Father

By the standards of this world, this blog has a pretty meager following.  On any given day, not counting those who read posts in their email box or through an RSS feed, only about 80 or 90 sets of eyes lay upon my words.  As I’ve said, however, this blog is such a part of my own spiritual practice that I would write it even if nobody read it.  Still, it is nice to receive feedback from time to time.  Overnight, one of my parishioners read my blog and offered some thoughts on the opening line of the Lord’s Prayer from her reading of CS Lewis.

“Its very first words are Our Father. Do you now see what those words mean? They mean quite frankly, that you are putting yourself in the place of a son of God. To put it bluntly, you are dressing up as Christ. If you like, you are pretending. Because, of course, the moment you realise what the words mean, you realise that you are not a son of God. You are not being like The Son of God, whose will and interests are at one with those of the Father: you are a bundle of self-centred fears, hopes, greeds, jealousies, and self-conceit, all doomed to death. So that, in a way, this dressing up as Christ is a piece of outrageous cheek. But the odd thing is that He has ordered us to do it.” (From Mere Christianity Compiled in Words to Live By)

I find these words from Lewis to be quite interesting in light of the Apostle Paul who, in his letter to the Romans, suggests an alternative way of looking at our calling God “Father.”  In a lesson that will be very familiar to Episcopalians who attend funerals, Paul suggests that we do not approach God as “Father” or “Abba” of our own volition, but through the power of the Spirit.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”

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When Jesus suggests to his disciples that they begin their prayers by addressing God in the same manner he does, it isn’t, I don’t think, about taking on the veil of Christ and thereby being convicted of our own inadequacies.  Rather, to approach God as Father is to come before him with the boldness of faith in the power of the Spirit.  It is to stake our claim as adopted children and co-heirs with Christ.  To begin the prayer of the kingdom by simply calling God “Father” is to embrace our position in the kingdom which should convict us not of our own sinfulness but of our high calling as brother and sister disciples of Jesus and sons and daughters, first-order heirs of God, who are committed to the spread of the kingdom of God throughout the world.

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The Power of “I Am”

What God was asking of Moses at the burning bush was nothing short of a suicide mission.  Go to the Pharaoh of Egypt and tell him to “Let my people go.”  This task would have been difficult enough if Pharaoh was a plantation owner and the Hebrews were a dozen or so slaves, but to ask Pharaoh, the King of all Egypt, to give up more than a million slaves, on whose backs the entire economy of Egypt rested?  You’d have an easier time convincing a sitting American President to deport all the undocumented laborers who ensure our cheap houses and $0.99 heads of lettuce.  As one might guess, Moses is unsure of the possibility of success.  His fear isn’t just of Pharaoh, but of the more than one million Hebrews who only knew the life of slavery.  When they asked, “Under whose authority do you do this?” What was Moses to answer?

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Tell them “I Am” sent you.

The name God gave Moses to drop is a peculiar one.  In time, the name of God would become so sacred, that the four letter word I’ve posted above is not to be said aloud in the Jewish tradition.  When a reader comes to this word, which is transliterated at YHWH, they say, “Elohim” instead.  More peculiar than that, the name God gives is a verb.  Not even Kanye and Kim named their children a verb.  And it isn’t just any type of verb, but an imperfect verb, indicating an incomplete or ongoing action.  God wasn’t, God is.

In the course of human history, the imperfect verbiness of God will prove quite helpful.  When Moses and Pharaoh are going back and forth through the course of ten plagues, it is nice for Moses to know that “I am” is with him.  When the people of Israel have their backs on the Red Sea while the Egyptian army barrels down on them, there is some comfort in “I am” standing there too.  Forty years in the wilderness, the walls of Jericho, the Judges, Kings, exiles, and even Roman occupation are made a little more bearable because “I am” continues to be.  Even as Jesus hangs on the cross, seemingly abandoned by everyone he has ever loved, feeling forsaken by the Father himself, “I am” is still there.

This is good news for those of us who continue to walk in the Way of discipleship.  Nobody ever said life was going to be easy.  There will be financial pressures, health issues, family quarrels, natural disasters, and any number of other stresses in life when things might feel lost, when God might seem far away, when hope might be dwindling.  In those moments, whether you believe it or not, “I am” is there, holding you as a hen protects her brood under her wings, for God is an imperfect verb, constantly active, and never ending.  That’s the power of “I am.”

Know God, Know Love


As much as I want this to be true, it isn’t. God loves even those who claim to know what God hates.

No love?  Then you don’t know God.

