On serving on the Altar Guild

Hi friends, after church on Sunday, October 29th, I’m leading a training for all current members of our Altar Guild and for anyone who would like to join.  More details below, but first, I want to tell you about all the household chores I did today.
 
Lucy has been out of town visiting our nieces for a few days, so today I set about getting the house ready for her return.  Laundry, washing dishes, scrubbing under the stove’s eyes, more laundry, taking out the garbage, realizing that the garbage bag leaked and then Cloroxing the garbage can itself—you know the drill. 
 
I really like this Lucy’s-coming-home ritual of mine.  Having a day every now and then where I clean everything satisfies me endlessly.  Our apartment at the seminary isn’t that big anyway, so it really is possible to transform the place in just a couple hours.  I open the balcony door and the front door to let the breeze and sunlight move in and out with Zooby as they wish, and then it’s just me, a dish rag, the vacuum, and the slow, careful ordering of our world.
 
               It feels good to take care of the place where you live.  “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15).  After all, part of God’s purpose for human beings is to care for our environment.  Today, for me, that looked like folding laundry and using a little spray bottle to water Lucy’s mysterious air plants.  It’s not glamorous, but there is satisfaction and affection in it.
 
               There’s affection in scrubbing the grimy tiles by the dog bowls because it was part of my preparing to welcome Lucy home.  Not only do I clean and order the apartment because it’s mine, but because it’s ours.  It’s the place where I’ll meet her when she gets back, and it’s the place where I meet her every day after work, every morning when we wake up.  I want it to be ready.
 
               On Saturdays, one of our altar guild teams comes to the sanctuary, and they get everything ready.  They put the bread and wine on the table by the doors for the ushers.  They set the altar book just right.  They lay out the chalices and purificators just so, and they place the paten for the bread on the credence table behind the altar.  They lay out the reserve sacrament, just in case we need more.  They put flowers on the altar.  When the seasons change, they change the hangings to match.  They even fill the preacher’s water glass and cover it with a doyly.
 
               They do all this not only because this place is theirs, but because it’s ours.  The Altar Guild ‘gets the house ready’ so that we can meet each other, and so that, together, we can meet Jesus when he returns.
 
               It’s good work.  There’s washing dishes, folding towels, grocery shopping for flowers and wine and other supplies.  It’s not glamorous, and there’s nobody around watching you do it, but the work is holy.  It’s preparing the way, both for the Lord and for his people.
 
               Again, after worship on Sunday, October 29th, I’m going to lead a training for St. Elizabeth’s Altar Guild—both our existing members and for any of you out there who might be interested.  Coming to training doesn’t commit you.  If you are interested in serving on the Altar Guild, I ask that you be a confirmed communicant of St. Elizabeth who is at least 16 years of age.  If you’re not confirmed, or if you missed Bishop Reed’s visit last week ago, don’t let that stop you!  But know that I will expect you to participate in confirmation the next time it comes around.  The time commitment is usually a couple hours one Saturday per month when your team is scheduled, plus tidying up after service on Sunday that same weekend.  Additional time will be required as needed (around major feast days, for example).  It’s not a huge commitment in terms of time, but it’s work that must be done each week.
 
               If behind the scenes work is what you like, then maybe serving on the Altar Guild is for you.  Or if you’re looking for a way to get more involved but haven’t found the right fit for you yet, maybe this is it.  I hope you’ll consider serving.  Plus, I guarantee you’ll make a friend or two in the process! 
 
               If you’re interested in serving and/or attending the training, please let Laurie Haney know.  She’s our Altar Guild leader.  You can reach Laurie at laurienorene@yahoo.com or (512) 638-0461.
 
God’s Peace,
 
Fr. Daniel+
 

The Altar Party

Hi friends, we’re having a training for acolytes, lectors/intercessors, and Lay Eucharistic Ministers after church on Sunday, October 22nd.  This training is for everyone who currently serves in those roles, but it’s also an opportunity for people to join those ministries who never have before.  If that’s you, I’d like you to consider participating.  So today, I want to write about some of those roles, particularly the folks who wear funny clothes on Sunday mornings: acolytes, Lay Eucharistic Ministers, and clergy.  The work those ministers do has both theological and practical significance, and their dress, roles, and placement during the service reminds us that the Church always has dual citizenship: earth and heaven.
 
