the road

faith, jesus, and a conversation on the road

Month: February, 2017

disciplinary rubrics

A sermon for the Sixth Sunday After the Epiphany

Matthew 5:21-37

When we come to the altar, to receive the sign of God that is present in the sacrificial act of Christ which we commemorate through our celebration of the eucharist, we come seeking something. We come hungry for something. We come desiring a moment, an interaction, a connection to the holy that we cannot find in any other way in this world. This is a powerful experience as we come face-to-face with God in the bread and the wine. There exists within this intimate and powerful moment a chance to connect to something that is greater than us, while doing something that is so familiar and instinctive as eating and drinking. And as such, this act should be honored for the opportunity that it provides for us. It should be honored for if we begin to treat it as simply another part of the service, we lose our chance to connect with God in such an intimate and personal way.

We hear from Matthew today, quoting Jesus as stating: “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.” This is our instruction we must consider as we come to the altar to receive the holy communion. This is the instruction that is codified in our own prayer book. For those who are so interested, you can flip to page 409, where under the Additional Directions for Holy Eucharist you will find the Disciplinary Rubrics. The first two rubrics make a lot of sense for protecting a community. The third, however, is the hard one. It reads: “When the priest sees that there is hatred between members of the congregation, he shall speak privately to them, telling them that they may not receive Communion until they have forgiven each other.  And if the person or persons on one side truly forgive the others and desire and promise to make up for their faults, but those on the other side refuse to forgive, the priest shall allow those who are penitent to come to Communion, but not those who are stubborn.”

This is a demanding understanding of the act that happens when we come to the table. It asks the question, if you come before God at the altar with anger in your heart can you actually receive God? And, it answers no, you cannot, and here we have Jesus providing us with this standard. This standard is an important and challenging level which we are expected to rise and meet. This is such a hard standard that most priests rarely invoke it as written. There are often pastoral reasons for doing so, but it is also pastoral to hold each and every one of us accountable to the expectation that is codified here in our prayer book, taking its authority from the lips of Christ.

I find this level of penitence, forgiveness seeking, of honesty, empowering in a lot of ways. Here we have an understanding of the eucharist, an understanding that values what happens at the table at such a high level, that it solidifies its importance and the importance for us to come to this table with our hearts unburdened from the anger and pain of our human existence. God can read what is on our hearts, and it is only when we are honest with ourselves about what is written on our hearts, can we begin to connect with God. God’s grace is a gift that is always present for us, but it requires of us an honesty about ourselves, about our understanding of how we impact others through our actions as much as we understand how others impact us. Grace exists for us when we turn to God, but it does not embrace us if we simply show up with no intention to acknowledge our need for it.

And, it does not require that we are successful, at least not in the traditional sense.

Rather, it requires that we make the effort to forgive, to seek forgiveness from both God and those whom we wrong, and a personal commitment that we will work to correct our faults that have caused this anger to exist between us. This opportunity is because of God’s grace. Our confession, our seeking of forgiveness, our commitment to penitence, requires more of us than we typically give. Our confession, our seeking of forgiveness, requires us to look past the self and acknowledge the reality of the other. Our confession requires us to accept the fact that we have created a broken relationship, a broken system. Our confession requires us to accept the fact that we have created and caused harm upon another. Regardless of intention, regardless of the visible outcome, when we harm another we create a harm that must be acknowledged, so that the other may know that we see the harm we have created, so that the other may know that we know we have done wrong. Our confession then asks us to step out of the world that envelops us and accept the reality that our connections to one another must rely on a deeper understanding in our hearts, and without that connection to one another, we cannot begin to seek that same connection to God.

And, what of those unforgivable hurts, what of those things we do or are done to us that are impossible to forgive? Is there no hope then, when hope is needed most?

