Saturday, March 12, 2011

Too Elementary

One of the questions I get asked the most when someone finds out that I'm a priest is, "Do you ever get nervous when you have to preach?"  I still remember preparing for my  first sermon.  I was so nervous, I forgot to close the door when I left the house that morning.  Now, I have certainly come a long way since then and have quite a bit more confidence when I preach, but there is still a bit of apprehension that I think may be there to stay.

I often ask myself why I have such apprehension.  Over a period of time, I have come to realize that the apprehension I feel is a good thing.  It ensures that I think carefully before I go in front of the congregation to speak on God's Word.  Once I say something in a sermon, I cannot un-say it.  Those words are out there for everyone to hear and have a chance of affecting the lives of those who hear them, either positively or negatively.  That's quite a responsibility and one I take seriously.
But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. -Matthew 15:18-20a
The apprehension doesn't come from a fear that I may be preaching with evil intentions.  The apprehension is born out of a fear that I may be preaching too much my own intentions and not allowing God's voice to come through.  As I said, however, I believe this apprehension is good, and I welcome its presence.  This apprehension has bled over into blogging and brought along a little something extra.

While I know that my sermons are recorded and posted online, that aspect of preaching is not at the forefront of my thoughts when preparing a sermon.  When I'm blogging, though, I am constantly confronted with the fact that I have posted a blog prior to the one I'm currently writing.  As I continue to mature in my theological understanding, will I one day look back on my early blog posts and shudder at some elementary observation that I once thought was revelatory?  A fellow priest blogger expressed a similar concern, but she also gave a reminder that we are all a work in progress.  As such, we should all strive to be the best we can be now, and rejoice when we find ourselves sometime in the future even better.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Within or Without

What have you given up for Lent?  Perhaps you have taken something on instead.  If so, what have you taken on?  I'm not a psychic, but I have a feeling that many of you have chosen to do or not do something from now until Easter that involves fasting, silence, or sacrifice.  Something that focuses on emptying ones self or life of the things that separate us from God.  While these can make wonderful spiritual disciplines, my extroverted nature makes me feel a bit uncomfortable with them.  I just don't typically get much energy from them, and isn't that what spiritual disciplines should be about?  What is the purpose of emptying oneself if there is no refilling?

I get energy from being with other people.  Every Monday night, I get together with a group of friends for a dinner party.  We don't necessarily do any praying (though I have chanted a grace on occasion), and there is certainly no fasting.  There are none of the things that are typically associated with spiritual disciplines, yet this time is spiritually fulfilling for me.  Monday Night Dinners are times when everyone who comes is given a chance to just escape the everyday hassles of life and enjoy being fully present with friends.  I believe that Jesus got something from being present with the disciples, too.

Jesus called the disciples together and hardly does anything without them.  When Jesus is transfigured, he has some disciples with him.  Even in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus takes disciples to be with him.  Yes, there are times when Jesus goes off to pray on his own, but he spends much of his time with the twelve.  I'm not saying that spiritual discipline cannot take the form of emptying ones self through fasting, silence or sacrifice.  In fact, sometimes it is necessary to do those in order to see Christ within ourselves.  Sometimes, however, it is also necessary to allow ourselves to be spiritually filled by others and recognize that, while there is Christ within us, there is also Christ without.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What's In a Name?

The service for Holy Baptism is one of my favorite services in the Book of Common Prayer.  There's something about welcoming new members into this wonderful family of believers that just resonates with my soul.  The more attentive among you may have recognized that part of my last sentence from yesterday's blog was drawn from part of that service.  Towards the end of the Baptismal Covenant, there is a line that reads, "Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?"  Of course, everyone responds, "We will, with God's help," but what does this really mean?  How can we seek and serve Christ in all persons?

There are some people in whom we can easily see Christ.  For example, you don't have to look any further than my name to see Christ (I hope I don't need to spell this out for anyone, but, if you're struggling, please see the name of this blog).  All kidding aside, some people just seem to be great examples of Christ.  Seeking and serving Christ in these people is easy, but what about everyone else?  I'm reminded of a part of the passage on the Judgement of the Nations from Matthew:
"[Just] as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me...just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”  -Matthew 25:40, 45
The "least of these" referred to here are the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, those in prison, any one who is marginalized or devalued in our society.  These are the ones in whom Jesus tells us we should seek and serve Him.  It's not about finding people that meet our standards of worthiness and serving Christ in them.  Instead, we are called to find Christ in those we would rather ignore.  Loving the lovable is easy, but only when we can love the unlovable as well will we truly be honoring the vow we take in baptism.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Apple Piety

Yesterday, at 12:01 AM, I was standing in a GameStop near my apartment.  Why?  To pick up Dragon Age II, of course.  A video game that I had pre-ordered so that I could start playing it as soon as possible.  Just a half hour before then, I was telling a friend of my plans.  After first expressing a small amount of jealousy, he then asked (jokingly) if I was giving up video games for Lent.  The answer to that question is a resounding NO, but I had to figure out something, didn't I?

Today is Ash Wednesday, the day that marks the beginning of a church season marked by self-examination, repentance, prayer, fasting, self-denial, and reading and meditating on Scripture.  Many Christians take up some form of spiritual discipline for the season of Lent, usually in the form of not eating sweets or something similar.  This tends to turn into, "Look how good of a Christian I am.  I'm not going to eat chocolate for the next 40 days!"  When I look at a couple verses from one of the readings chosen for Ash Wednesday services, however, I get the feeling this attitude completely misses the purpose of Lent.

Is such the fast that I choose,
   a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
   and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
   a day acceptable to the Lord
Is not this the fast that I choose:
   to loose the bonds of injustice,
   to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
   and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
   and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
   and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 
-Isaiah 58:5-7

The idea behind fasting or self-denial is not to make ourselves feel miserable in order to feel like we are then right with God.  I'm reminded of a line from a song by the Cross Movement: "Cause it's gonna take more than a slice of apple piety."  Instead of trying to make ourselves feel better, instead of making whatever pious gesture we think somehow makes God like us more, we should be doing what we can to serve others.  This Ash Wednesday, I invite you to the observance of a holy Lent by seeking and serving Christ in all persons.