First, everything those folks do is both theologically and practically important.  For example, why does a robe-wearing crucifer carry a cross down the aisle as we’re singing at the beginning of the service?  The theological reason is that it signals the reign of Jesus in our community.  Just as a military leader or emperor would lead his people with a big banner or standard of some kind, so too do we acknowledge Jesus as our Lord. 
 
On a practical level, people need to know when the service is starting!  In the earliest years of the Church, the service just started with a reading from the Old Testament.  That worked fine for a while because the earliest Christian communities weren’t very big.  They gathered in somebody’s living room.  But as Christianity grew and more people came to church, it got harder to let everyone know when worship was starting.  Thus, we got processions with music.
 
Second, by wearing white robes and by processing in, gathering around the altar, and processing out, the altar party performs the truth that the Church as we experience it is on earth, but it’s also always a heavenly kingdom.  When we come to the altar rail at communion, it’s as though we’re touching the border of heaven: this is where we meet God and become part of the Body of His Son. 
 
Thus, it fits that the folks who are serving on the altar-side of the rail should look a little odd.  Neither the priest, nor the acolytes, nor anyone else up there has special powers or is more holy than anybody else or whatever.  It’s just that on Sunday mornings, the very architecture of our worship space reminds us that the Eucharist is a border crossing.  We’re not simply on earth anymore, and yet we’re also not simply in heaven.  We’re in both places at once.  It’s even more powerful when lectors in plain clothes come to read, or when the Gospel procession moves out into the midst of everyone: in each of those instances, the border is crossed.  Theologically, heaven and earth all mixed together.
 
The white robes also remind us of our baptism.  In the early Church, when somebody was baptized they were dressed in a white robe immediately after.  This was a symbol of new life, of Christ’s resurrection, that they were now a part of something different.  Clergy and chalice servers and acolytes don’t wear robes on Sunday morning because they’re different but because we’re all different.  We’re Christian people.
 
Plus, serving at the altar is fun!  You get to carry the torches, serve the chalice, even bang the big bell chime.  You’re up close and personal as people come to the altar rail.  That is one of the great gifts of the work I do: bearing witness as people receive the body and blood.  Some people are very somber and reverent, some are quite casual, some remain silent, some say “Amen,” and some—especially kids—say “Thank you!” after I give them bread.  (I usually respond, “You’re welcome!”)  It’s all beautiful.
 
I’d like you to consider if God is calling you to serve in one of these worship roles: acolyte, lector/intercessor, or chalice bearer.  We have acolyte rolls for kids as young as 3rd grade.  To be a lector or intercessor, I ask that you be a confirmed communicant of St. Elizabeth who is at least 16 years old.  To be a chalice server, I ask that you be a confirmed communicant of St. Elizabeth and at least 16 years of age.  I also expect that you pledge financially.
 
I want to be clear about that last one: the amount one pledges is not important, be it $12 a year or $12,000.  This is not some club we buy our way into.  I ask that pledging be part of the practice of chalice servers because I take the distribution of the blood of Jesus seriously.  If one is to help distribute the gifts from the altar, it fits that he or she should be intentional in offering material gifts on the altar.  Furthermore, as ministers who distribute the body and blood of Christ, we make a promise ahead of time that we will offer the bread and wine regardless of who is at the rail, regardless of whether they cross themselves beforehand or are smiling or are serious or have wounded us that week.  To pledge is to do the same: it’s making a promise ahead of time that we will offer our material resources to our community regardless of whether we want to six months from now, regardless of whether we’re upset about something, regardless of whether we won the lottery or are tightening our belts a bit. 
 
