Sunday, March 28, 2010

On Liturgy

As an Episcopalian, I am a member of a liturgical church. "Liturgy," or "work of the people", consists of the rituals we use in worship to bring others and ourselves closer to God. Liturgy, as the definition implies, is an interactive form of worship. Perhaps that is why I lean so much towards it. Liturgy involves most of the senses (all, if you include incense), and incorporates movement in the form of standing, sitting, and kneeling. We sing, pray silently and aloud, and respond verbally to prompts in the service.

In liturgical style, I prefer "High Church," or liturgy rich in vestments, sounds, sacred music, candles and incense. Some people refer to it as "smells and bells". I find that when done well, a High Church liturgy can bring me closest to experiencing the wonder and majesty of God. That's not to say that "Low Church", a simpler form of liturgy, or "Broad Church", which tries to blend aspects of High and Low Church, can't bring people closer to the divine. It's just that to me, anyway, it's like looking at the familial aspect of our relationship with God. That's important, but it seems that we have emphasized that familial relationship so much that God has become familiar, instead of the Creator of the Universe that deserves our awe and reverence, as well as our love. Be that as it may, High, Low or Broad, it's important that we care enough to do liturgy well. Otherwise it's just a bumbling, unworthy display instead of a fitting offering to God.

Does that mean we'll do it perfectly every time? Of course not! We're simply fallible humans who will bumble at times. But we have to put out the effort. Also, when we do slip up, it's best to simply stop, acknowledge the mistake briefly (if necessary) and then, move on.

Peter D. Robinson, a bishop in the United Episcopal Church (not to be confused with The Episcopal Church, to which I belong), say this about liturgy in his blog, "The Old High Churchman":
"I would also note that we should always celebrate the liturgy with dignity and reverence, preferring a modest service done well to an elaborate one done badly. Reverence is caught, not taught. If our services are slovenly, then we should not be surprised if the people do not value the liturgy as they should."

Have a most blessed Holy Week. May you experience Christ's Passion and Resurrection fully in this journey towards Easter.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Reconcile? Who, me?

I've been mulling over Fr. Z's sermon about reconciliation. There are relationships that I wish could be reconciled, but I am so unsure about the other person's openness to reconciliation.

The books and articles I've read about forgiveness almost all say that sometimes reconciliation just isn't possible. So I wonder, how do I reconcile with another person when I don't even know if the other person wants to reconcile? What would a reconciled relationship look like? It certainly can't return to the old, unhealthy status quo. And I know it's not merely tolerance of the other person's presence in the world.

I puzzled over this for a while when an idea occurred to me: I can't control the other person's desire to reconcile. This is something that I can't work on or make happen. God is the reconciler; Jesus, the mediator. The best I can do is to forgive -- truly forgive -- the other person. Then, be open to God's reconciling work.

As I've often heard, we can only work on ourselves; and then only with God's help. I can allow God to mold me into the woman he wants me to be, and let Him be in charge of the reconciliation. I'm guessing that's my part in what St. Paul calls "the ministry of reconciliation."

Well, that's my stab at it. Of course, I could be wrong.

Blessings to you,

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Notes from Today's Sermon by Fr. Z. -- Luke 15:25-32

Wow. Just. Wow.

I love a sermon that makes me think, that adds something new to the store of knowledge I carry. Most sermons are good in the sense that they are reminders of things I already know, but forget. This one was powerful because it added more depth to a familiar story. I had a different interpretation in my last blog entry.

The familiar story is usually known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son. You know, the younger son demands his share of the inheritance, blows it, returns home humbled, and his father takes him back with great celebration. The older son is angry because his no-good brother is welcomed home without any reproach while he slaves along, unappreciated. The father tells the older brother that "all that is mine is yours."

Here's what I got from today's sermon:

Reconciliation -- implies that something is not right, something needs to be fixed. Think about reconciling your checkbook and finding that you're two cents off.

The church, filled with imperfect people, offers us ample opportunities to practice the ministry of reconciliation.

Reconciliation at the human level is limited and imperfect because we are limited and imperfect. True reconciliation goes beyond tolerance or getting along. Reconciliation is like a mediated settlement, but we (humans) are not the mediators, nor do we determine the terms of the settlement.

This story could be renamed "The Parable of the Lost Sons". Both sons disrespected their father, who initiates reconciliation.

The younger son basically tells his father, "If you won't hurry up and die, then at least give me my stuff so I can have fun with it." The outrageous thing is the father's response. He doesn't tell his son to get out (get the (expletive) out, is probably how I might put it), but he gives the young man his inheritance and lets him go out into the world.

