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More or Less Church

Joanna Depue "DJ/Deacon J" writes original songs and liturgies, does daily Farm office work and records Barbara's eMos on The Geranium Farm. A singer and dog trainer she utilizes healing touch in her private massage practice. PLEASE share YOUR original ideas for worship, special liturgies, prayers, songs, sermons and noteworthy blogs right here.
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Friday, March 02, 2012

Friday Focus: Transfigurations

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.  And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.  Then Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.  As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. -   Mark 9: 2-9

Well this is more like it. Brilliant lights and shining garments, a voice from the clouds, Moses and Elijah in attendance…this is what the coming of the Messiah was meant to be. No wonder Peter is ready to set up shop right on top of the mountain. Let’s get some tents up here and start the kingdom right now.

Poor practical Peter, what else was he to do? In the face of the divine, his reaction is so very human. Jesus has come to redeem the world and build an eternal, heavenly kingdom. And Peter can only think about the trappings of an earthly kingdom. Jesus is operating on a completely different, elevated plane and Peter is bound by the limits of his expectations, his experiences and his senses. Once again Peter is our “every man.” He stands in for all of us in our trivial, human frailty before the face of God. How like us he is.

How would we behave before the transfigured glory of Jesus? It is not a hypothetical question. In our final hour, it is a certainty that awaits us all. Surely we’ll be in unimaginable awe. But after a lifetime of Christian instruction and worship, will we finally, fully understand the message or continue to project our own expectations? By the grace of God, we know the answer. All will be made plain. And since that meeting is a certainty, let’s take the little time we have here to prepare for it…better to meet with an intimate friend than a neglected stranger.

While Peter is a prime, first-hand witness to the wonders of Jesus, for him up on that mountain, the good news is still unraveling? Where is it going? Where will it end? And then Jesus tells Peter, James and John to keep what they saw a secret: until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. If you think they were confused before, what’s this all about? Once again we have the advantage of perspective. We have been taught the full story. Over and over we have learned of the saving death and resurrection of Jesus. But what have we done with that ultimate good news? Is it filed away for some distant death bed referral? Or do we live by it, shaping our choices and decisions every day? Are the life, death and resurrection of Jesus immediate imperatives that impact our lives or are they fabled abstractions, dusted off and taken out to lend texture to traditional holiday celebrations?

That is the challenge of this Second Sunday in Lent. Live real lives, right here, right now… with and in the dazzling, transfigured Jesus. In the words of the Father: listen to him. Follow him to glory. God loves you no less than Moses or Elijah. Make loving, praising and thanking him a part of your day. And you will be transfigured, too.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

A Prayer for Morning

A Prayer for Morning

I am so weary, Father, of using myself
as the measure of everything and everybody.
Just for this one day, I beg you,
help me to find release from the old pattern
of seeing the different-from-me
as either less-than or more-than me.
Grant instead that, for just this one day at least,
I may see everything and everybody I meet
in terms of how I want you to see me
at this day's end.

-Phyllis Tickle from Race and Prayer: Collected Voices, Many Dreams, edited by Malcolm Boyd and Chester Talton. Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lent and the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) by Rt.Rev.Christopher Epting

Yesterday I posted our PB's sermon on reconciliation and Lent.  That exercise goes hand and hand with the MDGs brought forward by the United Nations.  This commentary by the Assistant Bishop of the Diocese of Chicago, Christopher Epting provides much food for thought and motivation for action.  Thanks again to ENS.

Our presiding bishop suggested this year that we might use the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals as a lens through which to view our observance of this season. When the Episcopal Church adopted these goals at our 2006 General Convention, there was some criticism that these were “secular” goals and that we were somehow taking our eyes off the real mission of the church by using these as guidelines or milestones on our spiritual journey as Episcopalians.

Well, let’s see – eradicating poverty and hunger…achieving universal primary education…promoting gender equality and empowering women … reducing child mortality … improving maternal health … combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases … ensuring environmental sustainability … and developing a global partnership for development.