Here are the details again: we’re having a training for acolytes, lectors/intercessors, and Lay Eucharistic Ministers after church on Sunday, October 22nd.  If you’re already one of those ministers, this is for you!  If you’re not one yet but are interested, this is for you!  Acolyte families, please contact Kevin Hammond at Kevin.Hammond12@gmail.com Everyone else, please contact me at danielstelizabeth@gmail.com
 
God’s peace, and I hope to see you there!
 
Fr. Daniel+
 
 

The Turtleness of Turtles

Hi friends, we awoke on Monday morning to news of a mass shooting at a country music concert in Las Vegas.  These days we hear too frequently reports of violence of one kind or another.  A knife attack at a train station in Marseille, a van driver deliberately steering towards pedestrians outside a London mosque, the horrible spectacle at Charlottesville, VA in August in which a woman lost her life.
 
Even amongst bloody events like these, the Las Vegas shooting stands out in my mind, not only because of the sheer numbers of people killed and wounded, but because all the details point towards a great deal of forethought on the part of the perpetrator, a man named Stephen Paddock.  A stockpile of weapons, an event in which thousands of people would be close together for an open air concert, and a vantage point far above them on the 32nd floor of a hotel.
 
This last detail bothers me most: the shooter was above everyone.  “Up” is supposed to be good.  Above us are the heavens, the work of God’s fingers.  The rain falls from above.  The sun and moon and stars journey above us across the vast expanse of the Texas sky.  On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descends from above.  Just Sunday night Lucy and I went to Lantern Fest out in Paige, TX, and once the sun went down thousands of us lit paper lanterns with prayers and the names of loved ones written on them, and we sent them into the sky with love and gratitude, as though offering back to God some of the light of His own blessing.
 
As human beings, we carry within us a subconscious awareness that “up” is a metaphor for good.  As James writes, “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (1:17).  The fact that Mr. Paddock fired from the 32nd floor of a hotel above everyone added an extra layer of perversity to what was already atrocious.
 
When I read the news Monday morning, I was still warm with the memory of our Blessing of the Animals at the gazebo the day before, how we had gathered together as a community of God’s diverse creatures to pet and sniff and neigh and bark and pray together.  The simple holiness of that gathering, the stillness of soul that comes with being surrounded by animals’ utter lack of duplicity, the fingerprints of God manifest in the goofy dogness of dogs and the giant horseness of a horse—all of it was still with me when I read the news of just how inhuman things had gotten in Las Vegas.
 
Lucy and I live less than a mile walk from the UT bell tower in Austin.  Some of you will remember that in 1966 a young man climbed into that bell tower with a rifle and did to the folks around UT’s campus the exact thing Mr. Paddock did in Las Vegas this week.  I decided Zooby and I would go there for our walk Monday morning, not because of the tower’s violent past, but because at the base of the tower there’s a turtle pond dedicated to the memories of those who were victims of the attack.  Zooby needed a walk, and I needed the turtleness of the turtles, “the peace of wild things” as Wendell Berry puts it.
 
Most of the turtle pond is tall grass and logs and other swampy things turtles like, but one side is plain concrete where people like me can stand and watch the turtles go about their business.  When Zooby and I arrived, several red-eared sliders paddled over, expecting a snack. 
 
I looked up at the tower, imagining how terrifying it would’ve been at that very spot back when the shooting happened.  Not blessing, not rain, not starlight, but bullets striking down from the sky.  That’s not how the world is supposed to work.
 
Turtles are the perfect animal to live beneath that tower.  In a place where a man with a rifle once shot people down, a pond of hard-shelled creatures carries on, blessing the place with the safety and security of turtleness.  Turtles carry their protective shell around with them everywhere, keeping them safe from whatever may fall.  Indeed, turtles don’t just carry their shells around with them because the very essence of turtleness is to have a shell.  Turtles are made of protection, of the quality of being safe.
 
The natural order of things is for rain and light and blessing to fall upon God’s creatures from on high.  But because the world is broken, and because we human beings are the creatures most prone to enacting that brokenness, sometimes we upend the natural order, and bloodshed rather than blessing rains down.  When that happens, Christians must remember that we are the turtles.
 
