Thursday, September 6, 2012

Widows and Orphans benefit

Readings for Sunday September 2

In two more days I will be participating in the single most important athletic fundraising event of my year.

On Saturday September 8, I will be down in San Diego to participate in the 9-11 Memorial Stair Climb. The event is a tribute to the men and women who responded to the twin towers attack on September 11, 2001 and died in the line of duty. Men and women who gave their all; a generous act of giving through serving. The money raised by climbers like myself and many professional Firefighters, including the chiefs of San Diego City Fire Department will go to a most noble cause. As the website for the event says
"Funds raised will benefit The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and FirefighterAid (formerly the San Diego Firefighters’ Benevolent Fund,) the 501(c)(3) charity which cares for Firefighters and families through sickness, distress, and death."
This event is a great demonstration of how to live out the commands presented in the opening of the Epsitle of James, a most hotly contested passage among ancients and early reformation theologians. It seems that the reformers didn't particularly like James' letter because the Roman Catholic Hierarchy could use this passage to defend some highly questionable practices...Indulgences being the all round disfavored child of spiritual practices.

This passage from the Epistle (Greek for "letter") of James delivers thought provoking reminders to the followers of Jesus Christi that our religion is not a private affair. On the contrary, James made it clear that the on giving, social engagement, care and compassion for the widows and orphans was imperative to the way of Jesus Christ.

Here it is all marked up:

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God's righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.
But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act-they will be blessed in their doing.
If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

James 1:17-27

I think this must be one of the richest passages in terms of the "New Testament way of life". The richness is so vast that I hardly know what to do.

And yet, I know EXACTLY what to do.

DO that which will provide care and concern for the widows and orphans.

I know that everyone cannot give large sums of money. But each of us can give something. 

Now, if you happen to be someone who really only likes to read the red letters of the Bible, I hope you will
focus on those lines above and consider, what does Jesus have to say to me in these sentences.

Do you have difficult controlling  your temper? Is your tongue your worst feature for your inability tame it? Does that explain why you find yourself so at odds within any form of community? Can you even honestly reflect on the red letter passages or are you arguing with me even as you read this passage?

The Christian life is not easy, and those who follow the path of Christianity cannot in honesty claim any complete perfection early on in their life. But the way of Christianity does provide a place for honest self assessment and opportunity for personal growth and transformation by the Grace and power of God.

Sending up prayers that you find your own community, a place to grow into the likeness of goodness and wholeness. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

God's creatures

Readings For Sunday August 28, 2012

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 
(Collect- Book of Common Prayer)

I have to say, there seem to be more occurrences of things to distract me during worship lately than I can remember experiencing in a very long time.

Last Sunday morning, seated as I usually am, in the special area of the church up front which is called the chancel we were in the midst of reading the following psalm.

Psalm 84 or 84:1-6 Page 707, BCP

Quam dilecta!

How dear to me is your dwelling, O LORD of hosts! *
My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.
The sparrow has found her a house
and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young; *
by the side of your altars, O LORD of hosts,
my King and my God.
Happy are they who dwell in your house! *
they will always be praising you.
Happy are the people whose strength is in you! *
whose hearts are set on the pilgrims' way.
Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs, *
for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.
They will climb from height to height, *
and the God of gods will reveal himself in Zion.
LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer; *
hearken, O God of Jacob.
Behold our defender, O God; *
and look upon the face of your Anointed.
For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room, *
and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God
than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.
For the LORD God is both sun and shield; *
he will give grace and glory;
No good thing will the LORD withhold *
from those who walk with integrity.
O LORD of hosts, *
happy are they who put their trust in you!

If you are not a "regular" at attending worship in a traditional church, sitting in the chancel is to be sitting in a highly public position... just to the side of the altar at the front...ALL EYES ARE ON YOU.

In our parish the altar is covered to the floor. The covering is magnificent brocade, a very elegant royal appearance for the place of Consecration of the special bread and wine which become a spiritual  "meal" shared by the community gathered. Imagine the importance of the day being something like a State dinner held by the President of the United States.

And as I glance down to my feet, I see scurry by a very large insect...LARGE and BLACK and FAST!!!