Those sound suspiciously close to Gospel values, if you ask me, particularly when you take into consideration the fact that Jesus’ primary message in the Gospels was not about how individuals could go to heaven, but about establishing the Kingdom of God here on earth! In Mark’s brief account of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness which we read today on this First Sunday of Lent, he did not spend a lot of time on the specifics of those temptations, but concludes the story by summarizing the essence of Jesus’ message (which was essentially the same as John the Baptist before him and the Hebrew prophets down through the ages):

“Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in that good news!’” (Mark1:15). The good news, for Jesus, was that God was king and Caesar was not! The good news for Jesus was that it was not necessary to wait around for some distant future when God’s reign and God’s sovereignty would be established. That time had come! And it was time to turn around, acknowledge that fact, and begin to live as though it was true! The time is fulfilled…the kingdom of God has come near…repent…and believe that good news!

And how are we to live, now that the Kingdom has dawned in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus? Well, we are to work to eradicate poverty and hunger – because Jesus once saw to it that 5,000 people were fed because (he said), “I have compassion for the crowd.” (Mark 8:2)

We are to commit to make universal primary education available to the children of the world – because Jesus once said “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God (really) belongs.” (Mark 10:14)

We are to empower women – because Jesus did! The way he treated women (radical in his day!), the fact that they were among his closest followers, the fact that they were the primary witnesses to the Resurrection all speak to the appropriateness of that endeavor for Christians and for the Christian Church!

We are to work to reduce child mortality — because Jesus was once confronted with a young boy with a terrible, debilitating illness. “How long has this been happening to him,” he asked the father. “From childhood,” the man answered, “It has often cast him into the fire and water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” Mark says “the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, ‘He is dead’ but Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand,” (Mark 9: 21 passim)

We are to improve maternal health – because Jesus once healed a woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years (perhaps since the day of her first-born’s delivery). “If I but touch his clothes,” she said, I will be made well. Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.” (Mark 5:28-29)

We are to commit to combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases because if there is one thing that is absolutely clear from the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, it is that he was a healer! He never turned away anyone who sought healing. And he never asked how they got sick!

We are to ensure environmental sustainability because Jesus came from farming country in northern Palestine. He loved the land, using the cycles of planting and harvesting in so many of his parables. And he came to love the sea – making sure his fishermen friends always hauled in a great catch (even after they had left their nets…to follow him). (Mark1:16)

And, finally, we are to support efforts to partner with our sister and brother Christians, and all people of good will around the world, because it was said, of Jesus, that he made no distinctions among people and once, when a stranger was found casting out demons in his name, Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.” (Mark 9:39-40)

Yes, I think the Millennium Development Goals, perhaps first articulated by the United Nations, meet the scriptural test as being faithful to the Gospel message. And the fact that some people find that so hard to believe is more a testimony of our failure to preach the message Jesus sent us out to preach than it does to their ignorance or hardness of heart. For too often, dear friends, our message has been too timid and our God too small for people even to “believe this good news” let alone to “repent.”

During these forty days of penitence and fasting, I challenge you to do a bit more than giving up chocolate. I know you’re doing some of these things at your churches and in your individual lives, but I challenge you to continue to dream big dreams and to take on at least one of these goals this Lent – either locally or somewhere around the world.

Because … the time is fulfilled … the kingdom of God has come near … Repent, and believe in this good news!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Taking Up Reconciliation for Lent

Here is the complete text of a sermon given by the Presiding Bishop to the congregation of St. John's Cathedral in Hong Kong two days ago.  Thanks to ENS!

People and nations around the world mark the restoration of relationships in a variety of ways. Some people celebrated Valentine’s Day on the 14th of this month as a sign of love shared between two people. Nations sign treaties, both to signal an end to wars and as a mutual understanding about how they will live together in the future. The rainbow set in the sky after the great flood is God’s sign of restored relationship and the expectation that that kind of global destruction will never happen again – at least not by God’s action. When human beings have a heated argument, or families have a big fight, sometimes those relationships take a very long time to be restored. When the conflict finally ends, the depth of pain usually requires some external sign and recognition of healing – at least a handshake or an embrace.

This season called Lent is an opportunity to work on healing and restoring relationships of all sorts. Lent began as a time of solidarity with those who were preparing for baptism at Easter. It marks the beginning of a special relationship with new members of the body of Christ. When they are baptized, the community promises to stay in relationship. Those ancient Lenten exercises of prayer, study, fasting, and alms-giving are ways of reminding and training ourselves to be better stewards of our relationships with each other and with God.

All kinds of relationships are meant to be grounded in the kind of love God has for us, and we have a powerful vision in the story of Jesus’ baptism. When he comes up out of the water, the voice from heaven proclaims, “you are my beloved, and in you I am well pleased.”

