Sunday, May 17, 2009

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Seismic Shift; Smart Guy

I recently picked up N.T. Wright's latest, Surprised by Hope. Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham (U.K.), is an erudite New Testament scholar who has the ability to publish incredible amounts of work in short periods of time. His latest, frankly, has had the greatest impact on me than any other theological work in recent memory. Not because what he said was necessarily new - but that he synthesized resurrection, death, and hope in such a profound way that it causes one to really rethink everything.

There is little doubt that the overwhelming majority (say 98%?) of bible reading, church attending, faithful Christians believe that when we die - our souls leave our broken/diseased bodies and find themselves eternally in heaven with God. That same majority may even say that the whole point of being Christian is to enjoy that eternal life in heaven. But is that view biblical? Is is consonant with the early church? Is is orthodox?

N.T. Wright says absolutely not. He challenges the statements we sometimes make in passing; 'this body is temporary,' 'we are just passing through,' 'the body is but a shell,' etc., that not only promote a theology of escapism or evacuation but also promote a Platonic view of an evil material world and a holy spiritual world. If, at our death, our disembodied souls ascend to heaven and live forever with God, as wonderful as that is, is that really victory of death, Wright asks. If our resurrection is mainly concerned with the soul (as popular theology suggests), why did the gospel writers so strongly state that Christ's tomb was empty?

Wright's main point is that Christian hope is not life after death - rather it is 'life after life after death.' Christ's resurrection is victory over death. His resurrection is the prototype of our resurrection. His spirit did not escape the confines of the material world - the resurrection redeemed it - recreated it, and by doing so - defeated the power of death.

When we die, our souls go to paradise, heaven. We rest, we are at peace, we are with God. But that is not the end. It is not our final destination. We wait for the resurrection when the redeemed body and soul and made new and the heavens and the earth are recreated and joined together.

I can't summarize 300 pages of Wright's theology here, but let me add a couple of quick things. Not only does the resurrection give hope in the recreation of our own bodies - with body and soul - but the whole earth is to be redeemed, recreated. It makes sense doesn't it? If God created the heavens and the earth and it was good - it was perfect - wouldn't God's victory involve redeeming that creation and not just destroying it? Wright asks us to read Romans 8 and Revelation 21 in this light.

But furthermore, if in our baptism we die and are raised with Christ and we are already experiencing a foretaste of the resurrection as we are new creations (as St Paul said), then we are charged with changing the world - by being people of resurrection - new creations - we are called and charged to invite all of creation to participate in resurrection. Instead of escapism and evacuation, we are responsible (see the previous post) for the world and all that is in it. This deals with the environment and with social problems and everything in between.

I highly encourage the reading of Surprised by Hope. I highly encourage a seismic shift in theology.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

St Joe

Today at the convent, we celebrated the Feast of St Joseph. Many calendars had this transferred feast yesterday and the Annunciation today, but when in the convent - do what the sisters tell you! I always find preaching to the sisters a challenge. It's not as if the usual congregational needs are reflected in the convent. I don't think I can get away preaching about the need to 'give our lives more to our faith.' For crying out loud - they have taken vows of obedience, poverty, and chastity and perhaps even more difficult - they live in community and work on a consensus-based government style. But it is nice to preach to a different community and they seem (nuns wouldn't lie would they?) to enjoy/appreciate my preaching.

Today for St Joseph, I found myself thinking about our parish hall. There's a nasty little habit we (and I mean all of us) have that is demonstrated in schools, homes, and churches. In the parish hall - not every one pushes back the chairs when they leave a table. Not everyone puts their coffee cup in the dishwasher. In the church, not everyone takes their bulletin home, and just leaves it in the seat. In the bathrooms, not everyone can make the difficult shot of putting paper towels in the trash can (I have a similar problem of putting clothes in the clothes hamper). We believe - or in many cases we know - that someone else will take care of it. Don't we pay someone to do this for us? Isn't there someone who's job this is? It'll get done.

