Benediction Online

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Drinking with Jesus
Mark 10:35-45

The two brothers James and John, sons of Zebedee, were ambitious. They were sure that Jesus was going to lead an uprising, oust the Romans and rule over Israel. And they wanted to be in on it. They wanted to make sure that when Jesus came to power they would too.

And Jesus responded to them in his normal cryptic fashion talking about drinking cups and being baptized. Jesus also used the metaphor of a cup in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed that this cup pass from him. That helps us to understanding more of what he may have meant.

In his little book, Can You Drink This Cup? Henri Nouwen, A Catholic priest, explored Jesus’ metaphor of the cup in more depth. For Nouwen, drinking the cup was not just about accepting suffering but about drinking everything that your life brings you. Each one of us has a mixed life – there are times of great blessing and there are times of suffering and limitation, and often they are simultaneous. Blessing and suffering. We don’t get to choose many of the circumstances of our lives but we can choose how we respond to them.

As we take, hold and drink the cup of life that God has given us we can drink it with abandon and joy or we can sip at it, resisting every taste. Nouwen challenges us to drink the cup to its very dregs, savoring it, both the blessings and the pain. This is what it means to be fully alive, to allow ourselves to experience everything that God brings us. Not to resist the moving of the Holy Spirit, not to resist the openings that come but to let go and trust that God will see us through. It takes courage to drink the cup we are given and many of us hang back fearfully.

Drinking it will mean making difficult choices, perhaps living with times of uncertainty when you don’t know what the future holds and there are seem to be few options, none of them good. Drinking it will demand that you say no to yourself in order to make choices which are more life filled and loving than your small ego wants to make.

Each one of us is given a different life, and the cup you are given to drink is different from the one I am given to drink. As someone who loves to eat, drinking life to its full might seem to mean eating at all the best restaurants, frequently. But as some of you know, I am currently choosing to eat a restricted diet for health reasons. I’m glad to say I’m seeing some good results, but it’s calling on resources of self-discipline and will- power that I didn’t know I had. This for me is drinking my cup. My cup includes the challenges of a hereditary predisposition to diabetes and high blood pressure. Drinking my cup to the full means accepting those limitations because they are part of my cup, and finding the most life-giving and healthy ways to deal with them.

So drinking the cup of life does not mean we say ‘Yes’ to everything. It does not mean that we say yes to unhealthy behaviors and addictions or to nurturing resentments and anger. As disciples of Christ we get to drink a cup which is bigger than just our little personal one; we get to participate in the cup of Christ. That is a huge calling and a huge privilege. As members of Christ’s body we are called to join with him in his work of redemption and in his sacrifice. This is part of the mystery of our Eucharistic sharing – as we share the bread and the wine together we are symbolically participating in Christ’s body and his life blood. Then, as we live our lives Monday through Saturday, living them in the awareness that we are participating in God’s mission, that we are called in every moment to be living the realities of our baptism, as we do that we are participating in the unfolding of the redemption of the world.

This morning we are celebrating a baptism. We are welcoming Bryson into the Church as a full member of the Body. Jesus asked James and John, “Are you able to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" They should probably have answered ‘No”, because they had no idea what they were getting into and perhaps that should be our advice to Bryson this morning - consider saying “No”.

When we baptize Bryson we are not just welcoming her into a social club or a nice faith community. We are initiating her. We are celebrating an ancient sacrament, a rite which has been used by the church for two thousand years to initiate people into the sacred mysteries. In baptism we are each joined with Christ in his death and resurrection. We are translated from the reign of this world into the reign of God. We are made new people and we spend the rest of our lives working that out and realizing it as we continue to participate in God’s mission.

The 1979 Prayer Book provided us with a new liturgy of baptism, one based on the understanding is that the Church is not made of deacons, priests and bishops but of all the baptized. It is as solemn an undertaking to be baptized into the lay order as it is to be ordained into the diaconate or priesthood. And so we have a baptismal covenant, which acknowledges the role that each one of us is called to play in God’s mission as we work for the reconciliation and redemption of the world. In a few moments Bryson will be committing herself to that covenant and it is an opportunity for all of us to remind ourselves of our own baptismal vows and the realities of our own baptism.