Two others were sitting on the pew with me, IN the FRONT of the sanctuary, and we each have taken notice on the same thing...the insect is moving with great speed toward the altar! A bit of horror rose within me. Where did it come from?? Where would it go? Surely not onto the altar....with the chalice and paten, although it was veiled...oh surely not to those items which had been dedicated for the sole purpose of consecrating the Eucharist!?!

It struck me just then, that the temple, and sanctuary which the writer of the psalm was referring to was built without glass panes, and screens. The birds could fly into the temple unimpeded. Sparrows and swallows, eagles too for that matter, if any of them had a mind to do so. Which led me to think, maybe that is something to MARK down in your Bible: Sanctuary's of the present day are so much cleaner, neater, contained and protected from all sorts of messy stuff.

For one thing, the temple in Jerusalem was the principle place for animal sacrifice. Not only the Jews, but all the cults, of other people groups used animal sacrifice, each having their own designated temple for paying cult to the God/dess. A few cults that surrounded the children of Abraham even engaged in human sacrifice. Archeological evidence gives good indication with high probability that every Roman and Greek cult conducted some form of animal sacrifice. Which animal was sacrificed depended upon the purpose of the sacrifice.Pig, cow, sheep, goat, pigeon, dove, any of these might be the designated offering.^ Animal throats were slit and the blood drained out as part of the sacrifice. Now, if you have ever watched what happens in the summer when food is left out, you know that the insects, flies and ants in particular, quickly come to clean up the mess. Pesty and annoying as they may be, they too have a calling and purpose in the Creator's master plan.

And there I am sitting in worship with that insect, a cricket or beetle of some sort, wandering around exploring, looking for morsels to munch and I've lost my place in the reading of the psalm for two or three verses. Then I finally return my attention to the congregation in it's reading, and pick up my place in the text

 Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs, *

for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.

Too often I hear people claim they have no need for the church. They can talk to God anywhere. {TRUE- God is not contained within the walls of the sanctuary}. They are, they claim, perfectly fine with being "spiritual and not religious."  And yet, many of these people are the same ones that will tell me when they are in the hospital, and suddenly confronted with a diagnosis of cancer that they have no one to call on to help them in their crisis and have no clue where to begin to work through the issues of this news. These are the ones that I see who are near panic, feeling bereft and without bearing. In their desolate valley they cannot easily find a place of springs. That is the time when the community of followers of Jesus begin to display their spiritual gifts; prayer, compassion, mercy, patience all are drawn out of the followers of Jesus on behalf of another companion of the way. Every time of gathering for corporate worship becomes a time of gathering and collecting as well as depositing and connecting.

Gathering together we share in praise, prayers and concerns for those who are unable to be present in worship. We see and learn from the scripture, the sermon proclaimed, and the announcements (yes even those little pleas for time, treasure, and talents) how the kin_dom of God is unfolding and surrounding us. We receive also food for the soul in the Eucharist, the bread of life and the cup of salvation which carries with it the mystery of the presence of Jesus Christ.  Strengthened inwardly, we are fit to return to the rush of our daily routine.

When that insect was searching high and low, I began to react in a most orthodox way, with slight horror at the thought that it was going to find its' way right to the bread of life. Do insects have greater appreciation for the opportunity to receive the sacrament and share in the offering of praise and thanksgiving to the creator?  Would it be a travesty for that insect to come under the veil? What should (or could) I do without drawing more attention to the situation?

The answer came to me: Do nothing immediately. If the opportunity is presented, get rid of it.

It is all well and good to give oneself an occasional break from gathering together in worship. But in my own experience, if I begin to "forsake the gathering" it is a pretty short step into neglect of my relationship with others in the community for whom I have been called into relationships of commitment, care and concern.

It is nice to stop, and take time to appreciate the beauty which surrounds us, and notice the activity of all creation. But if we fail to learn the lesson of the bees, productivity does not occur in isolation. The product of our labors is best appreciated in community, for community is where the burden of the weight of the yoke is
best distributed. This is not a principle unique only to Christianity. Each of the great world religions share a common understanding that community is integral to the pilgrim's path. Very few indeed are the true and blessed hermits in any tradition.

If you really want to know what happened to the insect, all I can say is that I have made proper confession.

^ We offer pieces of paper with dead presidents on them, Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, with words engraved "In God We Trust", or checks with scripture verses to remind the receiver of our great spiritual anchor in times of distress.