Wednesday, July 13, 2011


I like to write fiction – creating characters and situations that come to life in the words and sentences I link together. One of my favorite parts about writing is when I realize that what I had originally planned to happen just doesn't fit with the characters I've created and the story begins to write itself. I like to talk about the fiction I write – if you've known me for long you know this (really, she's talking about that again?). I don't like for anyone to actually read my fiction. It scares me – for two reasons: One you might not like it and not wanting to hurt my feelings you just wouldn't say anything and then I'd have to ask what you thought and then you'd dance around what you really thought and it'd just be awkward for both of us … and two, you might like it and tell me how good it is and then I'd have to say thank you and I'm not always good at taking compliments because I don't want to feed my ego too much and and so I'd get embarrassed then it would just get awkward …

I remember when I first started giving sermons and people would come up to me afterward and tell me I did a good job I felt so wrong saying thank you, but I did my best to be polite and not be too self deprecating. I've talked to several priest friends about it and I've come to understand that it's okay to accept their compliments and comments as long as I approach the whole thing from the right frame of mind. I don't write my sermons thinking “how am I going to wow them this time” but by asking God to use my words to speak to those listening. And, knowing from experience that there isn't a lot in Church Land more painful than a badly prepared or given sermon, I try to do my best at both the preparation and the delivery. Proclaiming God's Word deserves my best and nothing less. I've discovered I really enjoy preparing and giving sermons almost as much as I enjoy writing a short story. 

In my studies of Benedictine Spirituality, I've read a lot about humility. Understanding humility is the foundation of Benedictine Spirituality. In his Rule, St. Benedict talks about humility more than any other virtue, he devotes a whole chapter to it that is far longer than any other chapter in the Rule including the chapter on Obedience. Benedict defines 12 steps of humility – a program for overcoming our addiction to putting ourselves above God. Humility is not self deprecating but simply accepting our proper place in the Universe – admitting that God is God. The freedom found in this is that we can stop pretending to be perfect and acknowledge that we have limitations. The other side of this coin is that in acknowledging God as God is to accept that we are His creation, His children whom He loves and wants the best for and we owe Him our best – the best of our skills and talents and abilities that He gave us.

Sister Joan Chittister in her commentary on The Rule says “The Irony of humility is that if we have it, we know we are made for greatness, we are made for God.”

So, I have talents and abilities everyone sees and hears and those which I keep private.  Either way I will always strive give it my best because God deserves nothing less.

God's peace be with you,

Internship Summer Sermon #3: Paradoxes

Sunday, July 3, 2011
Proper 9, Year A

Zechariah 9:9-12
Psalm 145:8-15
Romans 7:15-25
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

I love a good paradox. And, this week’s lessons are full of them: Humble triumph, peaceful commands, easy yokes and light burdens … prisoners of hope. In Zechariah we hear the Messianic prophecy that is referenced in each of the four Gospels as they tell of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on what we now celebrate as Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. The Jews in Jerusalem that day would have remembered what the prophet Zechariah foretold as they witnessed Jesus arriving in Jerusalem on a donkey. And yet, therein lies the biggest paradox of all. They would have understood the meaning behind Jesus arriving in Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey and yet for many, he was not the Messiah they expected. The Messiah was God’s promised redemption for them and yet they wanted a Messiah, a savior, of their own design, one not coming humbly to rule in peace but one who came with chariots and war horses, the exact opposite of the prophecy they knew so well.

For us, sitting here in San Antonio, Texas a few thousand years later, what do we hear in this passage? We might hear things that resound with us as we celebrate our country’s birthday – national pride, triumph and victory, dominion from sea to shining sea (yeah, I know shining isn’t in Zechariah, but it is in Katharine Lea Bates’ lyrics – don’t tell me your mind didn’t put it in there when you read it). We might hear of a time we anticipate when there is no war and no suffering in our world. Just like the Jews in Jerusalem, we might hear a description of the Messiah that is very different from our own expectations or we might hear of a hope that we live with, the hope that holds us bound to God.