I do not mean that we should pull our heads and legs and arms inside and hide, waiting it out.  Rather, I mean that we should carry on with spirits that exude the quality of being safe in the presence of God.  Here’s what I mean: just as nothing derails a turtle from going about the business of being a turtle, Christians cannot let violence derail us from going about the business of being Christians.  Christian communities are little ecosystems called to be so secure in our identity as God’s creatures that nothing, not even a mass shooting from above, alters our in-Christness.  As people, we are made in the image of a loving God, and as Christians, we are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus.  This baptism is our “armor of light,” as Romans says, our spiritual turtle shell (13:12).  In baptism, God remakes us out of this spiritual armor: not only are we made in God’s image, but in baptism that image—our very personness—is remade wholly and securely within the Body of God’s Son.  The essence of turtleness is being made out of a shell, being made out of security.  The essence of Christianness is being a person remade in Christ, being positively made out of in-Christness.  That’s a shell nothing, not even our physical deaths, can break through.
 
 
God’s Peace,
 
 
Fr. Daniel+
 
 

Out of Whose Being are You Doing These Things?

Hi friends, this Sunday is the first Sunday of the month…which means the sermon will be a little different J  I’ll be asking for some volunteers from the congregation to help with a visual aid as we try to better understand our role as human beings within God’s good created order.  Specifically, we’ll be talking about angels, people, and animals—three of my favorite things!  The reason for this is because this Sunday is also our Blessing of the Animals service—2pm at the Gazebo!  Bring your pets…and please keep them leashed or in crates!
 
Since our sermon will be connecting us to St. Francis and our Blessing of the Animals service, I won’t be talking much on Sunday about our lectionary Gospel passage, so I wanted to write about it here.  It’s Matthew 21:23-32.
 
Remember from last week that Jesus has crossed the Jordan River and is headed south into Judea, towards Jerusalem.  In chapter 21, Jesus enters Jerusalem for the first (and final) time.  He goes straight into the Temple and cleanses it, driving out “all who were selling and buying” (Matthew 21:12-13).  Needless to say, this makes some religious leaders very angry.
 
Our passage for this week happens the very next day on Jesus’ second visit to the Temple.  The passage is split into two parts: first, the chief priests and elders ask Jesus by what authority he heals and forgives and drives out money changers.  Jesus gives a sly response: he asks them if John the Baptist’s work was from heaven.  If the Chief Priests say it was from heaven, they must listen to Jesus because John the Baptist testified about him.  But if they say John’s baptism was only human, then they’ll make the crowds angry, for they loved John.  The big question here is authority: by what authority did John minister?  Is he a rogue madman, or did God send him?
 
The second part of the passage is a parable.  A man has two sons and tells each of them to work in the vineyard.  (There’s that vineyard, again!)  In Jesus’ day, sons depended on their fathers for their livelihoods and were expected to obey.  A father provided his sons with work, food, land, shelter, inheritance when he died—in short, the son’s very life, his substance, depended on the father.  Likewise, if a father sent a son on an errand, it was as though the father himself had gone: the father’s ‘substance’ was with him.  (See Matthew 21:37-38.) 
 
The first son says, “No way!”  But then he thinks it over, realizes he is wrong, and works in the vineyard, anyway.  The second son says, “Sure, right away,” but never works.  The issue is one of substance: the first son gives the wrong answer, but pretty soon his true colors show: he is his father’s son.  The second speaks hollow words.  The second son has no substance because he disobeyed: he disconnected himself from his father.
 
There’s a subtle link between the two halves of the passage.  Did you happen to wonder, “Why isn’t there a son in the parable who both agrees to do what the dad says and actually goes and does it?”  It seems to me that Jesus implies that John the Baptist is that unmentioned 3rd son.  Surely, that one would be the best, right?  The one who both agrees to go where the father sends him and actually does it?
 