The word Luke uses for "property" is "bios", or "life." The father divided his life between his sons. Sounds familiar... like the One who gave His life for us.

The younger son squanders his money and ends up taking a job of feeding pigs, considered unclean by the Jews. He truly hit bottom here.

The older brother was also selfish. He was angry because he did all the right things, but saw his younger brother getting even more upon the younger brother's return. His focus was on himself. Doing right so he can gain something for himself. (Ouch. Sounds too familiar here.)

Neither brother reaches out to the other. In fact, the older brother failed his responsibility: to try to convince the younger brother to let go of his stupid idea of getting his inheritance and running. He didn't try to find his younger brother after the younger brother ran off.

The father (Father) is the mediator, the one who reconciles.

Unlike the older brother of the parable, we have a true Older Brother in Jesus. He seeks us out when we lose our way. He seeks to reconcile us to the Father. In Christ, God reconciles the world to Himself. We have the responsibility to spread the message of reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:19)

The father initiates. His love is outrageous. He gives his sons their inheritance. He runs to meet his younger son when the son returns. He rushes out to plead with older son, when that son is angry and won't join in the celebration.

The theme today is "reconciliation". I find that I have to give up my idea of "justice" in order to be open to God's reconciliation. I have to accept that He has already forgiven me, and that I have to follow that example in how I deal with others who hurt me. Sometimes I'm not dealing directly with someone who's hurt me, but rather, the memory of a past hurt. God's desire is that I allow Him to heal that pain, that I let go of that over which I have no control.

How is God making his appeal through me as an ambassador for Christ? How do we show the world the reconciling power of God? Hmm... that's a tough one to write here. I don't want to get the answer wrong and steer somebody wrong. What I think is that God wants me to step aside, stop talking, and start letting go, start listening to Him. Reading His word, praying, meditation, worship, and Godly counsel are the resources He has given me to help me discern His will.

"Let go and let God," and "Be still and listen."

May your Lent continue to be holy and blessed,

Hey Look! I'm Green! Recycling an Old Post

I wanted to repost this old entry because it relates to the Lectionary reading we had at church today. My next post will have to do with Fr. Z's powerful sermon on this Scripture passage.

Luke 15:25-32 – The Parable of the Loving Father (July 2004, edited Nov. 2005)

Gentle Readers,
This blog entry is an attempt at a sermon I wrote a few years ago. Yes, I do things like this "for fun". It seems to fit in with the rest of the blog, so I'm including it here. Feedback is always welcome.


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

Remember that story Jesus told about the “prodigal son,” the young man who gets his inheritance early and blows it on loose women and fast living? Remember how he decides to come crawling back to dear old dad when his funds run out and finds the pigs’ slop better than his own food? And what did dear old dad do? Say “I told you so”? Lay a guilt trip? No! The old man not only welcomes his son back, but also throws a big party in his honor.

I have heard this parable discussed many times in the context of the father’s great forgiveness of his younger son. This understanding has been and continues to be a source of great comfort. After all, I have often strayed from the right road and I’ve been grateful to those who have forgiven me. I have read this story and placed myself in the shoes of the younger son, being willfully self-absorbed, seemingly bent on self-destruction and then, when that path proved fruitless, being grateful to the Father who always forgives.

But lately, I’ve wondered about the elder son. After all, he was the one who obediently stayed home and helped his father keep the family farm running smoothly. Could he really be compared to the legalist Pharisees, as one study Bible asserts? Was he simply a jealous, ungrateful son? And why did I start to feel like I identified more with him?

Let’s take a look at the situation. The elder son is angry. And why not? His father was overjoyed about the return of his brother and yet, seemed to care so little about him. I could see him standing outside, feeling neglected, ignored, unloved – invisible. Why didn’t his father appreciate all that he had done – the years of being obedient, working hard? Didn’t that count for anything?

Mark Muesse, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Rhodes College, re-titles the story as “The Parable of the Slighted Son.” In his article he describes the elder son as “the one who stays on the farm with his father, tending the cows and threshing wheat while his no-good brother is off whoring god-knows-where. The elder brother has always done what he was supposed to do.”

Muesse continues, “He has played by the rules, obeyed his father, and worked himself to the bone. No wonder he raises hell when the reprobate shows up one day seeking to get back into the father’s good graces… It’s just not fair. What’s the point of always doing what you’re supposed to do if it doesn’t earn you a few advantages?”

