Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The True Meaning of Christmas

As I was working on my sermon for tomorrow night, I was reminded of Linus' retelling of the Christmas story that was taken from the Gospel of Luke, and specifically the Revised Common Lectionary reading for Christmas I.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Warren Consternation

The church and the nation are abuzz with reactions to the announcement that President-elect Barack Obama has asked Pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at Obama's inaguration. The bulk of the reaction is negative, which is understandable given Warren's support for California's Proposition 8 and his (in my opinion) unwise statements regarding whether the United States should "take out" foreign leaders. However, Geoffrey Garrin makes a progressive case for Rick Warren in his recent Washington Post article.

I'm personally conflicted over Obama's choice of Pastor Warren. On the one hand, he has said many things with which I vehemently disagree--his support of Proposition 8 and likening gay marriage to pedophilia and polygamy (after saying that divorce was a far greater threat to the institution of marriage)--is one glaring example. Another is his backing of assassination of foreign leaders. Both positions bear a striking resemblance to the more extreme positions of the extreme religious right. I don't think either align with Jesus teachings. I also happen to know several gay couples who I believe are indeed examples of fidelity and holiness and who are likely at the very least hurt, and at the most grievously wounded over the fact that PRop 8 passed, with Warren's support.

On the other hand, there seems to be a large number of people equating Obama's invitation of Warren with a betrayal of gay rights or some sort of wholesale endorsement of Warren's views. It seems like the symbolism has completely overshadowed the potential reality. President-elect Obama hasn't even taken the oath of office yet and there are already people feeling supremely disappointed and somehow betrayed that he has made this choice. While I would likely feel differently if I were gay, our culture's obsession with symbolism over substance in general seems a disturbing trend.

A month from today, the new President Obama will take office. How about we let him make some policy decisions and then we can criticize them? Until then, give the guy a break.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Stirring the Pot

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
(Collect for the Third Sunday of Advent)

In the Episcopal Church, today is often observed as "Stir-up Sunday," a day in which we specifically focus on our desire that God "stir up" God's power among us as we seek to do God's will in our lives. The traditionally Anglican Stir-up Sunday is the last Sunday before Advent, now mostly observed as Christ the King Sunday. In any case, wherever it falls in the church year, it is an opportunity for Christians to do one of the most dangerous things possible--invite and encourage God to act in our lives. Certainly that was a version of the prayer that many in ancient Israel prayed, and God sent a most unlikely answer in the person of John the Baptist, who we read about in today's Gospel. No one could figure John out. He did not fit into any neat category (not the Messiah, not Elijah, not the prophet). That drove the authorities of the time nearly crazy but also drove many people out into the desert to see, hear, and be baptized by this "voice crying in the wilderness."

As I noted in my sermon this morning, perhaps the best thing we can do during times of war and economic uncertainty such as we have is to be open to, and expecting of, God's work in the world. Perhaps we should eschew a desire for stability and calm in favor of a desire that God would work though the chaos and uncertainty. The best advice may be that of St. Paul to the members of the church in Thessalonica, the Epistle lesson for today:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.
-- 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22
The Spirit of God is notoriously untidy and unpredictable, though not inconsistent. For those of us, especially Episcopalian folks, who like things done "decently and in order" (1 Corinthians 14:40) it is worth knowing that God can and does still surprise us. The biggest thing for us to remember is that God is all about healing and restoration, even if a little surgery and demolition is required in the process. Perhaps in such a time as this, a time of chaos and uncertainty, we might well be more open to God's working in our midst. Perhaps even in the form of a little baby in a manger?

Friday, December 05, 2008

Home of the Temporary

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness."
-- 2 Peter 3:11-13 (Reading for Advent 2, Year B, RCL)

December 7, 1941 -- Attack on Pearl Harbor
January 28, 1986 -- Challenger Disaster
September 11, 2001 - Terrorist Attacks
October 1, 2008 - Beginning of Stock Market Decline

These dates are perhaps some of the more notable ones in the last several decades. They each were memorable and, in most cases, pivotal events for a generation. Certainly other events,. many of them tragic, could be added to the list. The point is not the events themselves, but our reaction to them as human beings. I would submit that many of those reactions include elements of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance). The events have measurable effects on our lives. However, the question might well be asked: How does our faith as Christians affect our view of such events and our reaction to them?

This is not a hypothetical question, especially during these times of economic uncertainty and terrorism. We live in a very, very fearful time. There are many churches either in decline or just hanging on. There are many people just hanging on as well. It is quite likely that at least the next two years, and perhaps many more years beyond that, will be years in which things which were formerly thought stable and permanent give way to things that are obviously transitional. This has been happening in many ways in the church already--the emergent church movement being a prime example. We also have that occurring in the political arena--after 16 years of Baby Boomer presidencies (Clinton and Bush II) we will shortly be inaugurating a Generation Xer. At the same time, the banking and automotive industries, arguably the backbone of our economy, are in serious transition and this last election gave a glimpse into the multi-ethnic and multicultural world in which we live. Nothing is permanent. In other words, we have boarded the ship and left the dock.

In the midst of all of this transition, it would be well for us to remember the above passage and others like it. They remind us that the only think that is permanent is God and God's love for us. Nothing else will last. In fact, the world was specifically designed not to last! Kind of a cosmic planned obsolescence. That doesn't mean we should hurry it along with unwise environmental, economic, and political choices. What it does mean is that we should keep in mind that this is not our home and that it is not permanent. We cannot do anything about the transient nature of life. What we can do is live "holy and godly lives" while we are here.