The question about Jesus’ authority is a question about substance.  If John’s baptism is from heaven, then John the Baptist is like a ‘son’ whom God told to go into the vineyard and work: he’s doing exactly what God the Father told him to do.  And if that’s true, then how much more of a Son is Jesus, the one about whom John the Baptist testified? 
 
There’s the rub.  The Chief Priests (and who can blame them?) can’t fathom that the authority by which Jesus acts is God’s own authority.  Jesus’ authority is even greater than that of John, whom they feared already.  Jesus isn’t simply a parabolic son sent by a vineyard owner into the vineyard.  His Sonship is of a different order.
 
On Sundays, we say in the Nicene Creed that Jesus is “Of one Being with the Father” (BCP, 358).  God’s being is Jesus’ being.  Or, to use the word I used above, God’s substance is Jesus’ substance.  In Greek, this part of the Nicene Creed reads “having the same ousia as the Father.”  Whereas in English we have two different words, being and substance, in Greek there’s just the one: ousia. 
 
This is important because in our Matthew passage for this Sunday, the word for “authority” that the Chief Priests use when they challenge Jesus is exousia.  Ex- means “out of.”  So, when the Chief Priests ask, “By what authority do you do these things,” it’s like they’re asking, “Out of whose being are you doing these things?” 
 
Deep down, we know the answer to that question.  When we read Matthew’s Gospel, we witness at least three responses.  First, there’s terror.  This is how the demons respond: they’ve no problem acknowledging who Jesus is, it’s just that they’re terrified.  (See Matthew 8:29.)  Second, there’s denial.  The Chief Priests are too afraid to let it be true, and their denial ends in violence: Jesus is crucified.  Even after the resurrection they feel like they have to make up a story about it (28:11-15).  Third, there’s worship—joy, gratitude, the best kind of tears (28:9).  To think that God, the Creator of the sun and stars, the stiller of storms and forgiver of sins—to think that God would share his substance with us?  To think he would invite us into his very being?  To think that we too are daughters and sons?
 
Good news, indeed, friends.
 
 
Daniel+
 

Reception and Reaffirmation

Hi friends, as many of you have heard, Bishop David Reed is visiting St. Elizabeth on Sunday, October 15th.  This means October 15th is Confirmation Sunday—but it also means that October 15th is an opportunity to reaffirm your baptismal vows if you’ve already been confirmed or, if you were confirmed in another Christian tradition, to be received into the Episcopal Church.  I’ve already written about confirmation, so today, I’m inviting you to consider whether God is calling you to reaffirmation or reception.
 
Reaffirmation can be a powerful thing.  God seems to know that, given the changes and chances of work and family and faith, we need opportunities to re-accept Christ’s invitation to us.  Think of Jesus’ and Peter’s relationship in the Gospel of Matthew.  Jesus calls Peter and his brother (Matt 4:18-20).  They follow Jesus into all kinds of situations and witness any number of things, but it’s not until much later that Peter recognizes that Jesus is the Messiah (Matt 16:16).  But right after that Jesus calls Peter “Satan” for becoming a stumbling block (16:23)!  In the next chapter, Peter sees Jesus transfigured in all his glory atop the mountain of transfiguration (ch. 17).  Things change again when Jesus is arrested.  Peter can’t stand the anxiety of it and denies knowing Jesus at all (Matt 26:69-74).  But then Jesus rises from the dead, and Peter and the others are commissioned to baptize all nations (28:18-20).
 
See what’s happening?  When it comes to following Christ, Peter is always starting over.  Like Peter, each of us is an unfinished saint.  We have prodigal seasons, or we watch helplessly as our children enter a prodigal season.  We discover new mountain tops.  We betray and are betrayed.  We discover a community we didn’t know we needed.  We feel suddenly the burden of age.  Or maybe death or illness or disaster or financial straits find us, and we find ourselves trying follow Jesus through a world we never wanted to inhabit.
 
If any of that sounds like your experience over the past year, perhaps God is calling you to reaffirm your baptismal vows.  Perhaps God is saying to you, “Yes, dear one, things are different now.  Yes, we can start again, in this new season.  Together.”
 