I’ve struggled all week with which scripture I should focus on for this Sunday’s sermon.  The truth of the matter is that all three lessons are really, really good.  The story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch is fantastic, in every meaning of the word.  John 15 and Jesus’ words of comfort to his disciples, “abide in me” are always worth preaching.  I was so wrapped up in those lessons, that I almost missed one of the most powerful sentences in all of Scripture, 1 John 4:8, “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

There is a certain “church” based in a Topeka, Kansas that claims to speak for God.  They seem to know everything that God hates, which is, according to 1 John 4:8, an oxymoron.  They are, of course, not alone: just the most well known.  Episcopalians are often tempted to argue that God hates the members of that “church” in Kansas.  “Politicians” and “Pastors” make their way into the news all the time for claiming that this or that tragic event is the result of God’s hatred and anger.  Just this week we’ve hear that the Baltimore riots are the result of same-sex marriage and the Nepal earthquake is because of the pagan faith of the people.

We know that this is rubbish.  We know that those who don’t know love, don’t know God.  And, much to our chagrin, we know that God loves those morons anyway.  The very essence of God is love.  In God, there is no room for hatred.  That’s why Jesus calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  That’s why God sent his Son, not to condemn the world, but that world might be saved.  That’s why God desires that we be grafted onto the vine of Christ, that we might produce the fruit of the kingdom.  That’s why all the law and the prophets hang on a single word: love.

1 John reiterates this in verse 16b when the author boldly claims that “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”  Apart from love, we cannot abide in God.  Apart from God, we can’t bear fruit.  In fact, apart from God, Jesus says, we can do nothing.  It all hinges on our ability to love.  If we don’t know love, then we can’t know God.  If we don’t know God, then we can’t know love.  But, if we know love, we know God, and if we know God, we know love.

Jesus is God – a Good Friday Homily

The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John as well as this homily can be heard on the Saint Paul’s Website.

This whole week has revolved around one question, “Who is Jesus?”  On Palm Sunday, we heard the crowd cry out to Jesus as the Son of David, the promised one who would restore the fortunes of Zion and set God’s people free from their bondage in place at the hand of Rome.  On Tuesday, we heard the question of the Temple Authorities, “who do you think you are?”  In his homily that evening, Father Keith reminded us that Jesus didn’t carry the proper credentials.  There was no ordination certificate hanging on his office wall.  His pedigree wasn’t proper; he was from the house of Judah not the house of Aaron.  His authority to teach what he taught and do what he did was suspect.  On Wednesday we heard of the unnamed woman from Bethany who anointed Jesus as king of her life using tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of nard as the disciples watched, horrified by their embarrassment.  Even on Maundy Thursday, as Jesus and his disciples meet for one last supper, the question remains, “Who is Jesus?”  He washes their feet like a slave, yet he offers commandments like a Rabbi, and calls himself Lord and even the Son of Man, the one promised in the prophecies of Daniel who will be sent by God to reign over his Kingdom forever.  Who is Jesus?  Is he a teacher?  Is he a savior?  Is he a king?

We get three very different answers in the Passion Narrative from John.  To the religious leaders, Jesus is a blasphemer.  His teaching is outside the bounds.  He heals on the Sabbath.  He cares for the outcasts.  He hangs out with sinners.  Jesus is arrested, tried, and convicted on the charge that he is a blasphemer, and so they take him to the only man in town who can mete out the death penalty.  Pontius Pilate is the most powerful man in Israel.  He was appointed by the Romans as Governor of Judea.  Pilate knows nothing of the Jewish religion, and so he doesn’t see Jesus as a blasphemer.  Pilate knows about Jesus thought.  He’d heard of the parade, how he had entered Jerusalem riding on a Donkey, as people laid down palm branches and cried out to him.  To Pilate, Jesus is the King of the Jews.  The crown of thorns, the purple robe, the sign written in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew – everything about the crucifixion of Jesus points to the fact that for Pilate there is no question who Jesus is; the King of the Jews.

Pilate is close to having the right answer, but not quite.  He’s focused on earthly titles, while Jesus transcends the politics of this world.  The definitive answer to our question, “Who is Jesus” comes from the lips of Jesus himself.  When Judas and the detachment of soldiers find Jesus in the Garden Jesus asks them who they are looking for.  “Jesus of Nazareth,” they say.  And Jesus responds, “Ego Eimi.”  “I am.”  And with those words, they all fall to the ground.  Jesus has said the unsayable word, the tetragrammaton, the holy name of God given to Moses from the burning bush.  Moses asks, “Who shall I say sent me to save the Hebrews from Egypt?”  God replies, “I am.”  Who is Jesus?  Jesus is the great I Am.  Jesus is the Holy One of Israel, the Lord Almighty.  Jesus is God.