This is our participation in the baptism and the cup of Christ. In our baptism we are marked as Christ’s own for ever and called to be active participants in God’s mission. We are given the ability to drink the cup of our lives to the full, not drinking alone, but always drinking together with the Christ who has called us and who is faithful. We become fully a part of something so much bigger than we are.

May God always give us the grace to live into this reality.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Living in the Kindom of God

Last Sunday during Worship on the Wild Side we thought about the ‘Kingdom of God’. Kings and Queens don’t have the same meaning for us as they did for the audience in Jesus’ time – we can perhaps best relate to the concept as we do in fairytales and children’s stories. Of course God is not like the King who loved so much to get presents that he celebrated his birthday twice a year! But perhaps the Reign of God is like a magical kingdom – a place where gospel values are lived out, where it is clear that God is in charge and everyone lives in reconciliation with each other. One Hebrew prophet described it as a place where every man (and woman?) has his/her own vineyard and fig tree to sit under. Another imagined a peaceable ‘kin-dom’ where the lion lies down with the lamb.

Our baptism has moved us from one ‘kingdom’ – that of the ‘world’ into another - that of God. We are called to live all the time as if the ‘Kindom of God’ is real, which we believe it is… it just doesn’t look that way all the time. The more we choose to live in the reality of the ‘Kindom’ the more we will be transformed into the people God made us to be, AND the more the ‘Kindom’ will become real. We bring it into reality by living ‘as if’ it is real.

In the world we are hearing many messages of lack. People are scared. Incomes are down. Business is slow. But in the ‘Kindom’ we know that there is no lack – God has the resources to meet all our needs. Often it takes faith to step out and trust that the ‘Kindom’ is real. When we become less generous because we are listening to the world’s thinking, we actually act in a way that reduces the flow of God’s grace in the world. In times of apparent scarcity, God calls us to be frugal so that we can continue to be generous. In times of apparent scarcity, God calls us to be grateful and give thanks for all we have. Whatever you focus on gets bigger. Giving generously and giving thanks reminds us that God’s love is abundant at all times.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

A young monk came to a revered and ancient desert father and said, “I have sat in my cell. I have done all my spiritual exercises. What now?” The older monk raised up his hands and from the end of each finger came a flame. “Why not become entirely fire?” he said.

Jesus told the young man in today’s gospel reading that although he had kept all the rules and lived a virtuous life, he lacked one thing. That one thing was keeping him from fully entering into the kindom of God. For the young man it was his wealth. It might have been something else.

What is it that keeps you from becoming entirely fire?

What is it that keeps you from fully entering into the kindom of God?

These are not questions that most of us can answer quickly, sitting in the pew on a Sunday morning. They are questions that require prayer and soul searching.

I suggest you take one of the two questions and sit down with a piece of paper. Asking the Holy Spirit to guide you, write down your answer. Ask the same question again and once again write down your answer. Continue with this until when you ask the question there are no more answers.

Then ask the Holy Spirit to gracefully remove those blocks from your heart so that you may enter more fully into God’s grace and God’s presence.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

St Francis of Assisi

Today we are honoring the memory of St Francis of Assisi. Mostly we think of St Francis as a friend of animals and birds, so that’s why we choose his day to especially honor our companion animals. But there is much more to his story. Francis was born at the end of the 12th century, one of seven children whose father was a wealthy cloth merchant. Francis became a troubadour and lived a busy and affluent life until he began to have spiritual experiences. For a while this led him to nurse lepers and then one day he heard the voice of Jesus telling him to repair the church. Francis took this quite literally and much to his father’s annoyance, sold his horse and a great deal of cloth to pay to rebuild the church he was praying in at the time.

