Saturday, April 26, 2014

Nagging Doubts

Nagging Doubts

We come now to the great feast day of Doubting Thomas. He would not believe until he saw with his own eyes, and touch the wounds with his own hands. That’s a graphic image if ever there was one.

There is the doubt we have of God.
There is the doubt we have of Jesus.
And then there is the doubt we have of the Church.
These three great doubts are epidemic in our time.

Modern Science and technology has built so much of its knowledge base and methodology on the necessary of deleting the God postulate from its purview. But that does not necessarily mean that there is no God.

Many years ago I debated an Oxford scholar on the notion of God. His arguments ran something like the following;
  1. How do you explain the suffering of God’s people?
  2. Science has a better explanation than anything religion can offer.
  3. There is no evidence of God’s existence. Can you point to any evidence of God?

I stayed with the man and his wife in a northern London suburb and so on the second night I offered these rejoinders;
  1. Assuming that there is no God what then do you propose as the meaning of life. Ultimately he said there is none. Ultimately, life is Absurd with a capital “A”. I said I renounced that because it makes no sense.
  2. So then I said when you remove the God postulate you remove a powerful inner ethical force. With what would you replace it? How would you keep in check the very powerful destructive human urges that is intrinsic to human nature. Well, he said, obviously we’ll need strong weapons, armies, and police forces. Aha! That explains British Imperialism and American hegemony and makes might right; but removes God from the human heart. When you remove that foundational ethical power you remove the cornerstone of civilization itself.
  3. It is a historic fact that the church has given us some of our finest institutions; hospitals, universities, art, architecture, music and literature. Shall stand by and let our heritage crumble around us? This inspired some ire from my friend. The thought that the finest of Britain’s great cathedrals face the very real possibility of crumbling seemed to give him pause.

Neither of us convinced the other to change our mind.

But to me, there is no doubt that the more we operate without the reality of God within our hearts the more danger we fall into ethically and spiritually. There seems to be no ethical compass to direct us. And talk about depression? Imagine a world where there is no God. Where there is no meaning to our lives whatsoever. Imagine a world where our lives are ultimately meaningless and absurd; where there is no spirituality at all. Now that’s depressing!

Danger! Depression! A world without God? Such a world could give rise to an increase in violence and mental illness. We renounce such a world view because we know that God is our guide and our moral compass and that God loves us and forgives us. 

Which brings us to Jesus. Apparently God loves us so much that God became one of us in the flesh and blood of Jesus. It began so beautifully over the little town of Bethlehem. Shepherds and wise men and angels all came to kneel down offer their gifts and join with all of heaven and nature to sing “Glory to God on High and Peace to All on Earth”. That was a good beginning. 

Then he taught us and fed us on the hillsides of Galilee. He walked on water, healed the blindness of all, the lame, the halt, reached out to the rejected, marginalized and outcast of the Temple. And that’s when things got a bit dicey.

With his questionable retinue in tow, there were the tax collectors and the prostitutes and so on, he arrived in Jerusalem. There was his triumphal entry with the palms and the donkey and all that and then he had to go and spoil everything by upturning the tables of the money changers. His fate was sealed. He was tried and convicted of blasphemy. Then he was crucified, dead and buried. On Easter Day he rose again from the dead and what a surprise that was!

So surprising that it pushed the credulity of Thomas the Man from Missouri, the “Show me” state. So Jesus did show himself to Thomas and he believed. And so it is that the rest of us fall into two camps; believers and those who will believe it when we see it. Take a look around you if you will. there is some evidence that Jesus lives. It is in the hearts and minds and the lives of those around you now. In the words of Theresa of Avila, “Christ has no body now but yours”. It is you and your love now that persuades us that Christ is alive.