Ours is a society of passing responsibility or assuming that others will pick up where we leave off. "If I don't help - someone else will." Name the societal ill - name your issue - and we can find large masses just knowing that someone is taking care of the problem. And if anyone had the chance to say - this is not my job...this is not my responsibility - was it not Joseph?

The child inside Mary's womb was not his. I think he was pretty sure of that. He had every societal right to dismiss her quietly as he planned and he had every societal right to dismiss her loudly! It wasn't his responsibility. But if Mary is the patron of the church in saying "yes" to God - then Joseph is the patron of the church for assuming responsibility - for stepping up.

I am responsible for you. You are responsible for me. Every child (or adult) we baptize - we take vows in that effect - I am responsible for YOU. The homeless person is our responsibility. The addict is our responsibility. The lost executive is our responsibility. The trouble makers are our responsibility. The earth and that is in it - is our responsibility. Even if it's not our job. Even if it's not our business - wait a minute - God's business is our business, right? Our business should be God's business, right?

It is. It is.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Meditation for Thomas Sunday

I never proof what I write (so disregard spelling errors!)

There is a most amazing thing in today’s Gospel reading. In fact, the more I think about it and the more I read the text, the more amazing I think it is.

Let me see if I can set the stage. On Easter morning, according to John, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. I’m not really sure what she was going to do there. I don’t think she would be able to see Jesus in the tomb – there was, after all, a very large stone rolled in front to seal it. Maybe she thought she could squeeze in a crack or maybe she thought she could wedge it open – I don’t know.

Maybe she was going to do like so many of us when a loved one dies – she was going to sit by the tomb. Not really sure why we do that – but there is a compulsion to go and sit; to be with the body of the one whose died.

So Mary went and when she arrived she saw the stone had been rolled back. We don’t know if she even looked inside or if she just assumed that since the stone was rolled by that someone had removed his body – a lot like coming home and seeing your front door missing – you don’t have to go inside to have an idea as to what has happened.

She went to tell Peter and John and they went to see the tomb and they saw the same thing – the stone was rolled back. John got to the tomb first but did not go in – instead he just peaked. But Peter inside the tomb.

Don’t you think it’s interesting that Mary didn’t get close to the tomb, John got close to the tomb but didn’t go in and finally Peter went inside?

Anyway, Peter and John go back to their homes. Not only has their teacher and leader been brutally executed – but to add insult to injury, someone has robbed his grave.

Mary stays at the tomb. She arrived to mourn and she was going to stay and mourn. This time, she actually looks inside the tomb. And when she does – she sees two angels. I don’t know if she knew they were angels and they asked her what was wrong.
“They’ve taken my Lord.”
She turns around and sees Jesus – but does not recognize him. She thinks he’s the gardener. I wonder why she thought he was the gardener and not someone else? At any rate – she asks the supposed gardener where he has put Jesus – and Jesus responds to her in a way that she recognizes him for who he is. And she sees her Lord risen.

Jesus tells her to go and tell the disciples that he is risen – that the tomb is empty not because robbers stole the body but because Jesus has conquered death. And she does. She runs and tells the disciples with every bit of gusto and enthusiasm that a human being can muster.

And we instantly assume that the disciples believed her. I don’t think so. I bet they thought she was crazy. I bet they thought she was just an emotional woman that was so sad Jesus had died that she was willing to believe anything to assuage her grief.
I bet they were nice to her, after all, they were grieving too. But I bet they rolled their eyes and avoided contact with her.

You know she kept after them, telling them time and time again what she had seen – desperately trying to plead her case that she was not crazy – she was not seeing things – that Jesus was alive. He was really alive.

And it wasn’t until that night that the disciples – the men –saw Jesus as Mary had. That night Jesus appeared – he came right through locked doors. St John has a little gift for understatement and doesn’t really record the reaction of the disciples.

If I had been in that room, the first thing I would have done would have been to do everything in my power to get out of that room. I would be looking for windows or doors or staircases – because I man I knew to be dead – was now standing before me.