This happens before Jesus has even begun his ministry, before anybody around him has recognized who he is or what he is about, and before he has done a single memorable thing. It is an echo of the first creation story in Genesis, when God creates light and waters, sun and moon, plants and planets, the birds of the air, fish of the sea, and animals of the land, and finally the human species. At each stage in creation, God pronounces it good. Human beings are blessed and called very good. A second creation story follows, as Adam and Eve are created in God’s image and begin to exercise their ability to choose, whether for good or ill.

Jesus’ baptism echoes both creation stories. He hears the voice of God calling him beloved, blessed, very good, and then he goes out into the wilderness to meet the tempter, like Adam and Eve in the garden. Our own baptism is meant to remind us of this as well. God says to each one, “you are my beloved; in you I am well pleased.” It does not depend on what we do or don’t do. Most of us find that pretty hard to believe, yet it is the foundation of all right relationship. We cannot really love God unless we know that God loves us, and we certainly cannot love our neighbors as ourselves until we know ourselves beloved.

Lent is an opportunity to begin to renew that reality in our own hearts and in the ways we put our hearts to work in the world around us. I would invite you to start these days of Lent by hearing God say to you, “you are my beloved – in you I am well pleased.” Take a few quiet moments each morning to remember the depth of that love. And then choose some conscious ways in which to share your knowledge of being beloved with the world around you.

Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness are an encounter with his own ability to choose loving ways or destructive ones. The temptation is to exclude the creative possibility of greater love, to reject the invitation to more abundant life. Jesus’ time in the wilderness is about wrestling with those choices – and he finds a strengthened relationship with God. Then he returns to Galilee to tell others about the creative possibility of choosing love. Remember what he says? “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe this good news.”

The time IS fulfilled and the kingdom HAS come near – we don’t have to wait until after we die for good news – it is here all around us, if we will only notice. The kingdom of God is right here, within us, between us, in healed relationships, in people recognizing that they are loved as creatures of God and acting as though their neighbors were also God’s beloved.

The time is now, the kingdom is here, repent and believe. We often misunderstand that word “repent.” It means turn around and move toward that loving and healing relationship with God. It means “choose life.” It does not fundamentally mean to be sorry for what is past.  Repentance is about turning around and facing in God’s direction, it is about choosing ways of love and welcome rather than rejection. Believing the good news of God’s love means letting our own hearts be changed into instruments that meet the world with the same kind of love.

When we were in Korea last week, one of our hosts told me that the word for peace, pyung wha, means rice that is evenly shared. The characters for that word are the same in Chinese. When we say peng on that’s fundamentally what we’re talking about. Peace is what love looks like in the world, when relationships are healed and holy. It has everything to do with ending hunger and poverty, for a hungry person is often an angry person. When the basic needs of human beings are answered, there is far greater possibility for true peace. The prophets of the Bible made this point repeatedly – a healed and peaceful world means that people have food, and enough left over for feasting, they have adequate shelter and clothing, just employment rather than slavery, and they live in peace because there is justice. When there is sufficiency, there is no need to answer your needs by taking from someone else. Jesus’ own ministry repeatedly modeled that prophetic vision – he fed people abundantly, he healed disease profligately, and he challenged oppression, both political and religious.

What does love look like in today’s world? It certainly means answering hunger, whether in North Korea or Somalia. It means immigration policies and social structures that permit freer movement in the cause of justice – to find employment or reunite families. The xenophobia in many countries around the world is really the opposite of love. Being deeply intolerant and afraid of strangers means we have chosen to see foreigners as something other than beloved creatures of God – it is a fundamentally unloving response to say that this person is illegal, illegitimate, or not fit to live in my community.

How do we choose loving relationships? Those old disciplines of Lent are a good starting place. Shape your prayer to promote healing in all relationships, both very personal ones and in the larger society. Study and reflect on the biblical vision of a healed world, and on the ministry of Jesus – what can we learn from his own loving choices? Fast from self-centered satisfaction, and give alms in abundance so that our loves begin to turn outward. This season is simply a practice of turning away from primary focus on ourselves and toward the life-giving possibility of more loving relationships with God and neighbor.

Pray that we might live in ways that build a world of pyung wha, rice shared evenly.  That is the coming of the kingdom, for it expresses what God intends for all creation: healed and holy relationships of loving justice. May your Lent bring fruit like that – and rice in abundance!

Peng on – peace be with you!

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