Monday, July 30, 2012

Proper 12

Jesus feeds the multitudes in the day's reading from the Gospel of John (6). Fr. Keith examines the human tendency to see problems and scarcity, despite our experience with a God who solves problems, meets needs, and makes due with what little God's got to work with - which includes us.

Saturday, July 28, 2012


Many things are lost for want of asking – An English Proverb

My heart goes out to the family and friends of all the victims of the recent violence that took place last week in Aurora, CO. So much has already been said and written about the event by so many others that I don’t think I need to add my voice to the mix. Sometimes we honor people best through our silence.

In silence, we mourn for those who died; we commit their souls to God.

In silence, we grieve with those who lost loved ones; we lift them up to God, our prayers rising on a flood of tears.

In silence, we wonder why and how we were spared; we confess our guilt to God – even if we don’t know why we should feel guilty for what someone else did.

In silence, we look at James Holmes and wonder just how sick and twisted he must be to have visited such death and destruction on those whose only crime was a desire to see some magic come alive on a silver screen.

With fear and trembling, we leave his fate to a system of justice that is maddeningly slow, intentionally blind, and as likely as not to both crucify the innocent and set the guilty free.

In the face of this – and other tragedies like it – how should we respond? What might God call forth from us at times such as this?

I think a healthy dose of reverent humility is a good place to start, by which I mean acknowledging that there is a God, and that we humans are not him. We haven’t the wisdom, the will, or the power to change what happened or the capacity of people to do evil things.

We are finite creatures. We are sometimes right, but we are sometimes wrong. We are sometimes good, but sometimes we are also very bad. Sometimes we see clearly, but sometimes we just can’t see a bleedin’ thing. Sometimes we understand what’s going on, but oftentimes we are just plain dazed and confused.

I keep silence because I believe the advice of Mark Twain (Samuel Clemons) that it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt! So I think it is helpful to start with a dose of reverent humility.

The second thing with which we may want to respond is a healthy dose of compassion.

What can we do to help our neighbors in Colorado and our neighbors here at home? We may not be able to do anything, as such, but we can certainly stand, sit, or kneel with them and with one another.

We can spend time with our children helping them understand that bad things often do happen to good people, and that while we cannot always prevent tragedy, we can be of service – helping to bring relief to those in sorrow or distress; we can work for justice, reconciliation, and peace; we can speak for the dead, helping to ensure that they will not have died in vain.

As human beings, our instinct is often to do something or to say something, but being present is every bit as real as saying and doing – and perhaps more so. By being present, one enters into the pain and grief of the other.

So much chatter and busy-work serves to shield us from our own emotions, our own fears, our own sense of mortality. Compassion, though, heightens our awareness of just how fragile life is, and how precious are the people with whom we live, work, and play.

There is nothing good about what happened in Colorado, but if tragedy brings us closer together, if it increases our capacity to love one another a little better, if it helps to make us a little more thoughtful, if it makes us just a bit more patient, kind, and gentle – perhaps it will have served a useful purpose above and beyond whatever goal the perpetrator may have intended upon those caught in the crosshairs of his rage.

Perhaps it will have taught us humility, compassion, and our need for mercy in this, our valley.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Broken Lives

Deacon Duane Leach speaks to the folks at Trinity Church (Jeffers) and addresses the tragedy that unfolded in Aurora, CO Friday night. You may watch his sermon at: 

It was recorded July 22, 2012.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

It's Magic!

“If I were to begin life again, I should want it as it was. I would only open my eyes a little more.” Jules Renard

There is a lot to life about seeing and not seeing, feeling and not feeling, being and not being.

It is my habit to turn my cell phone to vibrate when I am in church or meeting with someone, or when not disturbing others is the polite thing to do. When I’ve silenced my phone, I sometimes feel vibrations where there are none. They are called “phantom vibrations” and they are not caused by the phone. Rather, it is a trick of the mind, and a reflection of how compulsive I am – so attached to my phone (and my need to be “in touch”) that I can perceive the phone doing something it is actually not doing.

We are told to trust our senses, and yet I have learned over the years that we cannot always believe what we see and what we hear. When a magician performs a trick, we know we are facing an optical illusion or sensory deception. The hand truly is quicker than the eye.

I watched a gambler with five dice declare that he would shake the dice under a standard dice cup and the total of dots face up would be six or fewer. He then scooped the dice into the cup on the table, did a magic shake, and when he lifted the cup the dice were all stacked into a single column with a five- spot facing up.

I don’t know how he did it, but there is science behind what he did and a TON of practice.

Science is a good thing. I don’t think I would know a thing about spirituality or faith if I didn’t have the laws of nature and the rules of the universe holding things together in the world around me. Those things don’t supersede the spiritual life (or prove or disprove the existence of God), but they do allow me to remain grounded well enough that while gravity keeps my feet planted on the turf, my soul can soar with the One who gives us both turf and gravity. That’s a good thing, as far as I’m concerned.

In the normal work-a-day world, we don’t need to worry about magic or deception, but we do need to be aware of their presence – not so much in the world around us, but the world within. That’s where I find the phantom menace runs silent – runs deep.