St John does tell us that Jesus was patient. He knew they were terrified – in fact the first thing he says to them is Peace be with you. In other words – it’s okay guys.
And then he lets them look at him. He stands patiently while they try to process what their eyes are seeing. A man – who died – they saw him die. They knew this body was in the tomb – was now standing before them – right there. He wasn’t a ghost because they could touch him – and I’ve often wondered if they did. But he wasn’t exactly flesh and bone because he appeared in a room with locked doors.

It was this moment – I’m convinced – that stayed with the disciples for the rest of their lives. It was this moment that gave them the courage to give up their lives for their faith. They could die because they experienced Christ alive.

So you know they could not contain their enthusiasm. You know words could not describe the euphoria – the joy – the hope that now breathed within them.
And you know they shared all of this with Thomas.

Thomas wasn’t there when the disciples saw the Risen Christ. He wasn’t there. And when they told him what they had experienced – he, naturally, understandably, thought they had lost their mind.

You want him to be alive, he might have said. You will see anything to pull you out of your depression. He is not alive. He is dead. If his tomb is empty, it’s because someone took his body. And to completely hammer home his point he said – unless I touch the wounds made by the nails and spear – I will not believe.

And I understand this. I bet you understand this. I bet we all have talked with people that were in a very fragile state who were convinced they saw something, heard something felt something. And in the backs of our minds we might have left open the possibility – maybe they did. Maybe they did see something, hear something, or feel something. But more than likely, more than likely they didn’t. They wanted to. They so desperately wanted to that they would interpret anything to be contact from the beyond.

Thomas thought the same thing. But they wouldn’t stop. And they were all in agreement. Every one of the 11 remaining disciples except for Thomas – saw Jesus alive. There was no disagreement. Mass delusion – Thomas thought.

But here is the amazing part of this story. At least I think it’s amazing. Thomas stayed with the group. He didn’t leave. Even though the point of their cohesion was gone – at least Thomas thought so. What brought them together was the call of Jesus and he had died – so there was no reason to stay together.

But they did. He did. He stayed with them for an entire week. St John doesn’t address this – because he doesn’t have time. In fact St John even writes that there were so many things that happened that were not written down. But I think the fact that Thomas stayed with the disciples is significant.

It means he was able to live in tension. He was able to live in disagreement. The 10 disciples were completely, totally, and absolutely convinced that they had seen the Risen Christ. Thomas thought they were all mad. But they were able to stay together.

I think that is an incredible witness for us – that 11 men were able to remain together. Even though they completely and totally disagreed on major issues – in fact the issue that defined their relationship – they were able to remain together.

If there is a major sin in the life of the church today – I don’t think it has anything to do with doctrinal impurity of sexual orientation or anything of the like. I think the major sin is that fact that Christians from bishops down to lay folk have a very difficult time staying together.

I read a letter from the Bishop of Ft Worth telling why he no longer attends the House of Bishops meetings. Over the past nine years of parish ministry, I’ve heard story after story and reason after reason as to why people in the church do not get along and can’t even sit in the same church together.

I think one the most amazing parts of the story of Thomas is not only that Jesus appeared to the disciples and they believed – but that they stayed together long enough for Christ to appear to all of them. They had enough love for each other to live together in tension and conflict until Christ was present for all of them.

Heaven knows there are people and groups of people with whom we disagree. We might even disagree on the most fundamental issues of faith and life. But Jesus promised his presence when two or three are gathered in his name. If we can’t come together – we may not have a quorum for Christ’s presence!

The challenge for the people of God is staying together. I don’t think the issue matters. I don’t think whose right or wrong necessarily matters. I think what matters is our ability to love one another. Our ability to stay together. Our ability to wait patiently until Christ is made manifest in our midst.

And when that happens – when we all see Christ in the midst of our conflict – all will be well. All will be well.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Be Fruitful and Multiply

Doing our part to expand the Episcopal Church. This is about 6 weeks.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Mass in the Pope's Private Chapel

Wouldn't think the chapel would be that modern, would you?