Monday, November 21, 2011


Yes, clergy are subject to temptations - just like everyone else. Prayer doesn't eliminate them nor does any other religious praxis. They are just there ... but not all of them are terrible and destructive. Sometimes they are funny - the kind of temptations that point out something absurd or humorous.

I was tempted yesterday to process into the church to the tune of Auld Lang Syne ... it was, after all, the Church's "New Year's Eve" celebration of the Feast of Christ the King ... the very last Sunday of the Church year. But we didn't have an organist yesterday ... so I let it go.

Then there was the temptation a fellow pastor friend had to use Bruce Springsteen's Glory Days as a recessional after preaching about how he didn't want to hear any more about how things "used to be so much better at our church."

These are the kinds of temptations you know you probably won't act on but we think about them nonetheless.

Occasionally though, the absurdity of something just gets the best of me. Like two weeks ago when I had left a message on the National Cathedral's voice mail system regarding getting my pass to attend the consecration of Bishop Mariann Budde. A couple of days after leaving the message, my phone rang and a woman's voice on the other end said:
"Hello. This is the National Cathedral calling."
And my absurd gene kicked in and responded:
"WOW! A talking cathedral! That's a nifty new feature! Was this part of the improvements put in as part of the earthquake repair?"
So temptation got the best of me on that one ... and for the record, we both laughed until our sides hurt.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Judgment and heartburn

Here we go - sheep and goats for Sunday. It's the Feast of Christ the King and we always end up at the end ... or at least close to the end of Jesus' earthly ministry. What isn't always obvious is that we end up in Holy Week again in the fall. It's an "extended dance version" of Holy Week in the spring where the focus is not on what happened to Jesus but instead what he was teaching during that last week.And this Sunday's lesson is the separating of the sheep and the goats with Jesus' teaching that what we do to "the least of these" we do to Jesus - and it gives me no small measure of heartburn to preach this.

Why? Because I often see so much of "organized Christian religion" focusing on our faith being a form of transactional economy. If I just do these things the right way, or behave just right, then God will love me and bless me ... which of course means I'll be blessed with eternal life in the big picture. So this lesson becomes a checklist of sorts:
  • Feed the hungry? "Well I worked at the soup kitchen once ... check!"
  • Clothe the naked? "I give away gently used clothing to Goodwill ... check!"
  • Visit prisoners? "Ummm ... not my thing ... guess I can't check that..."
We get all hung up in achieving in our lives and we think this is what God wants ... checklists and brownie points. But that's not the point of the teaching.

Yes, there will be a judgment. And this is good news because we can all look around and see all kinds of messed up stuff in our world. That's a page from the "Book of DUH!" We long for a God who is going to set things right. But, it's important to remember God's sense of justice and righteousness is grounded in reconciliation and mercy more than a boot in your backside. We fear God's judgment primarily because we make God in our own image and we know how harsh we would be if judgment was left up to us! If we're totally honest, we all carry around a "sheep and goats list" and we know exactly what those goats deserve ... at least we think we do. I try to remember that no matter what I think of the goats in my life, I know my name is on several goat lists out there and I thank God those folks don't get the last word on me! So we need not fear the judgment of a God who prefers mercy and reconciliation over destruction - we can all be thankful this God is nothing like us.

Jesus' admonition about what criteria makes a sheep a sheep and a goat a goat is often read as a checklist of what we should do. Now I'm not against going out and feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, taking care of the infirmed and visiting prisoners - that's all good stuff. But I think the point lies in not what we do but how we are around the "least of these." I think the quality of our presence when we are with those who suffer is far more important that what we do for them. Jesus' teaching then reflects a quality of how we journey with and empty ourselves of our egos to be fully present with people who are so vulnerable. It's about being humble and journeying with those who are nobodies in the world.

There is no "brownie points for Jesus" program - it's not about what we do as much as it is about who we are in Christ.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Creed or Chaos?

A poem by Dorothy Sayers - lifted from Leave It Lay Where Jesus Flang It

Dorothy Sayers (Creed or Chaos?)

Let us,
In Heaven's name,
drag out the Divine Drama
from under the dreadful accumulation
of slipshod thinking
and trashy sentiment heaped upon it,
and set it on an open stage
to startle the world
into some sort of vigorous reaction.

If the pious are the first to be shocked,
so much the worse for the pious
--others will enter the Kingdom of Heaven before them.
If all men are offended because of Christ,
let them be offended;
but where is the sense
of their being offended at something
that is not Christ
and is nothing like Him?

We do Him
singularly little honor by watering down
'til it could not offend a fly.

Surely it is not the
business of the Church
to adapt Christ to man,
but to adapt man to Christ.