Monday, November 17, 2014

Recovering Baptist, a misnomer

There are certain times and places when we begin to see things in new ways.  A slant, a twist, a difference in our perspective that gives us an awakening and we may wonder how we never saw it that way before.  We have a word for it: Epiphany.

Yesterday I had one of those.  It was in the middle of a sermon from our rector at St. Thomas’ Episcopal.  I had heard most of it before that morning, but in her different way of preaching it at our evening Bluegrass Mass I heard something in a new way.

As she walked through her thoughts on the parable of the Talents, where three different slaves were given three huge sums and told to do something with it, I let my mind apply her words to me.  Two slaves doubled their master’s money.  One buried it in the dirt.  She went on to say that she wished Jesus had someone attempt and fail, and give the kingdom vision of doing one’s best and coming up with bupkiss.  She said that we were given that vision.  The one’s that try and fail are crucified, and we know that story.  Our example of that is Jesus himself.  In Jesus, it is literal.  In my life, metaphorical.  I remember feeling crucified.  I remember failing.  Those feelings led to my life today.

While I was still a Baptist pastor, I did not leave well.  I wish I had done things differently, and I wish that the powers that were had done things differently.  Looking back, it was not my Baptist faith that I was leaving behind, but rather the last vestiges of the fundamentalism I had been steeped in from my earliest years.  I had already let go much of it, as had most of those I worked with, but some underlying assumptions (and presumptions) when people use the same words and mean entirely different things had caused some severe responses.  I left feeling crucified.  I left bitter.

I have a few stock jokes, which I often repeat depending on the audience, apologies to my poor wife. One of those I use in trying to explain my transition to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church is that I am a Recovering Baptist, ha ha ha, like I am in Fundamentalists Anonymous.  I use it as a joke, but it struck me yesterday, that I have been identifying with my crucifixion.  While the scars remain, we are not a people of the Crucifixion.  We are a people of the Resurrection.  I need to stop seeing myself in recovery.  I need to see myself  in my vibrant and real self, resurrected to new life, new ministry, new beginnings.  I need to let go the burial clothes which are no longer appropriate.  I need to put on the new, and stop dragging around that which has come before.  I caught all this in a glimpse, mid-sermon.  I heard Good News in that message.  I am no longer a recovering Baptist.

So if you ask me, I pray I say, I am a “Resurrected Episcopalian.”  Emphasis on Resurrected, not on Episcopalian.  While I wholeheartedly embrace what I have come from and where I am going, I have had such a huge sense of my calling and have received such affirmation about it that I could not be more excited and forward thinking.  My epiphany mid-sermon was seeing how I see myself, and letting go of what has come before.  St. Paul talked about that sin that clings so closely.  For me, continuing to hold on would be a sin.


A Prayer:
Lord Jesus, the Resurrected, help me to let go of what has gone before, and help me see myself and hear your call to that new life, that new land, where I can abide in the resurrection which has come in you.  Thank you.  Amen.

Monday, November 10, 2014

"Christ Will Come Again": a sermon

“Christ Will Come Again”
Year A, Proper 27 
St. Thomas’ Church, Richmond, VA 

I have heard all kinds of dire warnings, “Look busy, Jesus is coming.” And,
“God is coming, and boy is she…” Let’s just say, “irked.”

But today’s parable is not about busy-ness. It is not about looking, acting or
being busy. It is about being ready.

On Friday, we had the final day of our quarter at school. As a teacher, there
are always a few moments when the pace is like an accountant’s April 15th.
This day that has always been out there has now arrived. Also, as a teacher,
I am constantly amazed at the students who are caught unaware.

Remember, I teach the 8th grade Honors English class. This is the cream of
the crop at my school. But no matter how many warnings I give, no matter
how many countdowns I put on the board, there is always a student who
says they did not know. They need more time. As a teacher, it is always
heart-breaking to say that there is no more time. Time is up. The quarter is
over. What I have at the end of this period is the grade you will get. My
students need to be ready for the day of accounting is at hand. But
remaining ready is hard when we think that there is more time to get our
stuff in order.

Already by the time of Matthew writing his Gospel, his community was
wrestling with what has been called the parousia. Christ has died. Christ is
risen. Say it with me: Christ will come again. It’s that last statement we
are looking at today. Christ will come again. The parousia is the return of
Christ. While Jesus looked at being ready and prepared for the Kingdom
that is, Matthew tells the tale in such a way that his audience then and now
have to make a connection to this present, yet longed for reality. They were
waiting for Christ’s eminent return, so they were becoming disgruntled for
the prolonged delay.

We still wait almost 2,000 years later.

That time of in-between is always so hard. We have been given tastes and
our hopes have been stirred. This longing is mixed. We know what we
want, we just want it now.

1Now, do pay attention to the story told. Jesus did not start with “The
Kingdom of Heaven is like this…”

Matthew tells the story like this. "Then the kingdom of heaven will be like
this.” It is future-oriented already. It looks to the time to come.

So the story is of 10 bridesmaids, awaiting the groom who has been
delayed. Notice here that all 10 slept. I repeat, this parable is not about
busy-ness. It is not about squeezing more in.