Which brings us now to the church. Suppose I believe in God, and suppose I even believe in Jesus, but what of the institutional church? Especially when the church’s record on race, ethnicity, class, gender, and orientation is not quite what it could be. How can I believe in such an institution.
First of all, let me say that this church and many of our churches have struggled with the biblical notion that we are “A House of Prayer for ALL People”. All means all. And we are taking that seriously. We are building an emerging “welcoming set of communities” and seeking to be faithful to a Christ whose outstretched arms on the cross include all without exception.
But what of the “institutional church”
Some time ago a lawyer came to me to arrange for a baptism for his daughter. We met together over a cup of coffee and were going over arrangements when I asked him about his membership status in the church. He told me he believed in God but not in the institutional church. This remember was a lawyer. I had heard this line a thousand times and there was something that snapped in me at that moment. 
So I said to him; Do you believe in Democracy? 
Yes, of course I do.
Well then it follows that you will have to believe in Congress and Politicians.

What about Justice then? Do you believe in Justice?
Yes, of course I do.
Then you will of necessity need to believe in the Courts and Lawyers. Egad, I added, that’s asking a lot. Lawyers? Politicians? 

Saying I believe in Lawyers and Politicians is like asking me to sit down to a nice big plate of bird feathers. Not the least bit appetizing.

So that begs the question.
You say you believe in God. What then of his Church, which is the Body of his Christ? What of the Men and Women of God who are God’s messengers. Not quite the same as a walk in the woods or a sunny day on the golf course. If you want Democracy or Justice, you will have to put your back into it and make it work. Likewise with God. You want God to live? Put your back into it. It is not enough to allow God to exist by some lazy form of intellectual assent. 

There’s a lot at stake here. Our civilization depends on the ethical and spiritual presence of the Church. 

I said to the lawyer, I rest my case. He did come to church the following Christmas and Easter. Oh well, I only go to a lawyer when I have to! 

Do I have my doubts about God?
Or the resurrection of Jesus?
And do I run into frustrations on how well the Church as institution is running?
Of course I do.
But underneath these doubts there is this faith that will not go away; a faith that is built upon the knowledge and love of God and of the people of God. 
“For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  

~Romans 8:38,39

Fr Paul

Friday, April 25, 2014

What if God Loved EVERYBODY?

Imagine a God

Imagine if you will a God who wanted to save what is possible to save of the world in all its marvelous complexity.

To one people God might send Moses to bring them from slavery to freedom and then to give them a law to live by.

To the "Gentiles" (everybody else) God might want to make the love of God flesh and blood in Jesus in order to get the point across; namely, "Love, one another".

To another folk in yet another part of the world God The All Merciful might send Muhammed, may peace be upon him. Inspired by God, Muhammed might write the Koran and begin each chapter with the word "Mercy" hoping that idea might catch on.

Around the world what if God sent Confucius to bring a special wisdom?

Or the Buddha to bring a profound respect and love for all life and show the way to peace?

And of course on and on it goes, as if God wanted to save and enlighten everyone.

Imagine a God who loved science, knowledge and truth, even if it ended up denying what small human minds imagine God to be. Imagine a God who wanted us to discover all that there is to be discovered about the universe. 

Imagine a God looking for a way to bring peace with justice to the whole world and to all people.

Only if we could open our minds and hearts to such a God can we open our hearts and minds to one another.

It is a matter of some urgency that we open our hearts and minds in such a way, since God is Love.

Fr Paul

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Easter Reason to be Alive

The Reason We Are Here

In the Passover meal that Jesus had with his disciples, in the Passover meal all Jews have with their families and friends, the evening begins with the four questions; “Why is this night different from all other nights”? Then the Papa, tells the story; “The Liturgy of the Haggadah”; that is to say the “telling” of the mighty acts by which God delivered the Children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the Promised Land. The Christian year now comes to Easter Day. We’ve had a remarkable Lenten journey tracing the Eucharist historically through time, a liturgy that find its roots in the Passover meal itself.

Why then is this day different from all other days for us? On this day we sing of Jesus’ Resurrection and his power over sin and death.
Do we understand and believe what such songs sing?
Will we really live again?
Has Jesus really delivered us from the power of evil?
Why is this day so different from all other days?
Our souls come to rest on how we answer such questions. 

That Jesus has such power as to rise from sin and death is not really so difficult to comprehend. After all if we believe he was indeed the “sinless one” and if he really was the Son of God, then the power he has over life and death would be self evident. His resurrection is really not so much of a stretch.

But why would he want to share this victory with each of us? Why would he love us so? In fact why did he go to the bother of making us in the first place? Why the fall into sin, only to redeem us back again? That seems like a set of imponderables to me.