In the external world, I KNOW there is magic and deception. I don’t watch television advertisements because I know the goal of the advertiser is to deceive and mislead. I know a pill won’t clear up my vision THAT much; I know a bucket of booze won’t make me THAT cool, attractive, or athletic; I know one candidate is NOT as evil as his opponent paints him, or as good as his election committee claims he is. So I ignore all such sensory input.

But it isn’t the external world with which I need to be concerned, but the internal world; that is where the real war is waged and the genuine battles are fought.

It’s seldom hard to know what the right thing to say and do is, but I often resist doing or saying the right things. I know kind words will put out a fire, yet my ego demands its pound of flesh and a retribution the other deserves. Experience teaches me that the law of tooth and nail simply leads to bloody nubs and toothless scowls, and yet I would rather continue the fight than to admit the wrong.

And so, in the end, I have to face the fact that I can’t, but God can; I won’t, but God will; and that has made all the difference. I turn my life and my will over to the One who holds title to my life, and whose will is far wiser, gentler, and more loving than mine ever would be, or ever could be.

So I call a truce; I slow down, open my eyes a little bit more and I pray: “God, I can’t; you can; help me let you bring peace in this, our valley.” Amen.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Death of John the Baptist

Recorded at Trinity-Jeffers on Sunday July 15, 2012.

The Audio wasn't the greatest, so below is the text of the sermon:

Our Story Revealed – Trinity July 15, 2012

This morning I had to check the calendar. We don’t usually hear anything about John the Baptist until December when he’s down at the Jordan baptizing the whole countryside; telling folks to repent; and calling the curious looky-Lous a brood of vipers.

I don’t know about you, but I like John. I like his straight-forward manner. At least I like it when he’s pointing out YOUR faults. I’m not sure I would like it if he was pointing out what’s wrong with me, and my life, and my relationship with God. Who does? Who likes it when people point out our faults? Who likes it when people remind us we’re falling short in our responsibilities?

Tell me, if you had a choice, would you rather sit down to dinner with John or Jesus? Who do you think would be the better company? Who do you think would be more fun at a party?

You know, the powers that be didn’t like either one. They didn’t like John, and they didn’t like Jesus. “John’s an old fuddy-duddy,” they said. “Jesus is an irreverent party animal,” they said. One’s too serious, and the other’s got no boundaries.

John was fine when he was down in the valley, but somehow he got up in Herod’s face, and that’s where we find John today. He’s in jail. He’s in time out. It was one thing when he told the neighborhood schmucks they had to change their way of life.  It was one thing when he told the nameless, faceless throng they had to clean up their act (which is sort of what baptism represents – washing away life’s dirt).

It was one thing when John told the folks down at the Silver Dollar their lives stunk like stale beer and old smoke. It was quite another when he told folks in church and synagogue their lives weren’t much better; and it was the last straw when he told Herod – when he told the powers that be – that their lives were just as messed up as the lives of the crowd at the Gravelly or the Longbranch or (even) the Ennis CafĂ©.

The NERVE of the guy!

So Herod threw him in jail, and you and I sit here all safe and comfortable. John’s in jail and there’s nothing you and I can do about it. Whew! That was a close call; because there is nothing scarier than having to get up and do something when we see something wrong.

It’s interesting to note this story comes not only in July, for us, but comes just when Jesus has sent his disciples out 2x2 to preach the gospel, heal the sick, and to cast out demons.

Mark is on a roll. Jesus is on a roll. He just had a bit of a stumble last week in Nazareth where his neighbors turned their backs on him and would have preferred killing him for daring to try to be somebody – for living above his station in life, or for doing things that were clearly above his pay grade and beyond his credentials.

But that’s the way it is in the world. Sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug. Either way, you get a mess and a loss of clarity.

Jesus doesn’t let this hiccough slow him down, though. He tells his friends, “Don’t let their dirt weigh you down. When you’re welcomed, share the peace of God. When you’re rejected, move on. Don’t mix your tears with their dirt and make mud. Life’s too short to get stuck in the mud, so shake out the dirt and move on.”

So it’s here where Jesus has sent out the Twelve, and it’s here where we get the news: John is dead.

Like a wet newspaper slapped down on the coffee table, Mark drops the news; Jesus sends out the Twelve, tells them “Don’t rely on anything more than your faith in God and the grace of good neighbors,” and BAM: “By the way, John’s dead. Herod killed him and wondered if Jesus might be ‘John-come-back-from-the-dead’ to haunt him.”

What happened? Well, it seems that John called Herod out on his “junk.”

That’s putting it mildly. Herod put away his own wife – not a divorce, really, but just shoved her aside – and then took Herodias (who was his sister-in-law AND his niece) and he married her. John said, “Even by your standards, that’s sick.”

So Herod put John in jail, but Herodias wanted him dead. Herod didn’t want to upset the locals, so he kept John around. John was like a little bobble-head toy Herod would bring out from time to time to have a chat with. Herod wasn’t interested in changing or being changed. He just wanted people to know he was very much in charge – show them the hammer – but show them his softer, gentler, kinder side by keeping John alive – an olive branch, if you will.

