Saturday, January 24, 2009

How Do We Hear God's Call?

Third Sunday after the Epiphany – Year B (RCL)
Jonah 3:1-5,10; Psalm 62:6-14; Mark 1:14-20
Saturday, January 24, 2009 – Church of the Transfiguration, Arcadia

[The following is the text of a homily I preached during the Eucharist prior to my interview with the Rector Search Committee at Church of the Transfiguration. However, I actually preached it without notes or manuscript.]

I never cease to be amazed at how the Holy Spirit works. Here we are, gathered today, with Church of the Transfiguration engaged in a process to search for and call a new rector, and me, discerning what and where God is calling me to do and be in the next phase of my ministry; and the Scripture lessons appointed happen to be call narratives. In fact, they are two of the greatest call narratives recorded in Scripture.

Looking at the two stories, we see that they are vastly different, spanning the spectrum of how God’s calling can go. On the one end of the spectrum, we have the Gospel lesson about Jesus calling his first disciples – Peter and Andrew, and then James and John. This is the ideal call narrative. God, or in this case, Jesus, issues a call, and the ones called immediately respond. No hesitation. No questions. I really wonder about all of that. “Hey you guys, I want you to quit your job and come follow me as we become itinerant preachers.” What? They didn’t question who this guy was or the insanity of the request? But that’s a whole other sermon. The bottom line is they accepted the call without reservation.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the call of Jonah. Where we pick up the story, Jonah is finally on-board and doing what God has asked. Before this, however, God calls Jonah to go east to Nineveh. But what does Jonah do? Instead he heads west, toward the Mediterranean to set sail for Tarshish. He runs away from God’s call. Only thanks to the agency of a terrible storm, some pagan sailors, and really big fish, does Jonah get the message that you can’t argue with God. Only then does he give in and do what God has asked of him. I think Jonah’s story is closer to the experience of a lot of people who are called by God. I know it was my experience. God calls and we do everything in our power to ignore, deny, or avoid the call.

So why the differences in call experiences? I think it has a lot to say about who we are, about how receptive we are to listening to God’s call, of how we respond to God’s call. In the ideal situation, the call is heard and immediately becomes part of who we are, resonating with our inmost being, with out very souls. Because of this receptivity, this resonance, the call seems natural and we know we must obey. On the other end of the spectrum, like in Jonah’s case, we hear the call, but it gets stuck, here, in our heads. We attempt to process it rationally, logically. We come up with all sorts of reasons why we shouldn’t or can’t respond. The call gets stuck in the head and we don’t allow it to enter into the depths of our being, to touch our heart and our soul.

So what do we do about this? How do we reconcile the ideal call of the disciples with the lived experience of Jonah, of many of us? For me, that’s where today’s Psalm comes in. This Psalm, Psalm 62, which begins “For God alone my soul in silence waits” is one of my favorites. I first really heard it at a time when I was in the midst of struggling with my own sense of call. And what I heard, what I came to understand, was that it is only by being in silence before God, by opening myself to listen for and to God, to listen without talking back, by becoming vulnerable before God, that God’s calling could move from my head, into my heart and my soul. Only then could it touch and become part of my inmost being. Only then would it feel natural and right, become a part of me. Because only then would I truly become who I am called to be. And only then could I answer the call with out question, without hesitation.

I think this is at the root of what the Psalmist means when he says “God has spoken once, twice have I heard it.” Only by being silent and open before God, are we able to hear with our mind, but also to hear in a deeper way in our heart and soul. Only then are we able to truly incorporate God’s call, to know what that calling truly is, and to begin to live into it.

So, for each of us here today, I pray that there may be a sense of openness to the Sprit, that all of us may be able to be open to allow God to enter into and work within the inmost parts of our being, helping us each to discern where and how we are being called to best serve God’s purposes.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Farewell, President Bush

I couldn't resist being a little naughty.


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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A New Era Begins

Words cannot even begin to describe the joy I feel at this historic moment. Blessings upon President Obama, his family, and our nation as we step into a new, hope-filled era in our history.


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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Gene Robinson's Prayer for President Obama

A Prayer for the Nation and Our Next President, Barack Obama

By The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire

Opening Inaugural Event
Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC
January 18, 2009

Welcome to Washington! The fun is about to begin, but first, please join me in pausing for a moment, to ask God’s blessing upon our nation and our next president.

O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…

Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.

Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.

And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for ALL the people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.

Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.


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The Little Drummer Boy - The Show

Today after church, one of my parishioners told me that he found the Rankin-Bass animated version of “The Little Drummer Boy” Christmas special on YouTube. When I got home this evening, I downloaded and watched it. It is actually in three parts, totaling about 25 minutes.

