Sunday, November 2, 2008

How Rich Are You?

In today's Adult Forum, I mentioned Global Rich List, a web site that will show you how rich you are in comparison to the rest of the world. All you have to do is enter your salary, select the monetary denomination (dollars, yen, pounds, etc.) and then click Show Me the Money. Have fun!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

To Stand or to Kneel: That is the Question

A few people have asked me about standing and kneeling during worship, so I thought I would write a little something about it. Truthfully, I’ve had to do some research since I don’t know much about the history of standing and kneeling in worship. This is what I learned.

Marion J. Hatchett in his Commentary on the American Prayer Book notes that it wasn’t until the 13th century that some people in Western churches began kneeling during worship. He goes on to say, “Although various editions of the Prayer Book have specified kneeling for very few prayers, it has been the standard posture for both ministers and people during prayers of confession from the time of the 1549 Book [the edition of the Book of Common Prayer that was issued in 1549].” So basically, from a historical standpoint, the only time in the service that the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) consistently directed the people to kneel was when they were confessing their sins.

Now, on to the most recent edition of the BCP that was issued in 1979. The following are the directions for standing and kneeling during Holy Eucharist II:
  • At the beginning of the service, “The people standing…” (p. 355)
  • At the Lessons, “The people sit.” (p. 357)
  • For the reading of the gospel, “Then, all standing,...” (p. 357)
  • At the Nicene Creed, “...all standing” (p. 358)
  • Notice that there is no direction for Prayers of the People or the Confession of Sin
  • At The Holy Communion, “The people stand while the offerings are presented…” (p. 361)
  • At The Great Thanksgiving, “The people remain standing.” (p. 361)
  • After the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy,) at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer, “The people stand or kneel.” (p. 362)
As a general rule, the BCP 1979 indicates that standing is the posture for most activities, offering the option to kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer.

What you might have observed by attending various Episcopal churches is that local practices around standing and kneeling vary widely. Almost always, congregations stand to sing, to hear the gospel read, and to say the creed. Many churches also stand for the Prayers of the People, the Confession of Sin, and for the Eucharistic Prayer, though some churches choose to kneel during some or all of these activities. It has been my experience that local custom tends to dictate when the congregation stands or kneels – what the congregation has done in the past is what they tend to continue to do.

You might notice that I rarely kneel. I have bad knees and discovered many years ago that kneeling was just too painful for me and often distracted me from actually participating in the prayer. While I have observed some people sit while the congregation kneels, I was never fond of that option. If a prayer is important enough to warrant kneeling, then I do not want to be in the passive posture of sitting while saying that prayer. As a result, I choose to stand, even when others kneel.

One of the great things about the Episcopal church and the Episcopal liturgy is that we have options. If you find yourself feeling the need to kneel during worship, it has probably been done by somebody somewhere at some time and it would not be inappropriate for you to do so. If you feel that standing is a more appropriate way for you to engage in prayer and worship, then the BCP indicates that you have the choice to do so.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Reconciliation - Do We Really Mean It?

And can we really do it? We talk about it. We try to practice it in worship - that whole "Peace be with you" thing is about practicing reconciliation. It is about offering peace to the people who are near us, so that we can go out into the world and offer peace to others. Though, the trouble is that it is really easy to offer peace to people in church, especially to people we really like and admire or to strangers who we don't know at all. Offering peace to real people in the real world is lots harder, particularly when those people hurt you.

As I reflect on the readings for this week, especially the Gospel passage which is Matthew 18:21-35, I am thinking about reconciliation in my own life; especially about a friendship that is currently in disrepair. In a moment of confusion and misunderstanding, a friend hurt my feelings and in reaction I have sort of recoiled and kept my distance. And, in this place, I wonder what to do now.

Reconciliation. How do we do it? The culture, and some of my friends, have suggested that my friend's offense was unforgiveable. Their counsel has been that I shouldn't stand for this sort of behavior and that I should just move on. But somehow that seems wrong to me. It just seems like that isn't what God calls us to do.

Reconciliation is not just something we talk about and practice, but we think it is important enough to make it a sacrament. Reconciling is something that has had traditions and rituals around it for thousands of years - read the OT, there are specific rituals for repairing relationships between people, and it was an important part of living in community. Jesus talks about it all the time, as is evident in this week's reading: "How often should I forgive, seven times?" Jesus says, "Not seven times, I tell you, but seventy-seven times." And then there is that "turn the other cheek" business. Forgiveness and reconciliation was not something that Jesus was ambiguous about, Jesus was pretty clear that we do it - we reconcile, we forgive because God does it. God extends grace to us because otherwise we would be a wreck without it. And if God can extend grace to us, then we can extend grace to others.

But dang, can it be hard. And especially when the outside world doesn't understand why we are doing it. It seems weak. It looks to the world like we are willing to be abused. It looks like we don't have any self-esteem. But really, I think it is the opposite. I think the easy way out is to just walk away - I think the weak are those that "just move on." I think it takes an incredible amount of confidence and courage to stay in the dialogue and forgive. Well, at least that's what it feels like to me. It's hard to reconcile, but how can we call ourselves Christians and not be willing to at least give it a try?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Mr. and Mrs. God?

So, who made God? I loved the response that it was Mr. and Mrs. God. Ah, if it was only that easy to find evidence that God was made by another being. But, then again, what kind of being would make God? And does God worship that being? Man, these are tough questions.

What I would probably say to one of my children, and most likely have, is that God did not have a beginning. God was not made, God has always been and always will be.

I have found that children are much more comfortable with mystery than we are and that this is a satisfactory answer, at least for a while.