The father’s response is telling – he doesn’t try to make his other son feel better by putting his brother down. He doesn’t try to placate him with flattery. He offers no excuses or apologies for his actions. In fact, he seems to believe that his elder son is missing the point – he has never left him; he has never stopped loving him. The elder son has always had access to his father and to his father’s love. The father actually seems a bit taken aback that his elder son has any doubts at all about that.

The younger son receives all the attention at the moment because he hasn’t had the same access, even though he brought it upon himself by leaving the family home and leading a dissolute life. Now the father wants to show his younger son how much he loves him. This celebration is not only a show of joy over his son’s return, but also a tangible sign of his continuing love.

Why didn’t the elder son (as he complained) get a young goat so he could party with his friends? Maybe the father thought that his elder son didn’t need such a tangible sign. Maybe if the elder son were more observant, he would have noticed all the ways – great and small – his father already showed his love. Maybe he simply didn’t ask, “Dad, can I have a goat?”

The elder son has the same misconception about love that many of us have – love is finite. But the fact is love isn’t a pie in which giving someone a large slice means less for everyone else. Showing a great display of love for one doesn’t mean that others are less loved. Love does not exclude – in fact, as it is given, it grows to embrace more. The elder son was not left out of the celebration. He was invited – even begged – to join in. Jesus continues the story … “His father came out and began to plead with him (15:28).”

No doubt the father had been through something like this before. I imagine he didn’t let his younger son go without a struggle. I’m sure he pleaded with the young man to reconsider his decision to take the money and run. Now the situation is similar. But this time it is the elder son who chooses to alienate himself from the family and the father again humbly asks his son to come back.

You see, in this story, both sons got it wrong. Both disrespected their father. Both would have been deserving of punishment. Yet their loving father embraces them both.

We know what happened to the younger son. He showed humility and true repentance by leaving the immoral lifestyle he had been living and returning home. He asked his father to forgive him, knowing full well, he didn’t deserve it. He depended on his father’s love to restore his place within the family. And his father welcomed him back and celebrated his safe return.

We don’t know what happened to the older brother. Jesus leaves the ending open, like one of those 1970s school films where the action stops at a critical decision point. If this were one of those films, we’d probably see a close-up of the older brother’s face as he ponders what to do, then a fade to black.

So what does he do? What do we do?

While we are pondering, let’s consider another title for this story – “The Parable of the Loving Father, the One Who Forgives.” And let’s remember the words of the father – the words of our Father – “you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Blasts from the past

Ignore the garish 80s "fashion". Ack! These are the songs that formed my faith in my younger years, along with Catholic contemporary musicians, such as the St. Louis Jesuits.

Random Thoughts

Last Sunday, we had a Recovery Sunday service. The focus was on our powerlessness, and how our control (power) seeking tendencies create chaos in our lives.

I see being a Christian as a life of paradox.

We are powerless -- over other people, places, events, things, even ourselves at times. However, we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength. (Phil. 4:13) What this means is that any power we have is not ours when we are alone, but is present only through our relationship with God.

We are unworthy -- even to pick the crumbs off the floor -- alone. Yet we are God's beloved children, the ones for whom he gave his Son -- his life -- for us. We are God's honored guests in his house, at his heavenly banquet. It's all about the relationship.

I love this song by Lincoln Brewster. It's based on part of the ancient Jewish prayer, the Shema (see Deuteronomy):

Some family issues are getting closer to closure and my school district interview went well. Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Facebook-less for Lent

I decided this week that I would fast from Facebooking for the remainder of Lent. I feel bereft. (After only two days!)

But I didn't have any time to blog before, and tonight I finally put something here.

And this will eventually appear on my Facebook page, even without my visiting it.

So I'm there, but not there, heh.

Happy Lent!

PS: Got an interview at a local school district this Saturday. Prayers and good thoughts most welcome and appreciated!

A Nice Rendition of the 23rd Psalm -- The Lord is My Shepherd, retold by Rob Lewis

I used this when I taught a Pre-K class in a Catholic School. We have it at home now and I enjoy sharing it with my grandson, S.

The illustrations are charming, if you don't have a problem with God being a big bunny who takes care of the little bunny. The text is understandable to little ones, yet it has a nice, lyrical flow.

Here's the link on Amazon: The Lord is My Shepherd

I'm looking for ways to share my faith with the little guy. Do you start with God first, or do you talk about Jesus? Any particular favorite activities? Right now, I read The Lord is My Shepherd, The Rhyme Bible for Toddlers, and some other children's religious books. We've just started talking about God as the One who made everything. I've taught religion classes, but this is different, more personal, and there's no set curriculum in front of me. So I feel a bit lost as to whether I'm doing it "right".