Friday, June 27, 2014

Be Made Clean

Below is my sermon from the closing Eucharist of the 2014 session of the Advanced Degrees Program of the School of Theology at the University of the South, Sewanee, TN.
The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew (8:1–4)
When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.’ 
He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ 
Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Then Jesus said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’
The Messianic secret always confused me growing up. I was raised an evangelical, in a tradition that put a significant emphasis on sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with others. And so I never understood why it was that when Jesus would heal someone, like the leper in today’s Gospel reading, he would tell that person not to tell anyone what happened to him. Perhaps in telling people to keep their experiences of Jesus to themselves, Jesus was simply an excellent early Episcopalian.

This is now my fourth summer up on the Mountain, digging deeply into questions of theology, spirituality and the Christian faith. I have not been keeping this experience to myself, tweeting and Facebooking my way throughout class—sometimes I’m sure to the raised eyebrows of my professors. I have been trying to share with my congregation what it is exactly that I do for these three weeks each summer. I have not been keeping this experience to myself.

And though the relative paucity of posts from others on the ADP14 hashtag would indicate that not many of you have been tweeting or facebooking your way through classes with me, I’m sure that you will also find ways to share with your congregation the good experiences you’ve had in the program this year, the things you’ve learned, maybe even the things you learned that you had been wrong about all along. We clergy tend to be sharers, we have accepted this vocation because of our passion for telling people about our experience with God in Christ.

Jesus Heals the Leper
You know, I’m struck by this leper, the question he poses to Jesus, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” It’s really a statement, of course, a statement of faith that he knows Christ can do this if he wants to, but the unspoken question underneath is… is Jesus willing? Maybe the leper was better about talking about Jesus, than coming out and asking Jesus for the healing he so desperately desired. But that’s getting awfully close to psychologizing the text, and I’d hate to get marked down on exegesis so late in the program.

Except for one thing, I wonder about you. Do you talk more about Jesus than to Jesus? Do you wrestle with papers and newsletter articles and sermons but then spend little time in quiet with Christ? Is there within you, somewhere deep within, beneath the clerical collars, the alb, stole and chasuble, is there a place within you that hurts sometimes? A place you would deeply like our Lord to cleanse?

Episcopalians are wrong, I think, in keeping our experience of Jesus to themselves. The Messianic secret, in all the forms the theory has taken over the past hundred or so years, remains somewhat of an enigma from a Scriptural standpoint. But the evangelistic call of Christ to share the good news is not an enigma. We have to do better at this, we clergy, we have to better equip our people to go out and talk.

But, perhaps, as clergy, we also have to learn that every moment of our life is not sermon fodder. Perhaps we have to know that some of those quiet places in our life are important, that they cannot be neglected, and that we need to hold them between us and God. Perhaps we need to step away from the laptop and seek the presence of Christ. Perhaps we need to stop telling people about Christ and to ask Christ, to ask our Lord, to please make us clean… all those wounded places, the struggle and self-doubt and anxiety… to heal us.

Because I have a hunch that if we did ask him we would discover that he is indeed willing. Amen.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

There is a place for the broken

My June 18, 2014, article for the Grand Haven Tribune, "There is a place for the broken,"
“Oh, I don’t want to go to church. It is just full of hypocrites.”

I hear comments like this regularly from members of a rising group in America: the “nones.” This is those people who claim no religious affiliation — now nearly 20 percent of the population in the United States, including one-third of those ages 18-29.

And, every time I hear this comment, I grimace just a little. Because I know it is true.

I’ve been involved in the church my whole life, active in ministry of some sort since I was a campus minister in college 16 years ago, including the past six as a priest. I’ve seen that the church does indeed have our fair share of hypocrites — those who claim one thing with their lips but then do another in their actions. I’ve seen that selfishness, anger and gossip sometimes seem to be just as prevalent — if not more — in religious communities as in society at large...
Read more at the Tribune's website here.