As an adult answer, I suppose I would add a few things. God is beyond our comprehension. We cannot see God and generally we know God because we have experienced God at work in our hearts and our lives. Thus, we are left with many practical questions about God: What does God look like? How did God come into existence? Where does God live? And, of course, these are questions that theologians and philosophers have been trying to answer for generations.

Many have tried to make logical arguments for God's eternal existence (no beginning and no end). There are arguments about God not having a beginning, therefore not having a maker. There are arguments that God is outside of time, matter, and place, therefore God has always been. There are arguments that God brought everything else into existence, therefore God must have existed before that and without any evidence of another being to create God, God must have always been. And most arguments use scripture to support their conclusions. A quick Google search of "Who made God?" will link you to several interesting articles and blog posts about this topic.

Ultimately, I think as people of faith we recognize that sometimes we don't have a logical answer that comes with irrefutable proof. From what we know of God, from our own experience of God and from what other people have written about their experience of God (either in scripture or in other books), God seems to be more than we can understand. God is beyond our experience of a world that is bound by time, place, and matter. Our world suggests that everything must have a beginning (therefore a maker or a cause) and an end, but that does not mean that God is bound by those same principles.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Who Made God?

Yesterday I got an email from a parishioner. Her 5 year old grandson had asked, "Who made God?" She said that she and her daughter were stumped as to how to answer her grandson's question.

And so, I ask you: Who made God? Is it something that you've ever wondered? What answer were you given when you asked your parents/teachers/clergy person? What answer have you given a child?

I'll give you my answer to her in a couple of days, but I'd like to hear what you think first.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Responding to Jesus

The gospel reading for Sunday, Aug. 3 was Matthew 14:13-21. In this story, Jesus tells the disciples to feed the crowd that has gathered. The disciples respond with fear, "But we only have 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish." Essentially, the disciples are panicked because they don't have enough. Yet Jesus blesses what they have and gives it to them to distribute. When they are finished, more than 5000 people have been fed and there are 12 baskets of food remaining.

The gospel reading for Sunday, Aug. 10 was Matthew 14:22-33. In this story, Jesus walks on water towards the disciples who are in a boat. Peter, in a bold act of faithfulness, asks Jesus to call him to walk on the water too. Jesus responds, "Come." Peter begins to walk towards Jesus on the water, but suddenly aware of his circumstances (and the wind) becomes frightened and sinks. Jesus catches him and pulls him up.

As I reflect on these stories I see some striking similarities.

1. Jesus commands them to do something impossible:
  • Feed 5000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish.
  • Walk on water.
2. The disciples respond either with fear or faith:
  • We don't have enough to feed all those people. (fear)
  • Peter says, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." (faith)
3. The disciples do what Jesus has asked:
  • 5000 men (plus women and children) are fed, with plenty to spare.
  • Peter walks on the water, until he panics and sinks.
What do I gather from this? Maybe a couple of things.

First, it would seem that fear and panic are common responses to what Jesus calls us to do. The disciples panic, sometimes as their initial reaction, sometimes as their subsequent reaction. Panic is not an unusual thing for humans to experience when Jesus calls us.

Secondly, I think that doing what Jesus calls us to do, even when it seems impossible, changes lives. Hungry people are fed. Peter walks towards Jesus on water. Things change when we respond to Jesus' call. In God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).

I'm left pondering what all of this means. It would seem that fear and panic are a natural human response to being called to do the seemingly impossible. But, somehow, if we can believe that Jesus has given us what we need to do what He is calling us to do, things change, the world is changed, lives are transformed. Does this make sense? Do you see the same similarities?

How do you see yourself? Are you the disciple that panics at Jesus' initial request? Or are you the disciple that responds in bold faithfulness at first, and then panics half-way through? (I, by the way, am the one that panics at Jesus' first request and will put off responding for as long as I possibly can. Talk about stuck!)

How do we learn to get past our fears, either initially or in the midst of it all, and allow Jesus to work through us? Is this something that we can practice? Do we learn to be more faithful each time we try?

Let me know what you think.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Changing the Distribution System

Last Sunday, I preached about changing the distribution system. The gospel text for Sunday was Matthew 14:13-21, the story about the feeding of 5000 people. As I read this story, I realized that when the disciples began to panic, "How could we possibly feed all those people? We don't have enough!" that Jesus did not panic with them. Jesus did not give them a pep talk about doing the best they could with what they had. Jesus did not form a committee to try to collect all the food that anyone else might have brought. Jesus did not even perform a miracle and turn rocks into bread or grass into fish. Jesus simply blessed what they had and asked them to distribute it. And there was enough.

As we look at the state of our world today, we see 20% of the world's population (980 million people) living on less than $1 a day and we ask ourselves, "How can we possibly feed all those people? We don't have enough!" But maybe the truth is that we do have enough. Could it be possible that God gave us enough to feed the world? Maybe the problem is that God put us in charge of the distribution system.

One little boy that I read about, Drew Friend, changed the distribution system in his town. You can read about it at Drew's Big Give. I started trying to think of other ways that we can begin to change the distribution system. Here are some of my initial thoughts:

  • Donate food regularly to a local food pantry. And not just a couple of leftover things from the pantry, but a bag or two of real food from the grocery store. (For those of you at St. Martin's, you can bring it to church on Sunday and we'll get it to SPAN for you).

  • Buy a backpack full of school supplies and bring them to your local elementary school. I'm sure that children will arrive at school with nothing and the teachers will know who needs it.

  • Support a child's education in Haiti. For $160 a child gets tuition and meals for an entire year. That's so cheap! Contact the front office if you want to support a child.
Who has other ideas about changing the distribution system? Post some comments, I'd like to learn from you.