Reception is similar, only reception carries with it a public welcome into this particular room in God’s mansion.  It’s one of the most expansive rooms there is.  The Episcopal Church is part of the global Anglican Communion.  There are 80 million Anglicans in the world, from the USA to Nigeria to India to Australia, making Anglicans the 3rd largest Christian communion in the world.  (If you’re wondering, it’s Roman Catholics, then the Orthodox, and then us.)  One of our values is the oneness of the global Christian Church. This is why in the Episcopal Church, baptized folks from any Christian tradition are welcome to receive the bread and wine—because we’re all one Body.  So, if you were confirmed in another tradition, great!  We don’t want to “re-confirm” you.  But we would love to publicly welcome you into this particular fellowship.
 
So, if you’re waiting for an invitation to reaffirm your baptismal vows or to be received, this is it!  Unlike confirmation, there are no classes to attend for reaffirmation or reception.  Just you and your walk with God here at St. Elizabeth.
 
I do need to let Bishop Reed know soon, however, as to how many reaffirmations and receptions he can expect.  Please let me know by October 1st so I can communicate with him in a timely fashion.
 
God’s Peace,
 
 
Fr. Daniel+
 

Life Groups


 
Hi friends, I hope you’ve heard that our Life Groups are starting back up this month.  I’ll put the most important stuff up front: if you’re at all curious as to what Life Groups are and how you can join one, Susan Guerra would love to hear from you!  You can reach Susan at susankguerra@mac.com  If you were a part of one last year, we hope you’ll do so again this year.  If you weren’t a part of one last year, we hope you’ll consider joining. 
 
I’d like to extend a special invitation to folks who have young and school-aged children. On Sunday, September 24th we’re starting a Life Group geared specifically towards parents.  That one will meet in the Mission Hall from 9am until around 10am.  Nursery will be provided for infants and toddlers starting at 8:45am, and Godly Play will be available for older children at 9am.  (Godly Play is open to all children beginning old enough to go to the restroom by themselves through junior high.  Contact Ruth Ann Bloor or Kimra Hamilton with Godly Play questions, thebloors@gmail.com or 2010bilbo@gmail.com, respectively.)  You heard right: an hour of free childcare on Sunday morning!
 
In Paul’s letters in the New Testament, we get a few glimpses of what we might call the “Life Groups” of the early church: small communities that usually gathered in people’s homes in order to learn, support, pray and enjoy each other’s fellowship.  For example, in his letter to Philemon, Paul writes “To Philemon our dear friend and brother…and to the church in your house” (v.1-2).  Like our Life Groups, these early church communities frequently had meals together and enjoyed each other’s company—though if you read 1 Corinthians carefully, some members of the early church apparently got a little too focused on this part! (See 1 Cor. 11:17-22, for example.)
 
These early church communities often studied texts together, just like our own Life Groups.  For example, in chapter 16 of Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul saying, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church…so that you may welcome her in the Lord” (v.1-2).  The Deacon Phoebe is the messenger who physically brought Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome, and she’s probably the one who read the letter aloud for them so that they could study, discuss, and discern the Spirit’s work for them through its content.  Paul commends Phoebe to the Roman Life Group so she can have a place to stay!
 
The Life Groups of the early church also frequently had a missional focus.  Not only did they show hospitality to traveling ministers like Phoebe—or to hurricane evacuees—but they also aided folks in need outside their own circles.  The Philippians, for example, sent one of their number to provide for Paul while he was in prison since ancient prisoners were reliant on folks outside for their material needs (1:7, 4:17-18).  Likewise, hopefully your life group will always be on the lookout for an opportunity to care for others.
 
I hope you’ll consider participating.  As we read this past Sunday, whenever two or three are gathered together in the name of Jesus, he is in the midst of them.
 
God’s peace, friends.
 
Daniel+
 

Why Does Jesus call Peter, "Satan"

Hi, friends, the Gospel from this past Sunday was peculiar (Matthew 16:21-28), and as promised, I’d like to address it here since I didn’t in my sermon.
 
