Thursday, July 30, 2015

Weird Wednesday

You may remember a few weeks ago when I had the pleasure of dealing with the bi-polar alcoholic that ran the gamut from sitting with him in a parking lot from midnight to about 1:15 a.m., taking him to the hospital, listening to him rant about how he hated me and the church while also proclaiming that we were the only place who cared about him.

I dubbed that event, "Manic Monday."

Yesterday we had a very unkempt, scraggly and ragged homeless gentleman who goes by the name of Dust come into the office to talk to me.  During the course of our "conversation," I learned that he was very worried and upset.

"You know . . . there are people who talk in numerical numerals and they're evil.  They've been talking to me about 25 and 47.  Twenty-five isn't too bad, but 47 is really bad and they keep talking to me about that and I just want them to stop talking numerically about numbers because I'm really worried about 47.  Have you heard them talking about that?  Do you know what that means?"

"No, I really haven't.  What is it about 47?"

"I don't know man . . . but I know it's not good.  I need some protection prayers to keep the numericals away from me.  Can you do that?"

"I can do that."

So I flipped through the BCP, found a prayer he really liked, printed it out for him, and sent him on his way with a bottle of water, hopefully that much safer from the people who are speaking in numerical numbers.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Home

Mrs. Ref and I are back home from out trip to Montana, and it was glorious!

We arrived in a rainstorm, but that cleared up the next day and we had daytime temps in the upper '70's to low '80's up until the day we left, when it began to rain again.

We spent Thursday in town seeing a bunch of old friends and getting excited about the many improvements the town has done in our absence -- new curbs and drains, streetlights, lined parking spaces, water meters and other stuff.

And speaking of improvements . . . the former parish replaced the gold-yellow-brown indoor-outdoor carpet with a lovely deep-maroon (wine) carpet, lowered the altar so supply priests will quit falling off the step, re-tiled the parish hall, installed two new stoves and a refrigerator, installed a new back door, painted, carpeted the office and installed a lovely new door giving a clear view into the office.

Friday we had the rehearsal and Saturday was the ordination.  It was spectacular, with about 120-130 people attending.  There were thirteen clergy there, and I would have to say that, other than a bishop's ordination, this was the biggest and most joyful crowd at an ordination that I've ever seen.  And the feast afterward was just as wonderful.

Sunday I concelebrated with the new priest and enjoyed worshiping and being with the former congregation that could.

Like I said, it was a fantabulously wonderful trip and I am glad I got to be there for the celebration.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Back in Montana

Mrs. Ref and I traveled back to Montana yesterday.  This is part vacation and part celebration for an ordination.

When I was Vicar of Christ Church, a deacon showed up to service one Sunday.  Her daughter had just become the vet for the valley, and she and her husband were looking at some vacation housing to spend time with their grandkids.  Turns out they stayed.

After I left Montana for GP she has been doing some good work with with the congregation.  And after about two years of discernment between her, the congregation and the bishop, she is being ordained to the priesthood on Saturday.  So we came back.

And this trip reminded me of this.  Enjoy.



Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sermon; 8 Pentecost/Proper 11B; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Sometimes one wonders what the designers of the RCL were thinking.  Today's gospel passage seems like a desperate mash up of gospel stories because the committee didn't know exactly what to choose next.

In Chapter 6 of Mark we get Jesus' rejection in his hometown, the sending of the twelve, the recalling of John the Baptist's execution, the feeding of the 5000, Jesus walking on water and the healing of many people in Gennesaret.  This is the second longest chapter of the gospel, and there is a lot going on.  Despite that, today's appointed reading conflates the beginning and ending of two different stories.  The first takes place just before the feeding of the 5000; and the second comes from the healing of people post-feeding and post-water walking.

This is why today's passage feels like it doesn't fit together – because it's two chunks from two different stories.  Despite that, what this single reading of two separate passages does do is, if we look carefully, bring together two different aspects of the person of Jesus.

If we ignore last week's gospel reading of John's execution, because it really was a flashback scene interjected into the main story, today's gospel story begins after the disciples have returned form their mission of preaching and healing.  They gather around Jesus to tell him all about their mission, but they are constantly being bombarded with requests from all those around them – so much so that Jesus takes them to a deserted place.

This mini-retreat, however, was not to be.  People saw where they were headed and beat them to their destination.  We could look at this scene and think it's a case of paparazzi gone wild.  But there's more to it than that, and it turns out that the story of John's execution is relevant to today's passage.

Last week's passage gave us a little insight into the system under which the people lived.  It reminded us that the lives of people living under authoritarian rule had no value.  People could be, and were, routinely punished and executed.  Arrested for speaking out against an illicit marriage and executed because he annoyed Herodias, the episode with John last week proved that life was nasty, brutish and short.