Long before Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the donkey’s colt, he knew his ministry and time would be full of paradoxes and contradictions. He did come, after all, to offer a Way of Life that is different from the world – we are to be in it but not of it. These people struggle with aligning their own wants with what they were told to expect. In Matthew, Jesus points this out. They are like children who want to dictate the rules of the game and then get mad when they can’t control what others do. They condemn John for not eating and Jesus for eating. They are experts in the religious Law but have forgotten the basics of mercy and grace, the very purposes of God’s law. They know God’s Law but not God. They have become prisoners of their own ill-fitting yokes whose burden was more than most could bear. They are not prisoners of hope but prisoners of their own struggle to save themselves by being good enough.

To be a prisoner of something is to be under the control of that thing and most often we think of it in negative terms such as a physical prison, an addiction, or an abusive and oppressive situation. Sometimes though we can use the term prisoner in a positive way like when we say “I’m a prisoner of love” meaning we don’t want to be without it. We choose to let our love of another and their love for us to determine our behavior; we give ourselves over to it. Zechariah knew this to be the case with hope as well. Zechariah offered this prophecy up as encouragement to the Jews who had returned to Jerusalem from their exile in Babylon and were in the midst of rebuilding their temple Their hope carried them forward through their struggles, trusting that God would send a Messiah to reverse the powers of the world and deliver and restore his people. He is telling them to let this hope take hold of them and become prisoners of it.

So, how do we, here and now, translate this ancient prophecy, this encouragement to become prisoners of hope? How do we let ourselves become prisoners of hope in the paradox of living in the now and not yet? The Messiah has come and yet we still live in struggle in this world. In the darkest nights of our souls, hope is that faint glimmer that urges us on even when we don’t want to, seeking to know God and trusting Him with our next breath, step, day, future.

But, wait, how can we seek God when Jesus tells us that no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom he chooses to reveal the Father. It sounds exclusionary but it isn’t. Jesus chooses to reveal the Father to everyone who willingly comes to him for rest and relief not power or riches. The rest that Jesus offers is not the absence of work but re-creation, renewal, and the restoring the proper authority of God in our lives. He offers rest to those who find hope in the paradox that God, our life source is the goodness out of which we are to grow into fullness of life and that life is a struggle, from birth to death. Hope is our response to that struggle.

Hope is that which allows us to turn unwanted change into willing conversion; to reclaim powerlessness as willing surrender; to surrender ourselves to the apparent contradiction of peaceful victory and humble triumph without chariots, war horses, or battle bows. We let go of our ideals of what we want a savior to be and accept the one God sent as he is – a humble, peaceful, servant who brings victory and triumph not as the world defines it but victory over a world that presents a false hope that we can save ourselves.

As prisoners of hope we have the freedom to admit our limitations and weaknesses, to admit that God is God and He created us to live in relationship with Him and with each other. We aren’t meant to struggle through life alone but in community so that in those times when we have strength and endurance that others do not have we can help them and vice versa. It is as prisoners of Hope that when we can’t see God we can ask others to point us in His direction because we know he is there; when we don’t have the words to pray, we ask others to pray for us; when we can’t think of a single thing to be thankful for, we can still offer up a prayer of praise and thanksgiving trusting that God is God.

Christian Hope is not the idea that if we believe the right things we will be without struggle in this world. Hope is born out of the struggles of this world and it is through struggle that we develop and grow. Christian Hope is that which enables us to keep our eyes turned in the direction of God even if we feel we can’t see Him, knowing that in the fullness of time we and all of creation will be gathered unto him, free from the struggles through which we have come to know Him.

Jesus taught in parables and paradoxes. His sermons and words often require us to struggle with the meaning. He didn’t do this to keep the meaning from us but to inspire us to delve deeper into our knowledge of God, to teach us how to seek with hope. Sister Joan Chittister defines struggle as “the process of evolution from spiritual emptiness to spiritual wisdom.” It is the invitation to live from deeper within our souls. Struggle is the foundation of hope.

My prayer for all of us is that we stay bound to the Hope which makes us truly free.