Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sermon; Proper 29A, Christ the King Sunday; Matthew 25:31-46

A few years ago a young woman showed up for service and it was obviously her first time in an Episcopal church.  So we do what we always do with visitors: welcomed her, gave her some information, sat her with a parishioner who could help with the book juggle and Episcorobics, and invited her to coffee hour.  At coffee hour she asked if I had time to answer some questions.  Ten minutes later we were in my office.

I think her first question was, “Why do you wear a collar?  Isn't that Romish?”  This was followed by, “Why do you wear all that other stuff?  Why do you use candles?  Why do you use that red book – don't you trust people to pray on their own?”  And you know where this is going, don't you.

Then she asked what she really wanted to ask, “Do you believe people will go to hell unless they accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior?”  Those may not have been her exact words, but that was her exact meaning.  No matter how it's phrased, there is a concern among some members of Christianity as to whether or not a person has said the magic words – I accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.

I think this goes back to Matt. 28:19, “Go and make disciples of all nations . . .” where these words of Christ are taken to mean less about teaching and learning and more about converting.  I think people who have that theology see their sole purpose in getting people to convert, to save them from hell, and then move onto the next person.  And that is what I mean by “magic words.”  It is simply a formula or spell that, if said (and said correctly), will keep a person from being banished to hell for all eternity.

When I answered her question – Do you believe people will go to hell unless they accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior – with an unconditional and unwavering, “No,” I confirmed her suspicions that every Episcopalian was going to hell and I was the antichrist driving the bus.  But at that point I began to explain my position.  So let's talk about this idea that a person has to say those magic words in order to be saved and why that isn't necessarily the case.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is John 10:16.  It's part of a larger passage (10:11-16) that I often read at funerals.  Verse 16 begins, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.”  This is part of a lengthy discourse where Jesus is talking to some Pharisees and identifying himself as the good shepherd.  The sheep are symbols the people of God.

Jesus does something interesting here: he identifies the Pharisees and the Jews as but one of many folds.  In that identification, the people of God become all sheep, some of which belong to your fold, and others that are part of folds you see as outsiders.  There is nothing in there about requiring the other sheep to come to Jesus; but there is an indication that Jesus will go and get them.

Two weeks ago we heard the parable of the ten bridesmaids.  Remember that there was no difference between the ten – all were invited, all went to the appointed place at the appointed time, and all fell asleep.  The distinction was that five brought extra oil.  In that sermon I said that the five foolish women's lack of oil symbolized their singular concern with themselves, while the extra oil of the five wise women symbolized a willingness to think beyond their immediate desires.  Not everyone who says, “Lord, lord,” will be admitted.

But probably the strongest argument against requiring people to recite those magic words comes from today's gospel.  The parable of the sheep and goats is, according to one source, a summation of Jesus as Christus Rex, Christ the King, reigning in glory at the end of the age.  In this story, Jesus separates the people into two groups: one group is rewarded with eternal life, while the other group is rewarded with eternal punishment.

Look at this parable again.

You that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom because you fed me, you gave me drink, you clothed me, you visited me.  Note that in this gracious welcoming to the kingdom Jesus doesn't say, “Inherit the kingdom because you call me Lord, or because you recited the correct formula, or because you picketed stores demanding that their clerks say Merry Christmas.”

The people who were invited into the kingdom were invited precisely because they did the work of God – feed, clothe, welcome, aid and visit.

Those who were banished from the kingdom were banished precisely because they did none of those things.  Like the five foolish bridesmaids, they had a preconceived notion about the coming of Christ the King.  They may or may not be sure of his arrival at a specific time and place, but they are sure they will recognize him when he does come.  They are sure that because they have said the right words and followed the right protocol, they will recognize him and inherit the kingdom.  Their main concern is with themselves and getting it right.

According to today's gospel, however, that mindset blinds people to the presence of Christ in those around us.  And if we can't see Christ in others, we simply can't see Christ.

This brings us to an interesting question: if anyone who feeds, clothes, welcomes and visits gets into the kingdom, why bother with Christianity at all?

I think we bother with it because Jesus is our best example.  In Jesus we learn forgiveness.  In Jesus we learn suffering.  In Jesus we see grace.  In Jesus we see sacrifice.  In Jesus we see the homeless, hungry, naked, despised and condemned.  If we can see those traits in Jesus, then we should also see those people in those conditions as Jesus.

The young woman in my office was concerned I was leading you all directly to hell because she could see no evidence that any of us confessed and proclaimed Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior.  I am less concerned with magic words and formulas than I am with opening eyes and getting people to see Christ in all conditions and manner of people around us.

On this Christ the King Sunday, let us look for our Savior and King; but let us never lose sight of where he lives.

Amen.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Playoff Game

Two weeks ago I had a first round playoff game and was told that I would have a semi-final game this weekend.  My crew also had a second round game last weekend, but I was out of town for the diocesan convention and my grandmother-in-law's funeral.

