Holy Asides
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April 17, 2014, 9:08 AM

Recovering our Astonishment


One of the glorious aspects of the Lenten season is that it re-calibrates our hearts and minds and spirits to the primary and core importance of the saving love and grace of Jesus Christ. Through prayer, study, fasting and worship we are drawn deeper into the glorious work and love of God, which then prepares us to experience the wonderful joy of Easter. For, while there are several issues in culture that the Church must face and overcome, (e.g. moral relativism, abuse, poverty, the disintegrated nuclear family) dullness may be the most critical. One priest said, “We are in a war between dullness and astonishment.” 

 

By and large the Church has lost her astonishment. The Good News is no longer good news, but okay news. We enter into the Easter season in celebration, that nearly 2000 years ago, an angel, in dazzling brightness, appeared to a group of women who were going to visit the tomb of Jesus, and inquired, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? Jesus is not here. He is risen.” Jesus is risen. He is alive. Death has been conquered. Darkness and sin defeated. And we have become new creations in Christ. This is not “okay news,” but glorious and exciting news. It’s cause for celebration! Cause for proclamation! Cause for transformation!

 

The resurrection is not a wonderful concept, but a life-changing event. We need to recover that astonishment—that amazement— that passion—Jesus is alive! Alive today! Alive tomorrow! Alive forever! He is alive to us—not just in abstraction, but in reality. He fills us with his Spirit, and he transforms our lives through his power and glory.




April 10, 2014, 9:46 AM

Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord...


Liturgically speaking, I am rarely ever more conflicted than I am in the celebration of Palm Sunday as we enter into Holy Week. The Palm Sunday service typically consists of a brief 10-minute blast of triumph and celebration: gathering outside, blessing palms, singing psalms, and marching around the church in a grand procession, which is then immediately cut-off, as we look toward the crucifixion of Jesus and launch into the reading of the Passion narrative.

 

On the one hand, the question lingers: are we letting people off of the hook to not have to come to the Holy Week services and walk the final days of Jesus’ life leading up to his betrayal, arrest and crucifixion on Good Friday? But on the other, this radical shift is symbolic on just how quickly the people turned on Jesus. One minute they are claiming him as king, and shouting “Hosanna!”, and in just a few short days they declare, “We have no king but Caesar, crucify him, crucify him!” The gravity of that shift is eerily familiar to me as I go through my life struggling to be a shining light of the love and grace of Jesus, while so often hiding safely in the shadows of my soul. On Sunday morning we pray with great sincerity “thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” and by Sunday afternoon we have rejected that kingdom to pursue our own needs and desires, as everything else in life becomes way more important: money, jobs, yard work, sports, etc…

 

This year we are highlighting that radical shift, next year who can say? But either way, I pray that this Holy Week draws you closer to the love and power of God’s redeeming love and that on Easter Day, we come to celebrate the full extent of the joy of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.




March 28, 2014, 8:35 AM

Cassocks and Coconuts


This is the fourth or fifth Lent that I have worn my cassock (that black robe with all the buttons) each day as a Lenten discipline. It is a helpful reminder to me of who I am as a priest. This is especially true, as there are many times that I do not wear clericals throughout the rest of the year except in hospital visitation or on days that there are worship services. I also believe it helps me become more engaged with my prayer life. But upon listening to an episode of This American Life last week, I discovered there was another reason. One of the stories centered on Giulietta Carrelli, who suffers from schizoaffective disorder, and her coffee shop, Trouble. Trouble serves coffee, grapefruit juice, cinnamon toast and coconuts--that's it. When she was asked about the significance behind the coconuts, she described an experiment she conducted some years back. When she stood on a corner eating a sandwich, no one talked to her; but when she stood on the same corner eating a coconut, people engaged her in conversation. 

