29 November, 2005

Advent meditation

Lo! he comes, with clouds descending
once for our salvation slain
thousand thousand saints attending
swell the triumph of his train
Alleluia! Christ the Lord returns to reign.

Every eye shall now behold him
robed in dreadful majesty
those who set at nought and sold him
pierced, and nailed him to the tree
deeply wailing, shall the true Messiah see.

Those dear tokens of his passion
still his dazzling body bears
cause of endless exultation
to his ransomed worshipers
with what rapture, gaze we on those glorious scars!

Yea, amen! let all adore thee
high on thine eternal throne
Savior, take the power and glory
claim the kingdom for thine own
Alleluia! Thou shalt reign, and thou alone.

It’s easy to see Advent as the end of the year. It’s December. The days are getting shorter. Shopping season has been in full cry for at least a month already. But Advent is the beginning of the church calendar. And, like the first of Steven Covey’s now-infamous Seven Habits, we “begin with the end in mind.” In Advent, we prepare, not for the coming of Christ as a baby—that already happened—but for the coming of Christ in the time when all God’s promises will be fulfilled.

Paul’s first letter to the church at Thessalonica is the earliest piece of New Testament writing, dated c.51. He encourages the Thessalonians, “The Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God…and so we will be with the Lord forever.” The earliest piece of the New Testament points not to the past, but to the future—to the fulfillment of God’s reign.

Since then, our understanding of the universe has changed. We know that above the clouds is outer space, that below the ground is the molten core of the earth, and that east and west, north and south, are ways to understand direction on this madly spinning sphere we know as Earth as it hurtles through the dark. But our Advent hymns, like this one, still use Paul’s description of power and majesty. It may not happen exactly this way, and that’s okay. Though Christ has ascended, he is not gone; he will return, with power and with great glory.

And so we say each Sunday, claiming the faith of God’s people for thousands of years: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

Top 10 reasons to be an Episcopalian

From the home office at 815 2nd Avenue, NYC:

10) No Snake Handling
9) You can believe in dinosaurs
8) Male and female, God created them; male and female, we ordain them
7) You don't have to check your brains at the door
6) Pew aerobics
5) Church year is color-coded
4) Free wine on Sundays
3) All of the pageantry--none of the guilt
2) You don't have to know how to swim to get baptized
And the #1 reason is...
1) No matter what you believe, there's bound to be at least one other Episcopalian who agrees with you.

Attributed to Robin Williams, a card-carrying Episcopalian. No, he didn't invent the phrase "we're like Catholic lite--1/3 less guilt," but he's said it many times.

15 November, 2005

A house of prayer for all nations

On the top of Mount St. Alban, overlooking the city below, is the church of St. Peter and Paul—more famously known as the National Cathedral.

Eighty-three years in the construction, three hundred million pounds of stone, it’s two football fields long. Gleaming smooth marble floors, sparkling stained glass windows, graceful columns soaring up and up and up…you can fit a ten-story building inside the nave. The tallest tower is three hundred feet high, and from its top you can see the whole capitol city. The biggest of the great bronze bells in the tower weighs twelve tons, and, on the quiet of a Sunday morning, it can be heard for miles. Calling out to the city, calling them to come up the hill, calling them to prayer, drawing the city and the nation to know the power and majesty of Almighty God.

The writer of Isaiah was surely imagining this kind of magnificent beauty when he wrote these words: “The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord…who keep my covenant…these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar, for my house shall be a house of prayer for all nations.”

That’s the kind of language that makes you think of grand and glorious plans, noble enterprises. The kind of language that draws your heart and your eyes up, and out, to the power and majesty of Almighty God.

Israel’s self-understanding included taking part in this grand vision. God said to Jacob, in you, Jacob, through you, all the families of the earth will call themselves blessed. Paul says to us that we've been grafted into the tree of Israel. Well, this is how we’re going to take part in the grand vision. To be the shining city on the hill, to build the great temple, the great cathedral, and let the people come.

They were just walking along, minding their own business. Trying to, anyway. Some of them wondering what they’re doing so far from home, feeling uncomfortable in an unfamiliar environment. And then, from behind them, they hear it. “Jesus! Jee-sus!”

Who’s that? She’s not one of us, she’s a local. Man, we just got here. Does anybody recognize her? She didn’t follow us from the last town, did she?

“Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Hey, what’s up with that? That’s a Jewish phrase, Son of David. She’s definitely not Jewish. I really don’t want to deal with this right now. Just keep walking. Jesus, she’s asking for you, can’t you tell her to…I don’t know. She’s making a scene!

But she came and knelt before him. Right there, on her knees, in the dusty street. Bartholomew scowled and looked away. Andrew was staring very hard at anything except her. Philip wanted to dig a hole and crawl right in.

She is everything Jesus was not. Canaanite. Female. Gentile. Despised. Definitely not descended from Jacob. She has that slight olive tint to her skin that speaks of an ancestry from somewhere off to the west. She speaks a different native tongue, and her accent is harsh and grating to Galilean ears. She’s just about as other as other can be. Oh, and her daughter has a demon.

But there she is, on her knees in front of Jesus. Calling him “Son of David.” Calling him by the name that says that she recognizes him as the heir to the throne of David, the one who brings with him God’s power.

See, the problem with building the house of prayer for all nations is that, every so often, the other nations show up.
And get their dust all over your floor.
And bring their demons with them.

One thing is clear from scripture: God’s mission crosses boundaries. The ministry of the church crosses boundaries. That’s what mission means—sending and being sent across significant boundaries of human experience to bear witness to God’s action in Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

This is the end of the season of Pentecost, in which we celebrate the work of the Holy Spirit in the midst of God’s people. On the day of Pentecost, the very first day, the Spirit came with tongues of fire, filled the disciples, and drove them out. And the disciples went out and began to preach in all the languages of the world. Wild, uncontrolled, indeed uncontrollable. Crossing boundaries.

Pentecost reminds us of two big things. First, that mission is not something that the church does, separate from who the church is. As if our identity, our vocation, and our mission were three separate realities. Instead, our identity is found in mission. That membership in the church is membership in God’s action in the world. God’s action that crosses borders and boundaries, that draws the world into covenant relationship with God and with each other.

My house shall be a house of prayer for all nations. Yes, the grand and glorious vision. Yes, the woman kneeling in the dust of the road.

The other thing Pentecost reminds us—and this is the good part—is that Mission is not a good idea. It’s not a task to perform, a duty, an obligation. Mission is what God is up to. Mission is what the Holy Spirit is about, in all its forms and fashions. Mission is us joining in the work of God, enabled by God working in and through us. It is an invitation to a greater understanding of your own identity, an invitation to join with God’s action, God’s work in the world. An invitation to—in the power of the Holy Spirit—cross borders of human experience, bringing God’s grace, and being transformed yourself.

Make no mistake: God is transforming the world. Are you ready?

An invitation appropriate to West Texas

God willin’ and the creek don’t rise

Bishop Gary Lillibridge
will ordain


a priest

Lord, have mercy on the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church

Wednesday, January 11, 2006, 7:00
St. Thomas Episcopal Church & School
1416 North Loop 1604 East (across from the Wal-mart)
San Antonio, Texas

Y’all come.