When I got home, I received an e-mail from my commissioner telling us that we had been removed from the game this upcoming weekend (today) and that the state had given our association two other games for next weekend.  So, instead of working today, my crew will be working one of two state 6A semi-final games next week.  The other crew will have the state 4A final game next week.

This is a good thing for our association, and it's an honor for these two crews.

In that e-mail from the commissioner, he also requested our presence at a meeting this past Wednesday night.  Most of the two crews were there (my referee had a work conflict that he couldn't get out of, but the U, LJ, HL, and BJ were all present).  He basically wanted to get us ready to be at these games.  Both of them are in the Portland area, and both of them are high profile games.

Which means, "Be prepared to be watched and evaluated from the moment you enter the parking lot until the time you leave the stadium."  Yep, nothing says "Stay Calm" like knowing you are being watched and evaluated at every turn.  On the one hand, it's sort of nerve racking to be conscious of the fact that every move I make will be graded. 

On the other hand though, I won't be doing anything I haven't done before.  The game will still be played on a field 120 yds long x 53-1/3 yds wide with 11 players in dark jerseys and 11 players in white jerseys.  This reminds me of one of my favorite officiating stories of all time.

A veteran NFL official was getting ready for a game with his crew.  The crew had a new Referee (white hat), and this was his first game in that position; and he was nervous.  Nervous to the point of being incapacitated.  The veteran asked him a question: Excluding those of us in the locker room, is there any other person out of the 55,000 in the stands or any of the coaches on the sidelines who are more qualified to wear that hat that you?

"No."

"Do you think you can go out onto that field and referee one play, just one, correctly without screwing it up?"

Giving a little smile, he said, "Well, yes, of course I can."

"Let me tell you something: that's the only way this game will ever be played -- one play at a time."

I will be in Portland next weekend working a high-level, high profile state semi-final game . . . one play at a time.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Time stamped

I realize that not everyone enjoys football as much, or in the same way, that I do.  I also realize that not everyone watches games like I do -- a side effect of being an official, I'm sure.

So I'm not surprised, nor offended, when I invite someone to watch a game and they have no desire to sit out in the cold and/or ugly weather for the sole reason to watch me run around the field.  Mrs. Ref often did that early in our marriage, but she has since become much more discriminating as to when she will actually attend a game in person.  After all, why go to a game in bad weather and listen to the surrounding fans scream at your husband for being an ignorant fool when she can do the same thing in the comfort of her own home while listening to the local radio broadcast?

With that said . . . I posted a link to my last game (a first round playoff game) and invited people to watch it, totally forgetting that people have different ideas of what constitutes "viewing pleasure."  After a suggestion from a friendly reader, I have managed to time-stamp the parts of the game where you could, if so desired, watch me flit around the field doing my thing.

All you need to do is go to the comment section, look at the times I've listed, and then go to that part of the video.  Most of them are rather boring, but there are a few times (a pass interference call, a measurement, a personal foul -- and a whole lot of me under the uprights) that will give you an idea of how I spend my Friday nights during the season.

I'll post more playoff information as it becomes available.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Home Again

Last Thursday the Ref Family drove up to Salem.  I had to be there for our annual diocesan convention.  While I attended to business on Thursday evening and Friday morning, Mrs. Ref and The Kid hung out at the hotel.

Friday morning I introduced the nominees for a variety of diocesan positions.  I was on the ballot for Standing Committee.  After voting, the bishop of the Diocese of Idaho made his keynote presentation.  I don't know the man, but he was very good and I think I would enjoy serving under him.  We then broke for Eucharist.

All in all, that was okay.  Things went relatively well, there were only a few minor glitches.  But I gotta tell you, I'm not a big fan of jazz Eucharists.

Immediately after the service, the family headed out for our long drive to Mrs. Ref's mom's house for the funeral.  If you missed it, my grandmother-in-law died and her service (which I officiated) was this past Saturday.  Due to weather, we arrived late Friday.

During the trip, I was informed that I did not win the election for Standing Committee.  And that was not disappointing news.

Also during the trip, I did some low-level evangelism.  We stopped for lunch at a fast food place and, while standing in line, a worker who was on her break said, "You're a priest, aren't you?"  (I hadn't changed before leaving the convention)

I affirmed I was, and she said, "I need to find a priest to confess my sins and stuff and get right with God."  We chatted for a bit, she got her lunch, I got ours and we ate.  Before I left, though, I gave her one of my business cards with some key words to google for an Episcopal church in the area.  Who knows?  It might work.

Saturday was taken up with the funeral and family things.

Sunday we drove home.  The roads weren't nearly as bad as they were Friday, so we got home at a decent hour.

Monday I was back on the road to a meeting in Cottage Grove.