My cassock is my coconut. Even though most parishioners would never guess that I am naturally shy, because of my role as their priest where I am fairly outgoing, it is very difficult for me to interact with strangers. In my cassock, when I am walking around town, people engage with me. In Kroger and Walmart people say "hello" and ask questions. At the Monastery of the Holy Spirit the other day, a woman ran up to me, grasped my hand and asked if I could pray for her mother who had just died.  Of course, sometimes people just stare, or they pretend not to stare. So wearing my cassock not only reminds me of who I am in Christ, but provides that initial icebreaker in order to be his witness to the world as well.




February 28, 2014, 9:56 AM

Rule of Life


Since the beginning of Advent, many parishioners have been prayerfully reflecting and struggling with crafting their own personal rule of life. We have been gathering on Tuesday mornings and Wednesday evenings going through the workbook by Steve Macchia entitled, "Crafting a Rule of Life." Much of the work is done on our own, as we ponder the important relationships in our lives, the talents that we have, the vision God calls us into, and many other aspects that encourage us to live a balanced life. 

As we draw near to the end of this class, I have noticed one prominent fear in many of the participants: sharing their rule of life with others. This is indeed a "personal" rule of life, filled with a great many things that are specific to the one crafting it; however, while it is personal in the sense that it is individually applicable (for instance, while cycling brings me great joy, many others do not find it that appealing), we should not see it in the same light as private. We need to resist the urge to hide it, like a diary or even a prayer journal. 

There are two reasons for this: Firstly, our Rule of Life should be sort of vanilla. These are things that we need to do daily, weekly, monthly, yearly-- pray, balance checkbook, particpate in hobbies, spend time with loved ones. These are the important priorites of our lives. Writing "weekly date night with spouse" is neither shocking, nor eyebrow raising. What the date night consists of each week does not need to be shared. This is the more "personal" aspect.

Which leads to the second aspect, we need to find someone to share our Rules of Life with, so someone can ask us how we are doing: Are you going to the gym each week? Do you call your mother every month? How is your prayer life going? Are you taking time to write that novel? Whatever. We live out our Rule of Life not in a vaccuum or in isolation, but in the midst of a community. Hopefully, a community who loves and cares for one another, and who desires to grow nearer to Christ and each other.

I am not saying that this is natural or easy. In fact, living in community and sharing our lives with one another takes courage and trust. To that end, I wanted to share my Rule of Life with all of you. (click here) It highlights my love for Christ and utilizes a bike crank, which reflects my joy in cycling, to divide the various areas of my Rule. This Lent, I am going to try to live into this Rule. I will tweak it, if it's too much, or not enough. And I encourage you to ask me how I am doing. Likewise, I encourage you to share your Rules (or Lenten devotions) with another. Because living a life in Christ is impossible to do on our own. 




February 11, 2014, 2:22 PM

A Call to Sway

When one thinks of what priests and pastors are asked to do in their sermons, swaying their flock is rarely, if ever, mentioned. We think of teaching, encouraging, building up, etc., but rarely swaying. And yet, as Christopher Beeley writes in his book, Leading God's People, " the ultimate goal [of preaching] is to sway our hearers with the word of truth." He goes on to speak of St. Augustine who knew that he preached a good sermon "not on the applause he received, but on the tears that were shed... tears show that people are being swayed, whether they be tears of remorse, tears of repentance, tears of joy, or tears of gratitude."  

This highlights one of the realities of preaching, and of ministry in general. Our main goal is to transform people's lives through the good news and glory of Jesus Christ. The trouble is that this often takes time. People's lives are not changed immediately after the sermon and service, even one that has swayed their hearts, but over time, in the coming weeks and months. This is where tears can be helpful and encouraging for both preachers and listeners. Tears are an outward sign, of an inward spiritual grace that God is at work in our lives.

I was reminded of this reality after a service a couple of weeks ago. I had offered to lay hands on and say a short prayer for those who desired to come forward during the sermon. I had a great number of people who thanked me after the service, but one parishioner followed up the thank you with the proclamation that it had been a long time since she had cried during a church service. She couldn't remember the last time it had happened.  This is the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of people. And moreover, we who preach can take comfort that ultimately it is not us who sways, but the Spirit of God. Yet we are vessels, called to teach, to lead, to care, and to sway people to be transformed by God.


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