And now God is dead, hanging from a cross atop a trash heap outside of Jerusalem.  Had Jesus been merely a blasphemous Rabbi, his death would have gone largely unnoticed.  This Friday would be like any other if Rome had simply put to death a rival King.  We gather on this Friday and call it Good precisely because Jesus was, and is, I Am.  Words fail to comprehend the depth of God’s love which brought Jesus to the cross to die that we might have life.  But there is God, hanging dead on a tree.  It is Friday, and it is Good only and always because Jesus is God.  Amen.

His Mercy Endures Forever

The portions of Psalm 118 selected for use at the Liturgy of the Palms are a perfect choice.  The bookend of verse 1 and 29 which are the same phrase, repeated verbatim, make it an ideal Psalm for the Triumphal Entry.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his mercy endures for ever.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his mercy endures for ever.

The second half of that phrase includes one of my favorite words in all of Scripture – hesed – which is translated as mercy, but means something even fuller and richer than that.  This word speaks to the steadfast love of God, a love which is from everlasting and will continue on forever.  It isn’t just that his mercy endures forever, but that his steadfast love, his never-ending compassion endures for ever.  It is a double promise: never ending love that will never end.

It’ll sure look like it has come to an end.  In the course of the liturgy, it’ll take mere minutes before the hesed of God dies on the cross.  In the life and ministry of Jesus, it’ll be just a few days before the people will reject the mystery of God’s steadfast love for the security of the Pax Romana.  Like the Hebrews wandering in the wilderness, grumbling against God and Moses and wishing for the good old days of slavery in Egypt, the crowd gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover feast will seek out the stability of slavery over the vulnerability of freedom.

How often do we make that same choice?  We choose the comfort of our own selfishness or our own victim-hood narrative or our own self-righteousness over the perceived insecurity of God.  Yet the promise of God is love that lasts forever: a never ending love that will never end.

God’s Love for You

Evan Garner has convinced me.  This Sunday’s lesson may, in fact, be all about grace, but grace is a second level experience of God.  We only experience God’s grace because of God’s great love for us.  His love for me.  His love for you.  As I read through the lessons again this morning, the word “love” jumped out at me.

Ephesians 2:4-6 God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ– by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

I had a suspicion about that word “love” and so I went digging to confirm it.  God’s love for us, in all three instances, is the Greek word “agape” which is used all over the New Testament to describe not only the love God has for his creation, but the sort of love disciples of Jesus are expected to have for God, for one another, and even for our enemies.  It is, according to the First Letter of John, the type of love that typifies God.

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God is love – 1 Jn 4:8

Agape love is self-giving.  It is, as Paul writes, patient and kind, not self-seeking, and endures all things (1 Cor 13).  That is the sort of love that God has for you.  A love so deep, so great, so unimaginable that we have to hear about it over and over and over again, and even then, we have a hard time wrapping our minds around it.  God loves the world he created so much that he gave his only Son to restore it, all of it, from the amoebas in the sea to the billy goats on the mountain side, from the baby asleep in a mosquito net in east Afica to the CEO in the corner office in mid-town Manhattan, from me in the depths of my sinfulness to you in the heights of your hopes and dreams, he wants to restore all of creation to right relationship with him and with one another.

God pours out his mercy upon us.  His grace saves us through faith.  That is all true, but before all that, God loves you, and that is more than enough.

How can this be?

If I had to pick the one place where my life intersects that of the Virgin Mary’s, it would be in her initial response to the prophecy of the Angel Gabriel, “How can this be?”  For those of us who strive to follow Jesus on an ongoing basis, there will be moments when it feels like God is pushing us in a new direction and often our initial response is to dig in our heels and say, “I’m not ready.”  Over the last 12 years, starting with my call to ordained ministry on a cold February weekend in Pittsburgh, I’ve had the opportunity to share and hear shared spiritual autobiographies of all shapes and sizes.  One constant in each of those stories is in that moment when God comes calling, the initial response is “Who me?” or “I’m not worthy.” or “How can it be?”

Scholars tell us that this is consistent with the pattern of Old Testament call narratives which include a greeting (1:28), a startled reaction (1:29), an exhortation not to fear (1:30), a divine commission (1:31-33), an objection (1:34), a reassurance (1:35), and the offer of a confirming sign (1:36-37). Moses objected to God in the burning bush, asking God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?”  Isaiah balked crying out, “I’m a man of unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips.”  It is not uncommon for human beings to trust more in their own shortcoming than in the Lord’s ability to provide infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.

Thankfully, the Lord is gracious, full of compassion, slow to anger, and of great kindness.  Mary’s hesitation doesn’t doom her and all humanity to the dustbin of our own sinfulness.  Instead, “nothing is impossible for God.”  God’s faithfulness outweighs even our deepest doubts and fears, if we’ll just let God in.  I should know, for it is through God’s faithfulness and despite my own objections that I’ve ended up an Episcopal Priest serving in Foley, Alabama.  Thanks be to God.