Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Saint Matthias

Celebrating the patronal feast of our parish, I found myself thinking about several strands of the Good News communicated in the lessons for today.
  1. The choosing of a subsitute for Judas points to the significance - for Jesus and for the apostolic community - of Twelve. Not merely as a parallel to the Twelve Tribes, but as a sign of fullness. As in the parables of sheep and coins, having the full number is important.

  2. Whatever else may be said about Judas, it seems clear that he was unwilling to abide in the all-embracing love of Jesus. Perhaps he was unhappy that Jesus was willing to include in the community folks that Judas thought unworthy. Perhaps he saw what we often fail to see - that abiding in that love means walking the way of the cross.

  3. When Paul wrote to the church at Philippi about those who were enemies of the cross of Christ, he wrote to them in tears. I hope that there were tears in the apostolic community over the loss of Judas, a companion with them during Jesus' ministry. I hope that our communities of faith grieve over those who have slipped away.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Solomon and Jesus

I know that the weekday Eucharistic lectionary that we use works its way day by day through one of the Gospels and another book of the Bible. This week we are reading from I Kings and from Mark. Therefore, the odd placing together of today's reading about the Queen of Sheba's visit to Solomon's court and Jesus' teaching that it is what comes from our hearts that defiles us is pure accident. But was, I think, a providential accident.

We often have very conflicted attitudes towards worldly success and fame. Even though today's reading from I Kings assures us that Solomon's fame was due to the Name of the Lord, Solomon is seen in that book not only as a great king, but also as having been defiled by the desires of his heart. His desire to have many wives and to use marriage as a way to cement alliances with other kings led him into idolatry. The wealth and power that he acquired became a trap, not only for him, but for his son Rehoboam, who believed that he could do whatever he wanted and lost the support of the elders of Israel.

Jesus, in sharp contrast to Solomon, was, in the world's terms, an abject failure. But worldly success was not his goal. He came to do the will of the Father. As members of the Body of Christ we need to be very cautious about success. Certainly there are times when our success is a good thing, when increased membership in a congregation is a good thing. But success is not always a sign of faithfullness. Often it is quite the opposite. While we need to guard against the temptation to assume that our failures are signs of our faithfulness - a temptation which I have not always resisted - we need to be wary about our successes as well. We are called to be faithful, called to discern what is the Father's will for us, called to discern how God wants us to share in Christ's ministry of reconcilation, to share in the missio Dei. On the Last Day it will be faithfulness and not success or failure that will matter - and not primarily our faithfullness but God's. On the Last Day - and on every day until then - it is Grace that matters.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Telling Lies

At our weekly lectionary Bible study, one of my colleagues observed that people's uninformed opinions seem to have become newsworthy. He said that whenever someone says, "I believe such and such to be true," it is almost impossible to have any rational discussion of the matter. That led to me to observe that in advertising obvious lies are becoming commonplace. One example is a recent health insurance ad which begins with the statement, "We have been talking with everyone on Medicare." Everyone? Certainly not likely. That is an exaggeration of such magnitude that I can have no confidence that any statement in the ad is true, nor any reason to do business with that particular company.

Telling lies and the elevation of one's opinion to the status of absolute truth are only two of the problems that make discussion of important issues in the "public square" so difficult. Another problem is the demonization of those with whom we disagree. Demonization is often packaged with other problems, as in the way President Obama has been demonized by those whose opinions about his birthplace or his religion are not open to factual challenges.

For me entering into any discussion of issues of importance, any issues where there are diverse convictions, requires both clarity about my own convictions and an awareness that I may be wrong. I can contribute little to the discussion if I am unable to be clear about where I stand, but I can get very little out of the discussion if I am unwilling to entertain the possibility that my convictions may in some measure be wrong. If I listen to the other person only in order to find weak points that I may exploit in debate, I miss the possibility of having my own understanding of the issue deepened and, perhaps, my own convictions changed.

I am not optimsic about our chances of having rational, respectful, and fruitful discusssion of difficult issues like same-sex marriage or health insurance reform, but I am not willing to give up hope or to stop talking and listening. While these important conservations have not and will not be easy ones, I think we have no choice but to tackle the important issues with as much honesty and respect and patience as we can muster.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Feast of the Presentation: The Gift of Patience

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord"), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons." (Luke 2:22-24)

One of my favorite tehologians, James Alison, has suggested that the story of the Presentation is an example of how what God is doing is so often overlooked by those who are focused on what the world sees as important. Had I been in the Temple that day, I am sure that my attention would have been drawn to all the activities of the priests and the levites and to the other obviously important people who were there. I would not have noticed the couple from Nazareth and their baby boy as they made the offering prescribed in Torah.

But Simeon and Anna didn't miss the really important thing that was happening that day - God's Messiah had come to the Temple and Simeon and Anna had eyes to see him. I am convinced that Anna's and Simeon's vision had been nurtured as they waited patiently for God to fulfill God's promises. I am convinced as well that the gift of patience is one that we need, perhaps now more than ever. We are an impatient people. We want what we want - and that is not always what we need - and we want it now. We are addicted to instant solutions to every problem - from our aches and pains - to problems with our relationships - to the crisis in the Anglican Communion. We seem unable to see that problems that have taken years - even decades - to develop are unlikely to be solved quickly.

Simeon and Anna had the patience that I lack and were willing to wait. They could have given up waiting, as I often do, when the waiting became longer and longer. But they didn't. They received from God the gift of patience, trusting that God would be faithful and that what God needed them to do was to wait and watch and - when the time was fulfilled - to see the wonderful that God was doing in Jesus the Christ.

Monday, February 1, 2010

What's In A Name?

As Jan and I prepare to retire in June, I have given some thought to the future of this blog. I have found it useful as a way to clarify my thoughts about a wide variety of topics. It has created a very small amount of controversy: a couple of snarky comments, and some questioning by a search committee about whether the political views expressed here were normal parts of my sermons (they aren't, but the committee didn't recommend that I be called to serve that congregation.)

I plan to continue the blog in retirement, but The Gospel in ToyTown will no longer be an appropriate name. I am not very good at finding the right name for things - I was amazed that I came up with The Gospel in ToyTown - and hope that some suggestions will come from readers. A little information about our retirements may get some of you thinking about names:
  1. Jan and I plan to live somewhere near Beverly, Massachusetts.
  2. We will be helping with childcare for our granddaughter Emmaline.
  3. We will be spending time with friends in New Hampshire's Mount Washington Valley.
  4. I will be spending a bit more time than I have this past year as a Trustee of Episcopal Divinity School.
  5. I will continue to work some, taking services for vacationing parish clergy, serving as an interim priest, and helping out at whatever parish we decide to join.

Send me your suggestions ( There may even be a prize for the winner.