I often wonder about the business of being alive. The very notion of being carries a mystery with it if we take a moment to ponder from time to time. The Mystery and the Majesty of life itself; Its purpose?

Then I wonder why we make it so difficult on ourselves and others. 
Why the sin?
Why the hate?
White supremacists? Jews? Arabs? Blacks? Whites? Republicans and Democrats?
Men and women can get into it and the nature of those conflicted relationships can baffle the best.
The whole business of sexual orientation has gotten to the point that the Church in Uganda has supported capital punishment for folks just for being who they are. Then they turn around and accuse us of being Biblically unsound because of our compassion and inclusivity. Talk about baffling!
In the midst of it all we have the Russian Army on the Eastern Front of the Ukraine, the Crimean Peninsula already annexed. Putin has it in mind that the great tragedy of the last few decades was the disintegration of the former Soviet Union and oh wouldn’t he like to be able to put that broken egg back together again. On the other hand there is the army of the Ukraine. And we have more or less thrown ourselves into the conflict on the side of Kiev. NATO forces are now mobilizing on the Western front of the Ukraine. Oh my aching head!
Kids and drugs, unemployment, crime…I could go on.

None of this is new.
The world Jesus was born into was occupied by the Roman legions, and the “Herods” ruled in brutal succession. It is interesting that of all the places on earth to select for birth, God choose the most conflicted place in history. There were wars, rumors of wars, insurrections and a whole lot of bloodshed.
And don’t forget the poor, the lame, the outcast, the lepers, the tax collectors, the prostitutes and sinners of all sorts. You name it, Jesus loved them all. Jesus loved us all even in the very center of our sins.

It was his idea to love us whoever we were. This offended the religious authorities who had a strict set of rules about who could come to the Temple and who could not, in order to offer sacrifices to God. Jesus, on the other hand loved those folks who had been marginalized and excluded. And the idea caught on with the early Christian Community. 

The first great controversy in the church, and yes, we’ve been embroiled in one controversy after another ever since, that first controversy was over whether you had to be Jewish first in order to be a Christian. After all, up until this first council in the Acts of the Apostles, from which we read today, everyone in the church was a Jew. Therefore all future Christians should be be Jews, correct? Peter and Paul in the meantime began to hear what Jesus had said about going into all the world and preaching this Gospel message of Forgiveness, Reconciliation and Love and likewise the Power of God over all sin and death. So then in today’s reading from Acts Peter says; "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” 

Please note how fundamental this idea is to our faith. Anyone means anyone. Everyone means everyone. There are no exceptions. Even when Phillip the Evangelist baptized the Ethiopian Eunuch along the Gaza strip; I can well imagine the reaction back at headquarters; “You baptized a what?” We know that Paul had broken down the dividing walls between Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, male and female, now the dividing wall means even the Ethiopian Eunuch! Where will it end? Thanks be to God, it doesn’t. This is Easter at its heart. This Gospel message applies to all of you, no exceptions! The ever widening and inclusive embrace of Christ continues even unto this day.

The Gospel had become universal, in other words it had become “catholic” in its original sense. The church had become One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. The Good news now came to all, and covered as we might say a multitude of sins.

And if that wasn’t enough, Mary went to the tomb early on that first great Easter Day, not expecting much of anything except for the exquisite sadness of yet another death, but she found that the stone had been rolled away. Grave robbers! That was her first thought and she told the gardener so. But the gardener was somebody she had already known quite well. Interestingly enough she did not recognize him at first. Easter is, after all, a total surprise. No matter how many times Jesus told them that he must suffer, die and rise again, these people were not ready for that moment when it happened. He turned to Mary. He was not the gardener after all. He was Jesus. He was then and is now the Risen Christ.

“Mary”, he said to her. 
It wasn’t until that moment that she recognized him. “I have seen the Lord!”

That is how it will be with us too. All our lives long we hear the church tell us about our forgiveness. We hear about the resurrection. But we’re not really going to believe it until that moment comes when Jesus says to me; “Paul”. You won’t believe it until he calls you each by name.

So why are we here?
What is the purpose of my life?

