Archive for February, 2009

I Lent: Confidence and honesty

February 27, 2009

Homily notes for Sunday, March 1

As we head into Lent, it strikes me that a healthy approach to this season requires a strong dose of both confidence and honesty.  In the epistle (II Cor 5), Paul tells us we are to labor that we may be accepted of him, for we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ.   Further, we are to give no offense in anything, and are counseled to examine oursleves, whether we be in the faith; and to prove our own selves.   This kind of clear honesty, looking with unblinking gaze on those parts of our lives where we love darkness rather than light, bravely lifting off the veils with which we cover our deeds, is often associated with Lent… in our general thougthts about Lent.  In practice, it can be way too scary.  Or, if we are drawn toward such deep delving into conscience, it can turn into an unhelpful wallowing in darkness and depression. 

How then do we approach self-examination, much less penance and amendment of our lives?  The key is also found in the readings this week.  For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.  (John 3)   And in the epistle:  therefore if anyone be in Christ, they are a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.  This new reality is already taking hold in us, by the Holy Ghost, by the power of God, and is nourished each week at this table by the body and blood of Christ.

When we not only trust, but know (in the most profound and personal sense of that verb) that, from the core of our being, we are wrought in God, and constantly surrounded by his transforming love, there is no more fear.  We can walk into the light, carrying all the substance of our life – the good and wonderful, as well as the shameful and painful.  We hand all of this to the Alchemist who finds the ingredients of the new creation precisely in the broken shards we give him. 

We can only offer to Christ what we really have, who we truly are, not our gradiose and self-protective imaginations of ourselves… and Lent is an opportunity, surrouded in God’s love, to discover and to offer.

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Ash Wednesday

February 23, 2009

Homily notes for Ash Wednesday, February 25:

Marked with a smear of carbon, scaled back to the most basic components of life, we begin again our journey through Lent.   The readings talk about repentence and the blotting out of sins, which can make our comfortable selves squirm a bit.   Nonetheless, as we look around us, the damage that we can do to our relationships with God, with one another, with creation, is obvious.   Now is the time to take ourselves back to our origins, where we ourselves are begun, continued, and ended in God, so that the same may be said of all our works.

Sin is too often treated as a laundry list of personal peccadillos.   The Nashville Cohort had a wonderful discussion about this last month.  If we believe the scriptures today (Acts 3, John 3), sin and repetance are about a lot more than how many times I lied to my brother and if I am going to hell.    Rather, we hear about the restitution of all things, being born of the Spirit, and that God intends to bless all the kindreds of the earth in us.

How shall such marvels come to pass?  Maybe this Lent will take us a bit deeper into the mysteries of the wind of the Spirit, which bloweth where it listeth, defying our plans, overturning our comfortable identities, loosening the knots we tie in ourselves, and leaving us wondering at the new creation in its wake.

Quinquagesima 2009: Love beyond all resentment

February 19, 2009

Homily notes for Quinquagesima Sunday, February 22:

The occasional warm days, with the appearance of the year’s first daffodils alongside hedgerows, signal the slow transition to spring is picking up speed, and Pre-Lent is drawing to a close.  The Quinquagesima gospel is the parable of the laborers in the vineyard from Matthew 20.   The householder, displaying the grace of Christ, pays all the laborers a full day’s wage, even those who arrived only at the eleventh hour.   Of course this generosity sends those who worked all day into fits.  They cry:  Unfair! These last have wrought but one hour and thou hast made them equal unto us, who have borne the burden and heat of the day. 

Let’s take one angle on this parable that is particularly applicable to independent sacramental communities.  Many of us may be counted by others, or may count ourselves, as those who have come late in the day.  Our communities and ministries are very new.  Even the faintest beginnings of what is now the independent movement are much, much younger than other sacramental denominations such as the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.   Those of us who serve in a priestly role may have learned our craft under the mentorship of a sister or brother priest, instead of through eight years of formal seminary in an academic setting.  We are the upstarts who just arrived at the farm, rushing in, late in the day.  Our presence is no devaluation of those communities who have served in the way of Jesus for many centuries.  Their good work deserves its just reward.  However, Christ, in the person of the vineyard owner, tells us that our labors are valued and rewarded just as much as theirs.  There is no “second best.”  Our envy of the older churches, wanting to be like them, craving their approval, feeling that their path of clergy preparation is better or more “real” than ours, is no more helpful than any contempt or judgment directed from some members of those churches to us.  Christ has blessed all of us.   Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?  Is thine eye evil, because I am good?