But then Jesus shows up.  Looking for a quiet day with the twelve disciples, he is instead confronted with a mass of people.  These people recognize that, unlike Herod, Jesus actually cares for them.  The existing power structure couldn't care less about the people, unless it was to squeeze more money and/or labor out of them.  But Jesus comes and begins to teach them that there is another way.  Willing to pay attention to the people, and willing to teach them, that other role is reflected in his willingness to be a shepherd to the people.  Jesus, not Herod, is the one to lead the people.

The second aspect of the person of Jesus is seen in the second half of today's gospel reading.  It is in this section where the power of the kingdom of God is made manifest.

Gennesaret was, according to one source, a large, open geographic area with many settlers.  Other sources pin it as a specific city.  In reading the passage I tend to think it was an area, but that's beside the point.

The point is that those who were sick were taken to the marketplaces to be healed by Jesus, either by direct contact or, like the bleeding woman a few weeks ago, by simply touching his clothes.  He makes no distinction between man or woman, rich or poor – everyone who touched him, or who was touched by him, was healed.  This was universal health care at its best.

Also notice where these healings took place – in the marketplaces.  Jesus goes to the places of commerce.  By healing people in the marketplaces, Jesus is giving notice that the economic system in place – that is, the buying and selling of goods, working for monetary profit and denying goods to those who couldn't afford it – was going to change.

Instead of seeing people as pieces of a transaction, or as a means to increasing personal wealth, people are now seen as valuable children of God simply by means of their existence.  Love God, love your neighbor.  The kingdom of God is breaking into this world and all are welcome to participate, not just those who can afford it.

So while today's gospel reading appears to be a mash-up of two different stories, it really does serve a purpose.  That purpose is to show us in one concentrated image the vision of Jesus as a compassionate leader of people yearning to be cared for, as well as the vision of Jesus as a radical visionary intent on overturning the status quo and ushering in God's kingdom.

Who are the people around us who might be wandering like lost sheep?  Where might be the places in society that need a kingdom overhaul?

In today's gospel passage we have two examples of how Jesus did it.  Our task is to go and do likewise.

Amen.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Irony . . .

Last week I got a call from a guy who shows up at church every now and then who had obviously been drinking too much.  He was out walking his cat and "just following wherever Fido wants to go" and didn't quite know where he was.

I managed to pinpoint his location, threw on my swim trunks (because they were handy) and a clerical shirt and collar and met him where he was.  I then spent from about Midnight to 1:15 listening to him ramble about everything from drinking to other . . . unhealthy topics.  He calmed down and I took him home.

The next morning a friend of his showed up in my office.  After a lengthy conversation, and a phone call to a counselor, we did a voluntary intervention and took him to the hospital.  The whole ordeal lasted until about 4 p.m.

Last night he called me saying that he had called the police because he was afraid he was going to "do something stupid."  I talked to him with the cops in the background just as the ambulance was pulling up to take him to the ER.  I told him I would meet him there, and did.

Oh . . . and this was AFTER I spent a couple of hours with him earlier in the day at a counselling appointment.

Long story short, I spent about an hour and a half with him and another of his friends at the ER last night.  While we were waiting for the hospital to do their thing, we talked a bunch of stuff out, he called a psychiatrist for an appointment, and it was decided that I could go home, leaving him and the other friend at the ER.

When I got into the car to go home, Margarittaville was playing on the radio.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sermon; Proper 10B; Mark 6:14-29

A man of God was executed today.  Where is the good news?

Today's gospel story is the only story in the gospels that is not about Jesus.  Not only is it not about Jesus, but Jesus isn't even part of it.  But that doesn't mean that it's not important, nor does it mean we can't learn something from it.

In a flashback episode, this story both alludes to previous stories and foreshadows stories yet to come.  Looking back, we are reminded of the episode in which Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  We are reminded of what the people were saying about Jesus – he was John the Baptist raised from the dead, Elijah returned or another prophet of old.  And Herod, in an odd twist, believes Jesus to be John come back to life, sort of a first-century Jacob Marley come back to haunt him.

This story also foreshadows the crucifixion of Jesus.  Like John, Jesus will be killed at the hands of a government official who capitulated to the desires of others around him.  After John's execution, his disciples came and took the body, laying it in a tomb.  After Jesus' execution, a disciple also came and took the body, laying it in a tomb.

A man of God was executed today.  Where is the good news?

This is a rather difficult passage to preach on.  Everywhere else we hear stories of baptisms, healings, miracles and parables.  Stories that can touch our lives with hope or with how to treat our neighbors or with messages of evangelism.  Today we hear of the beheading of John the Baptist.  Go and do likewise?