(Rather than upload each of the videos, which will take an eternity, I am merely posting links to the appropiriate YouTube URLs):

The Little Drummer Boy Part 1

The Little Drummer Boy Part 2

The Little Drummer Boy Part 3

As I noted in my
sermon last week, I had not seen it in probably 30 years. It was wonderful to finally see it again. But I realized as I watched it, there were some parts that I had forgotten. In actuality, the animated show was not quite as I had remembered it at all – it was better. What I was actually remembering as I wrote my sermon for January 11 was more my interpretation of the song filtered through the lens of the show, but that the overall message of the show was somewhat different.

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the show again after all these years, crying during most of it. As I watched it, I realized that based on the show, there was probably another sermon in it, as yet to be developed.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Little Drummer Boy

First Sunday After Epiphany – Year B (BCP)
(Propers for Epiphany)
Isaiah 60:1-6,9; Psalm 72:1-2,10-17; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12
Sunday, January 11, 2009 –
St. Alban’s, Westwood

This general time of year, from Advent through Christmas on to Epiphany is so rich in imagery. Scripture provides us with a rich tapestry of stories describing the events which we have been re-living over the past month or so. In reality, when we examine the stories, we find that there is not just one story, but several stories, each with its own emphasis. The birth narrative from Luke that we hear on Christmas Eve gives us one picture – that of Jesus’ birth in a stable in Bethlehem. The Gospel of Matthew, just before the story we hear today, provides us with a much more truncated version of the birth narrative, saying merely that Jesus was born. No mention of the manger. No mention of angels or shepherds. And then the narrative that we have today gives us another picture, that of the coming of the magi. Because of the way the story flows, we don’t know exactly when the magi arrived. Was it the night of his birth? Probably not. It was most certainly sometime later. Perhaps as much as a year later.

But in our own tradition, in our own minds, we have linked these various stories together to create a single story that attempts to unify the various themes and images. We have woven our own tapestry. Or rather, maybe a patchwork quilt is a more apt analogy. The way we envision the whole scene, is in all likelihood, a composite of various events. Mary giving birth to Jesus in a dirty stable; the angels announcing the birth of the Messiah to a bunch of shepherds; a star coming to rest over the manger; the arrival of magi from the East, bearing gifts worthy of a king – gold, frankincense, myrrh. This is how we have come to remember the tradition, historically inaccurate though it may be.

But even though not necessarily historically accurate, even though it probably did not happen quite the way we recall the story, whether parts of it even happened at all, the tradition we have come to remember, that we pass down from one generation to the next, is nonetheless true. This tradition, even in its potential inaccuracies, holds central truths about the one we call Messiah, about our relationship with him, about how we react and respond to him.

Like so many of the images of this time of year, we all have our favorites that readily come to mind when we recall the story. In all probability, the images are not quite correct, but as I said, they are nonetheless true – true because at their root, these images convey the core message of what this time of year is all about. And our favorites say something about what part of that core message is most important or most meaningful to each of us. When I think of Christmas and Epiphany, or rather the conflated version we traditionally recall, one of the images that stands out for me is the Little Drummer Boy. I’m sure you all recall the song:

Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum.
A new born King to see, pa rum pum pum pum

I don’t know if it’s true or not, but right before Christmas, I heard that “Little Drummer Boy” is viewed as one of the most annoying Christmas songs, because of the incessant “pa rum pum pum pum.” Be that as it may, it is still one of my favorite images not only of Christmas, but more so of Epiphany.

Specifically, what comes to mind is the Rankin-Bass animated Christmas special that used to air on television before Christmas every year starting in the late 60s. “The Little Drummer Boy” was probably my all-time favorite Christmas show, even more so than “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” And while I have not seen it in, oh, probably 30 years, I can still clearly recall it. Whenever I hear that song, it’s like a VCR turns on in my head. I can almost see and hear the whole show. And now, as I reflect back on it, I dare say, its message had a profound influence on my personal theology of Christmas in general and the Epiphany in particular.

In the television show, which greatly expands on the song, our hero, Aaron, a poor little boy, happens to be in Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth. He comes upon the stable where Jesus has just been born. As is typical of most manger scenes, there is a crowd standing around admiring this awe-inspiring, newborn baby. Shepherds and townsfolk. Sheep, cows, oxen. This is obviously a special child, worthy of adoration. This is particularly evidenced by the arrival of three kings from the East, bearing gifts worthy of a king – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. If kings are bringing gifts to this child, he must himself be a king.

Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

So to honor Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
When we come.

If a king, then Aaron feels that he himself must also give a gift in honor of this king’s birth. But what to give? Aaron is a peasant boy. The only thing he has in the whole world is his drum.

Little Baby, pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum
That's fit to give the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

And then it occurs to him. He has only one thing he could possibly give.

Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum,
On my drum?

And so, that’s exactly what Aaron does.

Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

And even though nothing could compare to such gifts as gold, frankincense, and myrrh, Aaron’s gift of music, his gift of himself, was indeed pleasing to the child king.

Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum.

The overall story of Epiphany is a very important one to us Christians. All the prophecies about the coming of the Messiah assumed that he would be king of the Jews. In fact, when the magi arrive in Jerusalem, they ask Herod “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” But they themselves are not Jews. And yet, they honor Jesus not as king of the Jews, but as their king as well. These kings, recognizing the kingship in this newborn child. It is not the recognition of one king to another, a recognition of equals, but rather the recognition by subjects of the one who is their superior, who they themselves, though kings, willingly bow down and worship.

Through Jesus’ life and ministry, we see him first ministering to his own people, to the Jews. But over time, his ministry expands outward, including ministry to the Gentiles, to non-Jews, as well. Through his ever expanding ministry, Jesus proved himself to not only be the king of the Jews, but to be the king of all humanity. But what I find interesting is the fact that even though initially thought to only be king of the Jews, the very first people to adore him, other than his parents, of course, the very first people to fall down in worship, the first to bring gifts in recognition of his kingship, were the magi, non-Jews. What I find interesting is that from the beginning, it was not Jews who recognized Jesus as Lord, but rather the Gentiles, in the form of the magi. From the beginning of Jesus’ life, through the visit of the magi, it was recognized that Jesus was indeed the Messiah come for all humanity. It would just take the rest of humanity a little while to catch on to that fact.

Through the celebration of Epiphany, the church bears witness that God is reaching out visibly and powerfully to all peoples of the world” (Cook, 85). And that witness is born by those who came from far away, who first brought gifts to a newborn child, lying in a manger, to the one who even pagan kings recognized as Lord of all humanity, as the savior and redeemer of us all.

Did the magi really arrive in Bethlehem on the night that Jesus was born? Or did they arrive some time later? Or did the story really happen at all? We have no way of knowing with certainty. But the image of their arrival, regardless of the historical veracity does, nonetheless, present a fundamental truth about the Epiphany.

While Epiphany is certainly about the revelation, the witness to the fact that Jesus came into the world for all humanity, for me it is also about, and in some ways even more about, the gifts. It is about the gifts that we give to Jesus, the ways that we show that we recognize that he is indeed our Messiah, our king. For me, the image of foreign, pagan kings bringing gifts to the one that they came to recognize as their king is a model of what it means to be a Christian. This group of pagans, who did not know our God, certainly did not know Jesus, somehow came to not only know him, but to believe that he was indeed the Messiah, and not just the Messiah for the Jews, but that he was even their Messiah, the Messiah for all humanity. They acted on their faith in this knowledge, and in response, brought gifts of great value, gifts worthy of a king, to lay before Jesus – gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The gifts brought by the magi almost certainly had some significance. All three gifts would have been sufficiently valuable to be considered typical gifts for a king: gold, for its sheer value; frankincense, for its use as a perfume; and myrrh, an oil for anointing. But there is also a likely prophetic symbolism behind these three gifts: gold as a symbol of Jesus’ kingship on earth; frankincense as a symbol of Jesus’ priestly status; and myrrh, an oil used for embalming, as a symbol of the unique importance of his death (Wikipedia). These gifts are recognition of not only the fact that this child is special, but also of who he is and the importance of his life and even his death.

In following the model of the magi, we too are called to act on our faith in this Messiah, and to likewise bring gifts of great value to lay before Jesus. But we are not kings with great treasures. So what could we possibly give that is worthy of a king? That’s where Aaron, the Little Drummer Boy, comes in. He gave a gift that was far more valuable than anything the magi could have given Jesus. He gave the only thing that he had to give – the gift of himself.

Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

What gift will you give our King? What gift do you have that will be so pleasing to him, that upon giving it, you will be able to say:

Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum.

“Biblical Magi”.
Wikipedia. (10 January 2009).

Cook, Stephen L., et al. New Proclamation: Year B, 2008-2009, Advent through Holy Week. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008.

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Monday, January 05, 2009

A Smile From God

In this day and age of Photoshop, who knows if this is real or not. But it is a reminder that God does smile on us in so many ways, if we would just pay attention.


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