But as we heard, all that ended when Herod threw a party, and once he and his friends were drunk, he had his own daughter Dance for the Stars, and with ego running rampant – well, you know the story. She danced, he promised, she checked with her mother the Queen, Queen said, “Off with his head,” Princess says, “Off with his head, but bring it on a platter, after all, this IS a formal occasion!”

So what are we supposed to make of all this?
John’s disciples come and take his body away and lay it reverently in a tomb. We get a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own arrest, execution, and burial, don’t we?

Sandwiched between their going out and coming back (the disciples, that is), we get the story of John’s arrest, execution, and burial.

It is a reminder that discipleship can be very costly. It is a reminder that doing the right things and doing good things is no guarantee you won’t be hurt. There is a real danger in naming what is wrong in the world and trying to change it.

The story compels us to ask the question: Where are we in this story?

Are we disciples, relying on our faith and the good grace of our neighbors to share the Gospel, bring comfort to the afflicted, and making the world a better place?

Are we Herod, firmly in charge, and with just enough curiosity to come out once a week to dust off our Bibles and prayer books – just enough for the world to see a little bit of piety and compassion, and then put it safely back into the dungeon until it’s time to draw it back out: next week; same time; same station?

Are we Herodias that wants to kill any thing or any one who dares suggest our thinking or our actions might not be right with God – or just plain sick?

Or are we spectators, sitting at the banquet, enjoying the show, but taking no responsibility for what we see happening – neither placing our hand on the sword, nor holding it up to prevent the evil from even happening?

What’s your role in this story?
What is Trinity’s role in this story?

You will need to answer the first question for yourself.
Vestry will need to answer the second question.

But here is one last point I want you to keep in mind: Each of us takes on each of those roles at some point in our lives – and sometimes all of them at the same time; sometimes the bug, sometimes the windshield, but always messy.

The question is not who we are in this story, but whether we’re willing to become the people God knows we can be, in order to carry out the work that God has laid before us.

That’s the question. And I hope you’ll take your time at coffee and throughout the week to wrestle with those questions, and to come back next week as those who have set their hope on Christ, that we might live for the praise of his glory.” (Eph. 1:10?) Amen.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Unity and Hospitality

How good and pleasant it is when brethren live together in unity! Psalm 133:1

I have looked at this biblical verse many times, and my eye has always landed on that word: unity. It is a powerful word. It is a healthy word. As the psalmist describes it, it is a good and pleasant word.

But then I looked at the rest of the verse and found myself asking: Why is it good and pleasant when “brethren” live together in unity? What about the rest of the world? Does the psalmist not care about others? Is it a bad thing when people who aren’t “brethren” dwell in unity?

Of course, I think asking who my brethren are really misses the point of the whole thing. Cain clobbered his sibling because he saw Abel as a rival for God’s affection; he saw Abel as an “other” and not as a “brother.” How sad.

I don’t think the psalmist is limiting his discussion of unity to people related by blood – families, tribes, or nations. Rather, I think this passage is more global in scope than that. I think it is fair to say that it is good and pleasant when humans live together (dwell) in unity, for unity simply means learning to be at peace with those around us.

Unity is not an automatic. Human beings are selfish and egotistical. Siblings often squabble and fight for their place in the family, while others scrap for their place in the world. We have to learn how to share; we have to learn how to be kind and thoughtful; we have to learn how to develop a peaceable kingdom, if you will. These things don’t come naturally to us. We have to learn them, and one key to learning is a little thing called hospitality.

Hospitality is a spiritual practice; it is one of the ways we learn to discover and develop the bonds of friendship. When you want to know someone better, you invite them to your home. You offer them something to drink, something to eat, and you focus your attention on them. Their comfort and well-being is your goal. They are not a subject to be studied, nor an object to be used, but an equal to be respected.

Hospitality does not come to us naturally, but it is a spiritual practice that can be learned and developed. Is it important? I think so. Hospitality helps us learn to honor differences and to celebrate diversity. Hospitality invites others to share their experience, strength, and hope in such a way that each benefits. Hospitality is bi-directional, so that others gain from what we bring to the table as well. Our bonds are strengthened as we discover what we share in common – even if it only our humanity.

Hospitality is a spiritual foundation upon which we can build a framework of compassion, justice, and peace. The more hospitable we are, the greater is our experience of joy and peace; the better able we are to be charitable and kind; and the stronger will be our sense of unity and well-being.

So, how might one become more hospitable? How might one grow in this area of their life?

First, look for opportunities to join with other people. For every celebration, such as a birthday or anniversary, balance it with a visit to hospital, nursing home, or with those who hurt. Get out of your comfort zone and find opportunities to be there for the “other.” Make “going” your sacrifice of thanksgiving. No, a phone call is not enough; a card is not enough; an email is not enough. Move your body. Spirituality doesn’t get more real than that.

Secondly, be a learner. Invite people to share their stories. Ask them to share their hopes and dreams, and then ask yourself how you might be of service to them on their journey. Do good things and share, says the Bible, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.

That’s the essence of hospitality and unity; at least that’s what I think in this, our valley.