Weekly Rector's Notes

Sacraments

The Sacraments
Q. What are the sacraments?
A. The sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.

One of the issues facing us today is simply trust.  We live in an age of inculturated doubt, institutional suspicion.  We could point to practices of suspicion and loss prevention in business and retail settings, the twenty-four hour news cycle, stories of betrayal and criminal conduct. “How do you know that character is bad?”  “Well, he is a man on the Lifetime channel.” 

Baptism

Our life in faith begins in baptism. The church has taught for two millennia that an ontological change happens in our baptism, that we are no longer a creature separated from God, but through death and rebirth in Christ we are made new, and so is the world that we live in.

This teaching is no longer cool, because we believe strongly in the goodness of people who are not baptized, even who are not Christian. We also know of terrible people who have been baptized! So how can we still make this claim with any seriousness?

First off, baptism is our outward and visible sign of the death and birth as a new creation into Christ. But, even at that, it is still an act of new birth. We must "grow into the full stature of Christ." We are not born fully grown physically or spiritually.

Everything in its place. Before you begin to cook in traditional French cooking, you get everything together. A few years ago I started a life project of learning to be a gourmet cook.

Now I grew up cooking. When I was little I would say that I wanted to be a bachelor, so my wise mother would use that as leverage to get me to learn how to clean, cook, and do laundry.

As an adult, I was a decent cook, but I had never learned to sauté mushrooms. So I took up learning to cook with books like Think Like a Chef.

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye against eye and tooth against tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not be against an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be whole, therefore, as your heavenly Father is whole.”

"So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift."  -Jesus of Nazareth

Matthew 5:23-24

There are a few sayings in life that seem to get us to the place of clarity. They seem to cut through our foggy understanding and reach the still place where we truly know.

 

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven."

Matthew 5:13-16

On August 28, 1963, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave a little speech standing under the shadow of President Abraham Lincoln. What we remember from that speech is not the opening, though I always remember the speech beginning with "I have a dream." No, he began with a little history lesson that included promises that had been made and beliefs that still stood, belief in America's possibilities and the promises of our history.

That speech was in fact a great sermon soaked in the language of the Bible and the society and history of its own time. It still stirs our souls long after that time has passed.

While the rest of the world is singing Christmas Carols before Christmas, we in the church sing Advent hymns and wait.  While the rest of the world thinks of the Christmas season as ending on December 25th, we are just getting started on the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Advent is the season of preparing for the Christ-Child to come again.  We prepare for Christ by listening to the Prophets and John the Baptist remind us to bring up the low places and bring down the high places.  "Prepare the Way of the Lord."

 

You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, will, and mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

This summation of the law from Jesus is our guide this Advent. This last week I preached about re-orienting the heart through thinking about dying, being attentive for one minute to each person you are with, and to be seriously disciplined in joy.

A long, long time ago, in a denomination far, far away, I taught youth how to hug each other on Wednesday nights. There had to be lessons and exceptions for junior high boys. It was very much like what Josh & Co. do for our youth at CCA. We would play, talk, and pray. And then we would have assigned hugs.

A few years passed, and I was getting ready for seminary when one of the young women sent me a letter about her first year at college. She had been assaulted and had fallen apart. But that was not what she was writing about. She was writing to tell me about coming home.

Membership. The least sexy of words. Could there be a less appealing word these days? Every grocery store and website wants to call you a member. NPR’s fundraising campaign is now even a member campaign. 

This week I was giving a talk to a school faculty across town about Chinese culture. Important to know about Chinese culture is this idea of guanxi or “the inside group.” Confucius teaches that you should cultivate relationships in specific ways, beginning with set categories that create circles of relations. The upshot of this is that, culturally, Chinese people tend to have one set of relationship rules for people that are close, another for those they know, and another for complete strangers.

Dear Christ Church,

For years I have collected songs about Jesus sung by people who were not always Jesus people. They ranged from hymns to grunge folk to rap, but one of my favorites was by a skate punk group King Missile III named “Jesus was Way Cool” that claimed that Jesus could among other things turn oregano into marijuana. Why? Because Jesus was way cool.

It's easy to laugh at, but every time the song comes my pastoral heart thinks that this isn't far off from what we offer to most people most of the time. Jesus is a superman figure who comes to do cool things and then die and rise again because that is what superman does. Along the way he crushes sin like Lex Luther.

Dear Christ Church,

It is good to be home! Three weeks away is a long time, but I am back in the saddle, though I am not sure I really have control of this horse yet. Christ Church is a busy place. Tomorrow is a memorial service for Beth Spang, a long term member and dear friend as well as wife, mother, and grandmother. Sunday is Day School Sunday, and we are hosting our school children and families.

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