You are here to bring good news to the poor.
To comfort those who mourn
To lift up the meek and the lowly
To satisfy those who hunger and thirst for righteousnesses
To be merciful and to obtain mercy
To be pure in heart and to see God
To be peacemakers, because this is what the children of God do.
And indeed to be persecuted for the sake of God, as you shall discover when you stand up for the poor, the meek and those who mourn and all the vulnerable of the earth.

The Wolves of Wall Street will seek to devour you. Greed, power and voracious sin is alive and well. There are all kinds of forces out there and in here that seek to devour and destroy the creatures of God. Make no mistake about that. That’s why we need to have our wits about us and become intentional about our discipleship.

We have a reason and a purpose to be here. We have been redeemed in order that we may participate in God's work of redemption for all. God wants to salvage whatever is possible of our lives and the lives of others. God wants us to be sure we know we are forgiven, and to make sure others do as well. God wants us all to be reconciled. We have put to death all our sins and nailed them to the cross of Christ. Thus as we die with him we are now raised with him in his glorious resurrection. Jesus Christ is Risen today!

Happy Easter my friends! Thank God at least we know why we’re here!

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Fr Paul

Thursday, April 17, 2014

"Love One Another" that's a direct Order

What Does "Maundy" Thursday Mean?

It was a new idea then.
It is a new idea today.
As he washed their feet, he told them
"Love one another".

The "Maundy" in Maundy Thursday
For those who do not know
Is a reference to the "Maundatum Novum"
The "New Commandment".
This he told them at the Last Supper

The new commandment is this
"Love one another as I have loved you".

This goes for white supremacists and Jews,
Ukrainians and Russians
Republicans and Democrats.
Muslims, Christians, Jews and Atheists
It is a direct order.
You must love one another. 

It is not easy to love one another,
But we do not have the luxury of violence and warfare
We are not permitted to hate, hurt, harm, kill.
Instead we are to love.

This is what Jesus ORDERED us to do.
This is his "Maundatum Novum"
Here it is in Latin and English
"Manduatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos"
"A New Commandment I give you that you love one another as I have loved you".

Then he washed their feet 
Then he died for them
Then he rose again from the dead.

That's it in a nutshell.
Go do likewise...all of you.

This is the New World Order that Jesus inaugurated 
Two Thousand Years ago.
We've engaged in all manner of violence and bloodshed in the meantime
It is time we listened to Jesus.

"Enough of this"
"No more killing in the Name of God" 
Instead he loved us to the end,
Forgave us our sins,
Reconciled us to God 
And to one another

This is a direct order:
"Love one Another".
   ~Jesus of Nazareth.

The Holy Week Narrative calls us to action.

Fr Paul

"Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos" ("A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you"),

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Take time to be Holy

Tuesday in Holy Week. If ever there were a time to be holy, this would be it.

Take Time to Be Holy

Take time to be holy,
speak oft with thy Lord;
abide in him always,
and feed on his word.
Make friends of God's children,
help those who are weak,
forgetting in nothing
his blessing to seek.
Take time to be holy,
the world rushes on;
spend much time in secret
with Jesus alone.
By looking to Jesus,
like him thou shalt be;
thy friends in thy conduct
his likeness shall see.
Take time to be holy,
let him be thy guide,
and run not before him,
whatever betide.
In joy or in sorrow,
still follow the Lord,
and, looking to Jesus,
still trust in his word.
Take time to be holy,
be calm in thy soul,
each thought and each motive
beneath his control.
Thus led by his spirit
to fountains of love,
thou soon shalt be fitted
for service above.
   ~A Mennonite Hymn

Saturday, April 12, 2014

In Human Form

The following is a meditation on the events of Palm Sunday, based on Philippians 2:5-11, and the Passion Narrative from Matthew.

In Human Form

Jesus found himself in human form and so do we. 
Jesus suffered and died and alas, so do we.
He emptied himself we’re told and became obedient even unto 
   death, and so my friends do we.

Our obedience and his were not of the sort that wills it.
Even in his obedience, he said;
“Let this cup pass from me” and 
“My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”
But he died like us praying that another way might be found.

