would personally rebuild it in three days. These aren’t things you do if you want to win friends and influence the folks in charge.
​So the priests,, in charge of the Temple system, decide to figure out just who this guy Jesus is. Where does he get off saying and doing all this?
​And Jesus, never one just to give a simple answer to a simple question, shoots one back. “I know my authority—where did John get his authority from?”
​And what follows is an interesting bit of political huddling. The temple leaders are in a tight spot. They’re facing a crowded city. That loved the martyred John the Baptist, so they don’t want to say anything against him, or destroy the saintly image he had earned. However, they didn’t want to be too nice to John, since the guy who had him killed was also the person who kept them in power. And was insanely paranoid.
​It’s tricky.
So they give up. And Jesus lets them off the hook.
​But notice that there’s something missing from their analysis. At no point in what we’re told of their deliberations does anyone say, “maybe this question isn’t about us. Maybe it’s about John.” Maybe it’s about John, and the crowd themselves, and the people that the priests are supposed to be serving the in first place. Maybe it’s not actually about us.
​Granted, that wouldn’t have solved the very real political issues they were still facing. And Also? This is the gospel of Matthew here. Matthew has never won any prizes for an unbiased portrayal of the temple authorities, or any non-Jesus Jewish character in this story.
​But for these characters, as described by Matthew’s gospel, authority is very much about maintaining power for yourself. They can’t answer the question about authority themselves, ironically, because their own is so twisted back on itself. It’s so self-focused. And really, who, hearing this story, thinks, yes! I want to follow these people!
​Jesus on the other hand does things differently. It’s not that Jesus eschews authority or power—you don’t go around announcing the destruction of your national capital if you are afraid of power.
​He just uses it very differently. Even the parable he tells—for both of the sons, the goal is to do the will of their father. Not theirs. Both sons seem a bit inconsistent and have problems telling the truth, but one ends up on the right page…just because he loves his father, and in the end, he thinks of his father, not just himself.
​And that’s what it comes down to. Jesus’ authority comes out of love. Love of the people he came to serve and to lead, and love of the God who sent him. It was that love that people responded to, and it was that love that gave him the authority to do the things he did, love for the lepers he healed, love for the outcast he welcomed, and love for the temple authorities he challenged.
​Love gives authority. But, not just any sort of appearing-on-daytime-talk-shows-love. The sort of self-emptying love that Paul describes in Philippians. That’s the sort of love that flows from God, and that’s the sort of love that empowers us to go out into the world in God’s name to serve as God’s hands and feet, here and now.
​As Christians, that’s the only sort of authority we have. We don’t have magic powers, we don’t have trained assassins, we don’t have secret knowledge. We have self-giving, self-emptying love. Love so strong that even death and hell don’t contain it. We have that.
​So when it comes right down to it? If what we do truly proceeds out of that love?
​We need no other authority.