At midnight the call goes out: “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to
meet him.” Now 5 had been named foolish and 5 wise.

The 5 wise trimmed their oil lamps. Remember these our simple lamps,
like the one Aladdin rubbed in the stories. This gravy boat shaped lamp
held an string dipped in oil. The string would absorb the oil and as it
burned, the string would dry out, and begin to burn and smoke. So,
someone smart would trim their string so the lamp could be used and be
efficient. The other thing needed to keep the string from drying out was
having enough oil for it to burn long and steady. This is where the 5 foolish
messed up.

The foolish wanted to borrow some, but everyone had enough for
themselves. They had been prepared for the delay of the Groom. That
Just-In-Case extra we sometimes pack. I was always told have more
underwear and socks than you think you need when you pack. When I was
a Boy Scout, we were always encouraged to Be Prepared.

The 5 ready were received by the Groom and take to the party. The 5
foolish went to get more oil. When they got to the party, they were not
recognized by the Groom and were left in the dark.

We need to be ready.

Today is a special day. It is the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin
Wall. I had the unique opportunity of living in Germany when Berlin
opened up. I was in Hamburg, not even 200 miles away. For decades East
Germans had wanted freedom. They were tired of their government
holding them down, and the Soviets who held their government in check.
2My remembrances of seeing people pour into Hamburg are blurred.
Having been a child of the Cold War and growing up in Hampton Roads, I
had always been warned that in first strike, we would be wiped out. We
would have nothing to worry about because we would not be here. The
news that there was a hope for an alternative future was a mental
earthquake. Seeing the small, cheap cars called Trabis puttering around
Hamburg was a sight to behold. Going to the Fish Market, people were
buying any and everything they could get their hands on to take home and
share.

A few days after that November 9th in 1989, I was able to get to Berlin, and
experience it for myself. I was able to see the excitement of those that had
been waiting so long for more in their life. Many things can be pointed to
as the triggers of that night 25 years ago, but today I just want to mention
two.

One of the things that led the East Germans to long for freedom came from
a very unexpected places. Dallas. Not Dallas the place, but rather Dallas
the show. Yes, our very own J.R. Ewing was highly popular in Germany,
both East and West. When the East Germans would look at the show that
was leaking across the border, they saw wealth beyond belief. One of the
signs I saw painted on the Berlin Wall summed up their desires well. “We
Came. We Saw. We did a little shopping.” Dallas painted a vision of a
different approach to life, and while not a goal, the excesses of Dallas the
TV show gave them a hope of having more. This longing for something led
to those events 25 years ago.

Another contributing factor, far less subtle and far more spiritual, was the
role of the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig. The Nicholas Church has long been a
thorn in the government’s side. The pastor, Christian F├╝hrer, had been
holding prayer meetings since the summer. His church was actively
praying for peace, and this week, 25 years ago, they had been praying for a
week for change to come, and peace to reign. Their prayer meeting spilled
out, becoming a 70,000 person protest, peaceful, prayerful, but a protest
nonetheless. If you are not familiar with this powerful movement of the
Church for peace I encourage you to google it. This longing, as great as
Dallas, influenced people as well.

3This waiting and hoping is a lot like our parousia desires. Christ has died.
Christ is risen. And we hope and pray, Christ will come again. We want our
hopes fulfilled. We want our desires answered.

So, how can we be more like the wise and less like the foolish?
We need to look to our spiritual lives now.

One of the verses in my favorite hymn goes like this:

Come, ye weary, heavy-laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
 You will never come at all.

We need to start wherever we are, and we need to start now. Change begins
today if it is going to happen. If we wait, we really do not want change.
From Harry of When Harry Met Sally… “When you know who you want to
be with for the rest of your life, you want the rest of your life to start right
now.” We need to focus and work on our spiritual well being while we can.
Now is the time. This is the day. If we tarry till we’re better, We will never
come at all.

This parable is about being ready. It is also about, matching our actions to
our stated beliefs.

As I said in our blurb on the bulletin, our priorities are obvious to most,
even though sometimes we are blind to them. We often are the last to see.

I encourage all of us this time of year to sit down. Go through your
calendar, your checkbook and credit card statements this time of year.
What took first place? Where was your focus and greatest gift of time,
talent and resources? Look hard mixed with forgiveness, and decide who or
what is going to be first in your life next year. This is the precursor work for
our pledges, our resolutions, and more importantly our spirituality.

By doing an assessing of our lives, what we treasure and what we spend our
time doing, we can check the oil in our spiritual lamps and be ready.
425:13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
The term here, translated as the admonition, “Keep awake” is more often
translated as watch. Gregorio, the Greek term, is more like our phrase,
“Keep an eye out,” or “Stay vigilant.”

We need to keep on keeping on.

None of us are promised another day. Take the time to be intentional.
Take the time to be prepared. Tell the people you love that you love them.
That thing you were going to do when you get around to it, yes, look at that.
Keep watch, for no one knows the day or the hour. Amen.