Like a common criminal he was hung to die
Just like another unknown human form, except to God
For each precious soul is numbered to God and loved to the end

And so as he is exalted high above all heavens
As Jesus is given a Name above all Names
So God looks to every human heart
And exalts us to where he too has gone before

And then at the Name of Jesus
Every knee shall bow
Like mine today as I bend the knee of my heart
His precious death and passion
Told to us again, his precious band of followers
The lame, the halt, the blind, the poor, those outcast billions!
They spread their palms and coats and the Royal King

Comes to the Holy City on a donkey
Riding in Majesty and lowly Pomp
Ride on, ride on, to die; and so my friends do we.

God meets us in human form upon the Cross of Jesus
We suffer and die together, we are raised together
We ascend and reign with him in Glory,

Our lips speak with the children’s cry “Hosanna!”
“Jesus Christ is Lord and King to the Glory of God on High!
Hosanna Lord, hosannah!”

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Fr Paul

Friday, April 11, 2014

A Sacred Space

A Sacred Space

When I walked into this place the first time, I was taken with the impression that I had never seen anything quite like this before. It is for me a breathtaking experience to walk into a church, a synagogue, a mosque, or in fact any sacred space where people stop to meditate and pray. 

But this one in a very special way has a unique "sacred" quality to it I find hard to quantify, describe or put my finger on. It may have to do with the interesting shape of the windows, the dark wood, the deep red carpet and the stained glass windows which you have to see in person to fully appreciate. 

As for all my ordained ministry, I count it such a privilege to serve in such a place among such a people as these. What I mean by that is that they have as much fun as I do being who we are. We Episcopalians are a curious lot and refuse to take ourselves too seriously, at least for the most part. We like the liturgy done well, but get a chuckle out of the gaffs we rather frequently make when trying to be "holy". And we are not afraid of dealing head on with justice issues of the emerging inclusive church we are becoming. Our love for one another is becoming increasing "catholic" i.e. "universal". Perhaps we were meant to be a "catholic" church all along. 

This is one particular sacred space, St. Paul's Church, North Andover, we are one specific holy Church, the Episcopal Church. I still believe in such a church.  Many of us still believe that finding time in a "way too busy" life to be still, makes all kinds of sense. We have an appetite for the holy, the sacred and believe we need to take the time to be at the center of the human heart on a regular basis. It is there, in the peace that passes understanding that, if we can be quiet enough, long enough, we will find the heart of God. 

Fr Paul

Friday, April 04, 2014

"The Color of God is the Color of Water"

"The Color of God is the Color of Water"
~An Arabic Saying

When I was in the Holy Land, an elder Palestinian Christian said something I will never forget: "The color of God is the color of water." She smiled as we "soaked up" what she was saying.

I remembered what Paul said; "There is no longer Jew or Greek (that means there is no longer Jew or Arab either), there is no longer slave or free (there is no division according to any economic class), there is no longer male or female (nor gay nor straight) for you are all one in Christ." ~Galatians 3:28.

Even after all the lands were taken, all the hatred, and all the blood was shed, it is still true; "The color of God is the color of water."

Water is odorless and colorless.
The human body is mostly water.

"Now you are the Body of Christ, and individually members of it." ~1 Corinthians 12:27

This is the Good News of Paul the Apostle to the Outsiders (Gentiles)

Jesus was The Anointed One who came to all those cast away from the Temple. They were poor, lame, blind, lepers, outcasts, and eunuchs (neither male nor female). 

At the Cleansing of the Temple, a story that occurs in all four Gospel traditions, Jesus said we are "A House of Prayer for ALL People". Please note Jesus said "All".  

Finally there is a church that embraces the teachings of both Paul and Jesus.
There is no longer Jew or Greek; neither is there Black or White or any other ethnicity.
There is no longer Slave or Free; neither is there any other rung on the economic ladder.
There is no longer Male or Female; neither is there any other definition by orientation.
We are at long last; One in Christ. 

We invite you to the Episcopal Church where you may know the inclusive love of Christ.

As for you Episcopalians; wake up!
Folks may come to church some day looking for the Love of God made manifest in the Person of Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
That means it is up to you to open your hearts to this kind of Love.

I hope you and I have the courage of an elder Palestinian Christian.

Peace to you all,
Fr Paul