And today I'm attempting to get caught up with everything that's piled up over those few days:  vestry agenda, bulletins, Christmas music, and drop in visits.

And that's how I've spent my last few days.  Advent is two weeks away.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

First Round Playoff Game

I did some searching and managed to find the archived video of my first round playoff game from last Friday, November 7.  As usual, I'm the Back Judge, so I'm generally out of the picture.  But, if you want to watch, you can watch the game here.

Space History

Tomorrow, November 12, the European Space Agency is scheduled to land a probe onto a comet.

I'm probably going to miss the live transmission/broadcast, but this is way cool.  Here's a video for your enjoyment and information.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Sermon; Proper 27A; Matthew 25:1-13

Why are we here?  We are here, most obviously, to worship God.  We come to hear scripture read and the gospel proclaimed.  We come to state once again what we believe and to confess our sins.  We come to participate in and receive those Holy Mysteries which are the body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

We are also here to learn.  I hope you learn a little about God at each liturgy.  I hope you learn something with each sermon.  I hope you learn more about scripture with each class attended.  And I hope you learn a little about evangelism.  Lest you forget, we are all evangelists.  That is reaffirmed when, at the close of each Eucharist, we pray, “Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you.”

So part of the reason we are here, like it or not, is to learn to be better evangelists.  Last week I talked about the limited number of the Church Militant.  We are called to stand up to principalities, powers and dominions and proclaim the name of God in Christ.  And, like those ten bridesmaids, we are waiting for the coming of the bridegroom who is the Messiah, the Christ.

This parable of the ten bridesmaids, though, is problematic.  Ten bridesmaids have gone to meet the bridegroom.  Right from the start there is an assumption of expectation or promptness.  The bridesmaids had an expectation that the bridegroom would arrive promptly at the specified time.  What happened, though, is that the bridegroom was delayed.

This is where, for me, the parable gets problematic.  The ten bridesmaids all came to the appointed place at the appointed time to meet the bridegroom.  All ten brought lamps.  All ten expected the bridegroom to arrive on time.  All ten fell asleep.  None of them had any reason to expect the bridegroom to arrive at any other time.  But because the bridegroom was late, five ran out of oil and were dubbed foolish and barred from the wedding banquet; while five of them were allowed into the banquet simply because they had the foresight to bring extra oil.

Does this mean that only those who prepare for every scenario are to be admitted to the banquet?  I understand the need to prepare, but how do we know we've prepared enough?  Taken to extremes, the only people who will be admitted into the wedding banquet will be Doomsday Preppers.  Are they the wise ones?

I don't think this is what Jesus is getting at here.  There is certainly wisdom in being prepared.  Creating, maintaining and feeding a savings account or retirement fund is a way to be prepared.  For those living in areas prone to wildfires or floods, being prepared means being ready for those natural disasters to strike.  Being prepared can also mean changing the oil in your car, rotating the tires and having an advanced directive.

But like I said, I don't think that's what Jesus is getting at.

Today's gospel reading is chronologically located in the midst of Holy Week.  Knowing this, we can understand a little better why Jesus turns to end time discussions.  In fact, Matthew emphasizes a final judgment more than any other gospel, and today's parable is the second of four “advent parables” that Matthew gives us during Holy Week.

Advent is the season of preparation.  Advent is the season of slowing down.  Advent is the season of the already and the not yet.  Advent is the season of a delayed kingdom that is already in our midst.  And therein lies the difference between the foolish and wise bridesmaids of the parable.

The five foolish women were told, “He is coming soon,” and went out to meet him, expecting to gain immediate entry into the banquet.  They were ready now.  They weren't concerned with anything beyond the specified time because they had received word he was coming soon.  Not only were they not concerned with any THING, they weren't concerned with any ONE.  After all, once we know when he's coming, nothing else matters.

The five wise women were also told, “He is coming soon,” and went out to meet him.  The difference, however, was in their understanding of the word, soon.  They understood that soon was defined by the bridegroom, not by them.  Consequently, they were were ready for the delay.  They made preparations to be ready for a long time, not just for now.  As with us in Advent, they knew he was coming, but they needed to make the necessary preparations and not jump straight to the wedding banquet.

For us, there are many ways to be wise.  We can be wise with our pledges and know we don't pledge only for today, but for tomorrow.  We can be wise in our evangelism when we understand that bringing more people into the church isn't to improve our numbers and finances now, but should be with the understanding that it is to aid their future spiritual health.

The extra oil brought by the five wise bridesmaids symbolizes a willingness to live into the delayed kingdom.  The extra oil brought by the five wise bridesmaids symbolizes a willingness to think beyond our immediate desires.  The extra oil brought by the five wise bridesmaids symbolizes a willingness to evangelize for the benefit of their future, not our present.

In this respect, I hope we are ready for and living into the delay.
In this respect, I hope we are a wise church.

Amen.