We are not asked to forgive everything that happens to us. We are not asked to forgive those who do things that are impossible to forgive. We are asked to seek reconciliation with ourselves. We are tasked with forgiving ourselves for the hurt we continue to inflict upon ourselves, for the blame we put on ourselves for being in such a situation. For when evil is done upon us, it is not our fault. When evil is done upon us, the reality of God’s grace is in the moment where we are picked up and the healing begins. Where we begin to stumble is when we don’t even let that happen, when we refuse to heal our own selves, choosing instead to wallow in the pain and anger of the situation. God does not ask us to face the evil again in order to experience God. But, if we foster a deep-seated anger in our heart for that evil, then we have not accepted the offer to begin the healing process. We do not ever have to face that evil, speak to that evil, be in the same room as that evil, but we cannot go through our lives consumed with anger over the injustice that was perpetrated by that evil against us. Rather, we have to seek wholeness once more through asking God to fill us, as we empty our hearts of the anger that consumes us, the anger that prevents us from experiencing God’s grace.

And, we seek this wholeness in the most perfect way when we participate in the eucharist that is laid before us each week. It may feel like a lot to ask, it may feel unfair for us to have to be a part of our own healing when evil is done to us, but ultimately, we can only experience healing if we are an active part of that healing. We can only experience healing when we are ready to open our hearts once more to the world and to God. We can only experience healing when we make that decision to empty ourselves of our anger at ourselves, when we make that decision to begin to empty ourselves of our anger at the evil done to us, for it is in our emptying that we can be filled again with the love and grace that God offers to us. Love and grace which are offered to us whenever and wherever we seek, love and grace that God offers to us here at the table.

So, when you approach the altar today, look at what is in your heart. Acknowledge if there is anger in your heart. Acknowledge if there is work you must do in order to reconcile with your brother or sister. Acknowledge the reality that is the tendency of our world to encourage our hearts to fill with anger, greed, lust, and work to empty yourself of these emotions, of these tendencies, so that you begin to create a space into which you can accept the healing presence of God that is present here for us each and every week in the eucharist. The healing presence of God that fills our hearts with courage, compassion, understanding. The healing presence of God that strips away the world and fills us with the holy. Be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and receive your gift.


addition not subtraction

A sermon for the Fifth Sunday After The Epiphany

Matthew 5:13-20

I really like to watch cooking shows on TV. I watch everything from Chopped, imagining what I might do with a basket full of mystery ingredients, to Cutthroat Kitchen, confident that I could walk away without spending a single dollar on any of the sabotages (assuming, of course, that I was good enough to cook whatever they threw at me), to Top Chef, marvelling at the skill and expertise that goes into what is likely the highest level of cooking done in a competitive setting. There is something about these shows, the thrill of competition, the developing of favorite competitors, the feeling (the rather lofty and misguided feeling) that I could do that, at least if I had a little bit of training, and the universality that is food, that speaks to me, and clearly speaks to many a TV watcher, as there are a lot of these shows on the air (my favorites of course being any version that includes kid chefs, because they’re awesome).

One of the biggest sins on these TV reality competition cooking shows, is failing to properly season the dish. You can have cooked everything to perfection, but if the dish is “one note” as they say, as in there’s nothing that distinguishes that dish as an elevated piece of fine dining from what any regular home cook may haphazardly throw together with whatever they could find in the fridge, then you pack your knives and go home. And the one seasoning, above all else that must be perfect, is salt.

Salt has a long history in this world. It was used to cure meats long before refrigeration came into being. It was even used as payment for labor, as it was such a vital piece of being able to sustain one’s self. Today, salt is widely present in our homes. So much so, that different varieties and flavors of salt have been developed. We have fancy sea salts, salt that tastes like bacon, salt that contains iodine so that we can make sure that is in our diets. Salt is still a vital part of our food-based culture. Salt brings flavor. Salt balances extremes to create a harmonious whole. Salt makes sweet taste sweeter. Salt adds to everything that it is in. Salt, the right amount of salt, creates a balance that enables food to shine brighter than it ever could without it.

Thus, when Christ says to the disciples you are the salt of the earth, there is a lot packed into this label. And for us, as followers of Christ, there is still a lot to know and understand from this passage. Our faith, our choice to follow Christ is about addition. Having faith, following Christ, is about taking on something greater than ourselves and committing ourselves to doing and being more in this world. When we come to this table, we are adding Christ into ourselves, inviting Christ to fill us through the eucharist, inviting to Christ to empower us and strengthen us as we head back out into the world to face the challenges that lie before us. Just like how salt is added to a dish to fully unlock the flavors, how such a simple and ancient flavor is worked into the dish to bring forth layers, experience, memories, satisfaction, we too must be like salt and add to this world. We too, as followers of Christ, as tasked with bringing that something extra into this world to create balance, to create a richer experience of life, to create the perfect dish that does not leave the judges wanting more.