Jesus and Peter’s interactions in Matthew 16 cover a lot of ground.  Two weeks ago, Peter identified Jesus as “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God,” and Jesus responded by calling Peter the “rock” on which he “will build my Church” (16:16-18).  Then this past Sunday, Jesus described how he must go to Jerusalem and suffer at the hands of the chief priests, scribes, and elders, “and on the third day be raised” (16:21).  When Peter objected, saying that this could never happen to his Lord, Jesus turns away and calls out, “Get behind me, Satan” (16:23).
 
In case you missed it, in a matter of five verses Peter has gone from being the rock upon which Jesus builds the Church to “Satan.” 
 
Matthew’s characterization of Peter in chapter 16 paints an honest picture of human capability: as followers of Jesus, we are at times a foundation on which God builds his community on earth, and at others, we are utterly ignorant of, and even opposed to, God’s purposes.
 
But why use “Satan?”  As is so often the case, Matthew’s deliberate attempt to situate his Gospel as an authentically Jewish account of the coming Messiah colors his meaning here.  “Satan” here more nearly means “the Accuser” rather than the bat-winged miscreant of the netherworld so colorfully imagined by everyone from John Milton to The Simpsons.
 
In the Hebrew tradition, Satan is not God’s adversary, but the adversary of humanity.  Satan is the Adversary who accuses, interrogates, and incites human beings in the Heavenly Court.  The book of Job, for example, begins with Satan saying to God, “Sure, Job is faithful to you now because he’s got flocks and herds and healthy children.  But let me turn the screws on him a bit so we can see what he really thinks!” (See Job 1:6-12)  The Psalmist laments how his enemies surround him, saying that they cry out against him with things like, “Appoint a wicked man against him; let an accuser [‘satan’] stand on his right” (109:6).  In a vision, the prophet Zechariah sees the high priest Joshua standing in soiled clothes before the Angel of God, presumably because Satan has accused him falsely of something; this earns Satan a rebuke from the Lord (Zechariah 3:1-3). 
 
I think this is helpful in understanding the nuance of Jesus’ and Peter’s interaction in Matthew 16.  If, for example, Jesus calls Peter “Satan” in a way reminiscent of the Satan of the book of Job, then Jesus is saying that Peter is making it difficult for him to remain true to who he is.  Just as Satan accused Job before God and sought to make Job’s fidelity incredibly hard, so too is Peter making Jesus’ walk towards his suffering in Jerusalem more difficult. 
 
But how can that be?  The Jesus of Matthew’s Gospel is powerful, Lordly, authoritative.  People fall at his feet (15:25, 17:6, 20:20, etc.).  In short, I think in our Gospel from this past week we catch a rare glimpse of Jesus’ naked humanity.  Jesus reacts so strongly to Peter because he loves Peter, and because a few short verses ago he thought Peter was finally starting to understand what it’s all about.  Perhaps Peter’s closeness to the truth in calling Jesus “Messiah” in verse 16 is precisely why Jesus starts telling his disciples how it’s really going to be, with all the suffering he must undergo, in verse 21.  You tell the hardest things to people you trust, after all.
 
Then Peter has to go and reject Jesus’ honesty.  “You can’t be serious, Jesus?!”  Imagine telling someone about a painful, difficult thing on your horizon, and then having that person effectively say, “I wish you hadn’t said that.  You can’t be serious, right?”  It’s a slap in the face.  Jesus calls Peter “Satan” because Peter, just like the Accuser in Job, makes Jesus’ walk toward Jerusalem more difficult.  The rock is now a stumbling block.  Jesus is a little more alone with his future than he thought he was.
 
Jesus’ words to Peter are strong, but in calling Peter “Satan,” he isn’t calling Peter the root of all evil.  He is saying, painfully, that his friend, who only a few verses ago had testified in the affirmative about Jesus’ identity, has now changed sides in the court room and become his accuser.  We can almost feel Jesus saying, “Even you, Peter?”  In this light, it might be easier if Jesus had simply meant, “You devil!” when he called Peter “Satan.”  Instead, Jesus points not to the supernatural, but to something all too human. 
 