The intent for this Sunday is to grow in awareness and experience of the Holy Spirit as the fire of love.  The connection to the first reading – from I Corinthians 13 – is clear enough.  But how do we take this intent into our contemplation of the gospel?  It is that fire of love which burns away all envy and resentment, as well as our reactions to being the target of such emotions from others.   Jonah Paffhausen, the current primate of the Orthodox Church in America, reports that his spiritual father lived by three simple points:  Do not resent.  Do not react.  Keep inner stillness. Even in the midst of great outer activity, the flame of the Spirit’s love burns bright and clear within us, enabling us to joyfully, openly extend Christ’s blessing to all. 

Sexagesima 2009: Love in Action

February 12, 2009

My notes for Sunday, February 15, follow below.  For those who asked, the readings are those given in the Liberal Catholic lectionary.

Sexagesima (a Sunday whose name always invites a joke or two) brings us to a consideration of the Holy Spirit as sanctifier.  In the Gospel (from Mark 12), Jesus tells us that the greatest commandments are to love God and our neighbor.  However, we cannot force ourselves to obey these commandments.  Love flows from a secret inner disposition that cannot be outwardly compelled, or it is no longer love.  True love for God and for our brothers and sisters shapes our lives as the Spirit works in our depths, setting us at liberty and making us children of God.  These commandments are closer to signs of the regeneration God is already working in us, rather than rules to obey, although there are doubtless times when acting “as if” we were loving can open the door to the reality.  When this love is in us, changing us, making us useful to God’s purposes in the world, we are not far from the kingdom of God.

The Spirit’s work of love in us, and the imitation of Christ which is the living out of the same, does not make us into cookie-cutter Christians, or robotic followers of Jesus.  Rather as the Epistle (from I Cor 12) tells us, there are diversities of operations, but the same God who worketh all in all.  However widely varied the Spirit’s manifestations or gifts, they are given to each for the common good, to build up the body of Christ in which we all partake.  As Bishop Lloyd Meeker liked to say, blessings are not given to us for us – but through us to bless others, and to others that they may bring blessings to us, in a grand exchange of grace.  Each person and each community needs to watch for the Spirit’s unique gifts (which may not look religious at all), cultivate them, and find ways to bring them to the common table to share with others.  Sanctification looks different in each person and in each community, but it is always love in action.  May the Spirit brood over us, and shake us to our depths, making us secret agents of God’s transforming love, loose in the world.

Septuagesima 2009

February 10, 2009

It’s been a busy year.  I’m going to give this blog another try, at least posting homily notes from time to time.   From last Sunday:

Today we enter Pre-Lent, a little season of 3 Sundays devoted to the Holy Spirit, whose presence prepares us to undertake transformational Lenten discipline.   This week’s readings particularly speak of the Spirit under the aspect of wisdom.  In the gospel from Matthew 25, the illuminating flame of wisdom (or at least the oil that fuels it) is something which must be bought.  When the foolish virgins ask the wise ones to share their oil, the wise tell them to go and buy for themselves.   We have to ask carefully what this means.  All too often, religion and spirituality are treated as commodities in the marketplace of our world.  We are quick to purchase the latest book or DVD, and to sign up for the newest weekend workshop with the popular speaker.  We fill ourselves with cool theories and “spiritual” ideas.  We pay our ministers, our theologians, and other professionals to be religious for us.  We may have full bookshelves, impressive resumes, and a staff to boot, but does such heavy knowledge lead us to the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God and the image of his goodness (Wisdom 7)?

 How then do we buy this oil of wisdom, which illumines our souls, lighting the world around us as we await the coming Bridegroom?   Perhaps it is obtained precisely by trading away all our self-important cleverness which bars the way of the One who in all ages enters into holy souls, making them friends of God and prophets.  God’s wisdom is most subtle, and cannot be bound.  The Spirit of Wisdom does not bow to our plans or notions, cannot be controlled, and teaches us by taking us into places we never expected.  God needs friends who are willing to take risks, to be a little crazy, to love life, letting themselves be filled with joy.   No one else can do this for us.  The community of the wise, shining like brilliant stars in the night, is composed of those who have paid the price of wisdom, who have removed their own shackles and accepted their freedom in the Spirit.  Radiant with light and joy, they stand full of the power of life, watching, waiting, shining, until the dawning of the perfect Day.