And, as the salt of the earth, we must maintain our saltiness.

Our world, the man-made world of power structures, government, community, expectations, hierarchy, are all ultimately about one thing: subtraction. When we look to label ourselves or label others: terrorist, patriot, feminist, misogynist, black, white, liberal, conservative; we do one thing: we reduce ourselves and our very beings. None of us here are the labels that society would like to put on us or those labels we want to claim for ourselves. These labels do not, or at the very least should not, define who we are, what we think, how we interact with one another. And yet, it is in our society of subtraction, that these labels come to stand in for the other, for the unknown, to the point where we are no longer willing to engage with the labels who are opposite of us, to the point where we are no longer willing to engage with the labels who attack, demean, belittle, and criticize us. And this subtraction only further serves to alienate ourselves from each other. We lose our saltiness as we become “one note” dishes. We lose our ability to balance ourselves and each other. We lose our ability to add to the world, as the world is continually stripped away from us.

And yet, salt is not the only way we can add to this world. Salt is not the only way we can impact this world. Our world may be too far gone for salt to make much of a difference on a national or global scale, but, in addition to being salt, we are also the light of the world. And light is also addition.

Light shines forth from the darkness. Light shines forth as a beacon. Light shines into the darkness and guides us out. Light adds the ability for us to see who we truly are, how we want to hide from each other, how the labels that we have developed for our society do not define the individual but rather shroud us in the shadows. And again, as followers of Christ, we are called to be that light in the world. As followers of Christ we are called to shine forth with the light of Christ for all, a city built on a hill that cannot be hid, a light on the lampstand that gives light to all in the house.

If we are to be the light of the world, if we are to begin to draw people back together, enable them to see the joy that is their saltiness, enable them to see how our combined salt can create a dish greater than imagined, then we must be adding to this world. On Friday February 17th this Cathedral will once again try to add something to the world. We will host a refugee benefit concert, benefitting the work of World Relief Spokane. But unlike other benefit concerts where a bunch of white people get together to listen to a white artist and largely ignore the reality of the issue, we will have an opportunity to share this space with the very refugees that have been welcomed and assisted by World Relief and other organizations in this town. This is light bringing for it begins to remove those labels that our society says we must put on everyone. Rather, we have an opportunity to come together as a wider community and simply hear from each other. We have an opportunity to share our gifts with one another. We have an opportunity to be the presence of Christ that we must be as Episcopalians, let alone as Christians. And, we have an opportunity to let those whom we otherwise might not ever encounter, be a presence in our lives, touch our lives, add salt to our lives.

This is how our righteousness will exceed that of the scribes and pharisees. The scribes and pharisees understanding of righteousness was centered on the order, the liturgical precision, the letter of the law, the correct placement of all in their various labels. Our righteousness subverts these norms. Our righteousness is not about subtraction, it is not about clearly defining all into neat and tidy boxes, our righteousness is about the addition of fulfilling the call that Christ lays before us each and every day. We begin to experience righteousness when our salt, our light, is put forth for the whole world. Our righteousness is about following Christ and adding to this world by tearing down everything that stands between us.

We have a unique opportunity in my lifetime, and a familiar if not altered opportunity for many sitting here today, to change the understanding of our society, to change the understanding of the world, as we experience a true flashpoint in our country’s history. We must approach this moment, this opportunity, with the intention to add to the world. To bring flavor. To bring balance. To bring harmony by opening the tongue to experiencing a bite that explodes with beauty, power, grace. If we can do this, shining our light into the dark corners of the world, shining our light into our own selves as much as others so that we may all see each other for who we truly are, stripped of all of the labels and division that society encourages us to maintain and celebrate, then we will be the disciples of Christ in this world. If we do this, then we will inherit the kingdom of heaven.