It’s a hard passage to read.  But remember, not even stumbling blocks get left behind on the road to Jerusalem.  Our soul’s rubble is raw material for the kingdom in the hands of God. 
 
Peace,
 
Daniel+
 
 
 
 

What are we doing when we pray?

Hi friends, I hope everyone’s homes are drying out and patched up after the storms, and that you’ve gotten word from loved ones in Rockport, Port Aransas, Houston, and elsewhere.
 
When disaster strikes as it did this week, it’s difficult to know what to do.  Oftentimes we’re left with little to offer besides words like, “I’m thinking about y’all” or “I’m praying for friends in Houston.”  For some of us, these are strong words: what could be more helpful and supportive than beseeching the Lord’s aid?  For others of us, the words feel empty and ineffectual.  We feel as perhaps St. James felt in his letter, “What good is it…if you say you have faith but do not have works?” (2:14).
 
Wherever you are in all of that, it’s okay.  You’re not alone.  Today, I want to help us understand what it is we’re doing when we “think about” or “pray for” someone.
 
Christians believe that people are made in God’s image (Gen. 1:27).  But what is God’s image in us, specifically?  One way Christians have answered that question is to say that the image of God dwells in us most fully in our minds, which is to say in our faculties of thought and imagination.  There are serious issues with this argument if pressed too far (I’m happy to talk about them with you elsewhere), but it can be helpful in understanding what it is we’re doing when we think about loved ones, especially when they’re suffering. 
 
In John’s Gospel we read, “In the beginning was the Word” (1:1).  Where we read “Word” in English, the Greek says logos, which is where we get “logic” and the “-logy” in “biology.”  When we read that “all things came into being through” the Word, it’s a bit like saying God conceived of and imagined into being the sun, moon, and stars, the earth and all its creatures.  There’s an order, a kind of beauty and coherence, a logic to how creation works.  Since this Word became flesh and dwelt among us as Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:14), then we know that this logos of God is compatible with being human. 
 
It fits, then, to say that the image of God dwells in humanity most fully in our ability to think, to notice patterns, to imagine and design, to recognize and remember faces.  God holds each of us lovingly in existence in a way that is similar to how, when you’re driving a long stretch of highway, you suddenly start to think about that friend you haven’t seen in so long.  Or in line at the laundromat you all of a sudden wonder how your cousin is doing after her husband died.  Or how in a few quiet moments on your lunchbreak, your heart breaks with both pity and gratitude for our new friends Greg and Dian from Rockport. 
 
The reason we are moved to smile, or moved to tears, when we think about those we love is because it’s not just a mental picture of them we’re painting in our minds; something of who they really are lives within us.  Because all things come into being through God’s Word, and because in our own small way we share in that Word, we are susceptible to the presence of our loved ones even when they are far away.  Thus, we are able to weep for them, even to sustain them in some mysterious way.  When we say, “I’ll be praying for you during your job interview,” or “I’m thinking about my sister-in-law who lost her home in Houston,” what we are really saying is this: I hold you in the image of God that dwells within me. 
 
But we can go further.  We are made in God’s image, and wherever we find God’s image, we find Jesus, even if sometimes it’s a dim reflection of him, for “Jesus is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15).  Therefore, when we pray for somebody, we are holding them not only within the image of God in us, but also within the life of Jesus.  To hold someone within the life of Jesus is to situate them in a story whose end is Resurrection.
 
That is no small thing.  Perhaps it is why St. Paul says of prayer that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).  When we pray, when we intercede for someone, even perhaps when we think lovingly of them, despite the felt insufficiency of our prayers we nevertheless allow the objects of our spiritual attention to enter the life of Jesus, to pass through our tears and onto higher ground by the power of the Holy Spirit.
 
So, keep praying, friends.  You build an ark with your affection.
 
 
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