Thursday, February 14, 2008

Old Dogs - New Tricks

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you." (Genesis 12:1)

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night... (John 3:1-2)

In both of these two readings for the Second Sunday in Lent, we find old dogs beingn invited to learn new tricks. Abram, whose body Paul later called "as good as dead" (Romans 4:19), packs up and heads out for an unknown land, trusting the One who called him. Nicodemus, who must have been old enough to be a leader in the Jewish community, is invited to consider the possibility of being born anew, born from above, born of the Spirit.

I am reminded of two stories, one factual, but both true.

Some years ago a Baptist minister found himself dreading clergy gatherings. He would go to a meeting and hear the succcess stories of colleagues and return home depressed. One day a minor revelation came to him and he began to see clergy meetings through what I would call an Abraham lens - if God was working miracles in that man's church, God could certainly work miracles in mine!

An older parishioner once told his priest that his life's work was finished. The priest replied, "If you're still alive, God still has work for you to do."

It is never too late for us to respond to God's call to go to an unknown country, to move out of our comfort zones and to experience a new birth.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Crisis in San Joaquin

A friend sent me a link to a blog by someone in the Diocese of San Joaquin ( It outlines, from the bloger's perspective, the controversy about the status of members of the San Joaquin Standing Committee. The members in question had all, as far as I know, voted to remove the Diocese of San Joaquin from the Episcopal Church and to affiliate it with the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone. There were also reports that these members were organizing themselves as the Standing Committee of this new Southern Cone diocese. The blogger criticizes the Presiding Bishop for writing to the members to inform them "that I do not recognize you as the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin."

I find the controversy perplexing, to say the least, and would only fault Bishop Katharine for not being absolutely certain about the members' intentions before writing to them. As far as I can tell, she based her letter on what appeared to be accurate information about the votes of the members on taking the diocese out of the Episcopal Church and reports that they had constituted themselves as the Standing Committee of the new Southern Cone diocese. I think that what was/is needed is clarity about the intentions of the members of the Standing Committee. If it is certain that they intend to stay within the Episcopal Church and be part of the Diocese of San Joaquin, I think Bishop Katharine should recognize their authority. If, however, they cannot give assurances that they want to remain in the Episcopal Church, one might reasonably conclude that they are trying to have it both ways, i.e., to exercise authority as the Ecclesiastical Authority after Bishop Schofield is deposed, as seems inevitable, while exercising similar authority in a diocese of the Southern Cone. I don't believe that having it both ways is an honest option. Having read their response, what I found most offensive was, not their protestation of innocence, but their listing of counter-charges against Bishop Katharine. In my experience that tactic is usually used by one who is guilty as charged.

One of my prayers this Lent is that all of us in the Episcopal Church will seek wisdom in living through these diffucult times, and that we will, unless it would violate our own convictions, do nothing that would lead to further division.

Remember That You Are Dust

“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

I have, probably since I first went to Ash Wednesday worship as teen-ager, been uncomfortable with these words from the Liturgy for Ash Wednesday. I don’t like to be reminded of my mortality or my insignificance. And yet, as we have begun our Lenten journey, it is precisely that reminder that we need.

We are mortal. Time for us is not infinite, it is not, no matter what Mick Jagger may say, going to be on our side forever. There is an urgency about Lent – we need to get on with it and not assume that we will have plenty of time to deal with ourselves tomorrow or the next day or the next. Now, as Paul reminds us in his letter, “now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” We are called to begin now, to begin the work of setting our lives in order, the work of repentance, the work of reconciliation.

But this reminder is not only about our mortality, about the inevitability of our death. It is also about our insignificance, our weakness, our inability, on our own, to do anything about setting our lives in order. The task is too big and we are but dust. But there is one who can set our lives in order. There is one who waits eagerly to do just that. It is the God whom we see in Jesus the Christ who can order our chaotic lives, and all that God asks of us is that we offer those lives at the foot of the Cross.

“Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” All that is within me. Hold nothing back. Let God have it all. Our angers. Our frustrations. Our prejudices. Our pettiness. Our sins. As well as our joys. Our satisfactions. Our accomplishments. Let God have it all.

Far too often we make the mistake of leaving all the nastier parts, the more shameful parts at the door when we come to worship. But if we can’t bring those to God in our worship, where can we bring them?

I love to pray the psalms, not only for the beauty of the language, but also because in the psalms everything is brought to God. Everything is proper conversation with God. Nothing is held back. Not the psalmist’s rage or vindictiveness. Not the psalmist’s despair or sorrow. And certainly not the psalmist’s joy. All of it comes into the holy space of conversation with the God of Israel. And there, in that holy space, all of it is redeemed.

Lent is a holy space where we can bring everything to God, laying it at the foot of the cross. Hold nothing back. Let God have it all. And let God redeem it there at the cross, redeem it and so order our lives that we might, by God’s grace and mercy, receive that perfect gift, the Easter gift of resurrection life.