How did this happen?  First, we need to understand a little about Herod.  One of my favorite websites is despair.com.  This site is dedicated to being the antithesis of all those motivational posters, cups and trinkets that were so popular in the late-80's and mid-90's.  One of my favorite demotivational posters has a picture of a sinking ship and the tag-line:  It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others.  I could argue that Herod deserves his own poster.

Herod was a cunning and conniving ruler, which might be why Jesus refers to him as “that old fox” over in Luke.  He was not as paranoid and ruthless as his father, Herod the Great, who ordered the slaughter of the innocents, executed a wife and three sons and requested the execution of visitors at his funeral so people would have something to mourn (a request that was refused by his children), but he often schemed and plotted for ways to gain favor.  All of this plotting and scheming for ways to gain favor gives me the impression that he was ultimately controlled by outside opinions, pressures and a desire to look good in front of the masses.

Herod was married to Herodias, his brother's wife.  The two met while married to someone else and they both conspired to divorce their spouses and marry each other.  This did not sit well with John and he publicly reprimanded the two of them.  This seems to be the reason he was in prison; attacking the king is generally not beneficial to your personal well-being.  Herod was happy to keep him locked up, but Herodias wanted a more permanent solution.  Herod was not the only one who could scheme and manipulate to get what he wanted.

Herodias comes across as a modern-day (relatively speaking) Jezebel.  The wife of King Ahaz, Jezebel managed to pull some strings in order to have Naboth killed at a party thrown by Ahaz.  She would stop at nothing to achieve her goal of power and control.

In a similar fashion, at a birthday party Herod throws for himself in which members of his court and other Galilean leaders are present, Herodias manages to pull some strings and manipulate her husband into killing John.  Royal courts are notoriously devious, and this one was probably no different.  Herodias took advantage of an unfortunate utterance spoken by Herod and sprung the trap.  And Herod, more concerned with the politics of his court and saving face with those around him, agrees to have John beheaded.

A man of God was executed today.  Where is the good news in this story?

It may be that there is none.  A man of God was executed to satisfy the political machinations of a scheming and manipulative queen.  A man of God was executed because a ruler was more concerned with his political livelihood and career than he was with doing the right thing.  A man of God was executed because nobody at that party was willing to stand up and say, “This is wrong.”  There is no good news in this story.  John is dead.

There may be no good news, but there may be, like the poster I mentioned, a warning.  The question we need to ask ourselves is this:  “How do we maneuver through this world?”  We could be like Herod who plots and schemes to curry favor with those around us in an attempt to continually come out on top.  We could be like Herodias and look for any possible advantage to punish those who offend us.  We could be like the crowd at both Herod's party and the crucifixion who wouldn't stand up for the powerless and innocent in order to save our own skin.

Or we could take an alternate path.  Instead of working to come out on top, as Herod did, we could work to make God known in the world around us, as John and Jesus did.  Instead of looking for any possible advantage to punish those who offend us, as Herodias did, we could look for ways to welcome those who are different and forgive those who offend us.  Instead of walking in step with the crowd and ignoring the plight of those who are unjustly treated, we could strive for justice and peace, respecting the dignity of every human being.

A man of God was executed today.  Where is the good news?

It may be that there is no good news today.  There may be no good news today, but thankfully the story does not end there.  And, sometimes, knowing that the story does not end in despair might be the only good news we get.

Amen.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Morning Weirdness

We had a parishioner who took a bad fall while on a boat cruise around Lake Tahoe.  He broke eight ribs, lacerated his liver and spleen and punctured his lung.  He was eventually transported to Reno for care.  Luckily his internal injuries were not overly serious, nor did they require surgery.  But he did spend about a week in ICU, then another four days in a regular room before coming home.

While he was there I contacted the priest at Trinity Episcopal Church.  He is an interim, as the parish has called a new rector who begins in August.  But this guy was great, made several visits, brought out Communion, and was available as needed.  His name is John Seville.

Yesterday the injured, and healing, parishioner and wife were back at church.  Our quilting group made him a healing quilt and we presented it to him at the 8 a.m. service.  We also had several visitors at that service, one of whom happened to be a vacationing priest named . . . John Saville.

And then this morning after Morning Prayer, I had a guy come into my office to say that he had talked with another Episcopal priest about  helping with a bus ticket home.  I told him I would work on figuring it all out and to come back at 11.  Thirty seconds later he came back into the office to say, "Oh, I forgot to tell you that I have a court hearing scheduled for 1, but I'll probably get off for time served."

Um . . . okay.

So how is your Monday going?