Shortly after this, when he was about 28, Francis dedicated himself to a life of poverty and started to travel around with a group of followers, preaching repentance and the Kingdom of God. This was the beginning of what we now know as the Franciscan order, which has of course had a tremendous influence upon California through the establishment of the missions. Francis did not intend to create a monastic order. Whereas St Benedict emphasized living in community and staying in one place, the original Franciscans were transient beggars. I am going to return to this but first here are a couple more interesting things about Francis; he was the first person to create a three-dimensional crèche at Christmas, which he did using live animals with a manger between them filled with straw. And in 1219 he went to Egypt and attempted to convert Muslims. This is pretty amazing because this was the time of the Crusades when Muslims were basically seen as enemies to be killed. He was unsuccessful but made a good impression and developed a relationship of respect with the Sultan Melek-el-Kamel. As a result, at the end of the Crusades, the Franciscans were the only Catholics allowed to stay on in the Holy Land when it was claimed as Muslim territory.

So back to the original Franciscans who were beggars. They chose to live in poverty because they believed that this brought them closer to God, that poverty was an aspect of holiness. In a passage a little before the one we just heard from Matthew’s gospel, Jesus sends the disciples out on mission and tells them not to take anything with them. St Francis took this literally and personally. He took to the road, preaching, with nothing.
This idea that holiness and poverty are connected is one of two quite different approaches in the Bible and Christian tradition towards money. The other is the idea we often hear expressed in the Psalms and other books of the Old Testament, that God blesses with prosperity those who follow God’s laws. This has been developed into a whole prosperity theology where people are motivated to follow God by thinking that they will be better off financially. If you follow that to its natural conclusion it suggests that all good Christians are rich.

So holiness involves poverty OR holiness results in being rich. Which is right?
I would like to think that holiness makes one rich! But of course, Jesus was not rich and you can’t get much holier than that.

I think it may be one of those ‘you can’t get there from here’ questions.

But as 21st century Christians, what do we think about money?
Some of us feel that spirituality and money are two quite different things. We don’t come to church to talk about money. Money is perhaps dirty in some way. I have a friend who thought that priests wash their hands just before celebrating the Eucharist because they needed to wash off the dirt of the collection plate!

I want to suggest to you that our attitude to money is integral to our spirituality. Because spirituality is not something holy that happens only on Sundays or only in certain activities like prayer and Bible Study. Spirituality pervades every part of our lives. The way we look after our homes, the way we spend our time, the quality of our relationships and how we use money. Money is a medium of exchange. It is a convenient way to exchange time and goods without having to barter. Put another way, money is energy that we exchange with others. So money is always relational.

By living as a beggar, St Francis had to depend on God to provide for him – through other people. That is the same for all of us. We know that money is not security. Even if we have plenty on the bank we are still dependent upon God because it is God who supplies all our needs, not the financial system which as we have recently seen, is very vulnerable.

We have been given different skills and abilities and some of us are more rewarded for our skills than others. But even those of us who are financially rewarded for what we can do are living in pride and denial if we think that we are providing for ourselves and our families without God being involved. God gave us the skills and talents that we have and God has provided the opportunities for us to use them. Our lives are very fragile and when we continue in good fortune we can be grateful to God for what Garrison Keiler has called ‘the good times of our lives’.

Others of us are not living in the good times. We are living in hard times and money is difficult to come by. Does this mean that God loves us less? Not at all – the gospels suggest that God actually has a very special place in her heart for those who are poor and struggling. God’s blessing comes in many ways and financial prosperity is NOT an indication of how much God loves you, nor how special you are.

So as followers of Christ we know that we are dependent upon God for everything, and that includes money. We have been given everything we have. It is not ours but a gift held in stewardship. This is radical thinking. Just as it was radical for St Francis to leave his wealthy family and become a beggar, so it is radical for us to turn our thinking 180 degrees and understand that we are completely dependant upon God not just for health and longevity but in every area of our lives. This doesn’t mean for a moment that we give up our free will but that we are co-creators with God who is the Source; God who is the Source of all things.

The way we use the money we have is an indication of our values. When we are living in fear we will hold on to what we have and guard it jealously. When we are living entirely trusting in God we will be generous and able to share what we have with others. When we are truly confident that God’s love encompasses and holds us up then we will be able to give recklessly and without fear. Giving money away without tightly controlling how it is spent is a way of trusting in God’s loving care. When we give, we send a powerful message to our unconscious minds that we have enough and that we are trusting God. When we give, we imitate God, which is our highest calling.

I’m glad that we are not all called to become beggars, but St Francis’ life of simplicity and total dependence upon God has a great deal to teach us.