August 22, 2008

RIP My Desktop Computer

Well, as ill luck would have it, my desktop computer perished yesterday morning, fortunately before I'd had a chance to do much work; and the good news is all of my other work is well backed up.

Still, this is not a good time for such a sudden death, in what appears to have been the power supply. I'm in the final stages of a book manuscript, and preparing for leading a retreat in San Francisco, and one in NY for the Deacons of the diocese, and then a preaching engagement in Maryland for the dedication of my latest icon. This is not the time to engage in the laborious process of reinstalling software, and becoming acquainted with the mysteries of Vista (which will no doubt be installed on the successor to the current desktop; repair to which would cost close to what a new one will. A fact I was appalled to discover.) But I have little choice in the matter, so onward and upward.

If all goes well with the new machine, I will be back up and running by early next week. In the meantime, thank goodness for backups, external hard drives, and the trusty laptop.

Tobias Haller BSG

August 14, 2008


In response to a question raised over at the House of Bishops / Deputies list last week (basically, “Do gay and lesbian persons really mean the same thing ‘we’ do by monogamy?”) I responded, Yes, at least as far as most in the church are concerned. I know there are exceptions, definitely in the world and perhaps even in the church, and I know I don’t speak for anyone else — but I do know my friends and colleagues, and I do know what the General Convention has said thus far on the matter, and that this is what we are talking about as a church: the recognition of same-sex couples in accord with exactly the same standards demanded of mixed-sex couples.

Then, because I was working on the sermon, I was reminded of the gospel for this coming Sunday, in which we see Jesus in a moment of uncharacteristic harshness. (Matt. 15:22-28) A Canaanite woman cries out to ask him to save her daughter. He gives her the cold shoulder — not saying a word. The disciples complain, and Jesus says, essentially, “Not my problem.” She kneels before him, refusing to give up, and begs for his help. And he then says something so shocking it is hard to believe it comes from the lips of our loving Savior, “It isn’t fair to give the children’s food to dogs.”

Then comes the turn in the story, and the point that Jesus may be making, and what the church today might do with it. For the woman persists, this unrelenting woman with the sick child: she will be driven away neither by silence, nor by complaints, nor by insults: she reminds Jesus that even dogs get the crumbs that fall from the table. And finally, after ignoring her, shrugging her off, and even insulting her, Jesus relents, and acknowledges her persistence — and her great faith; and her daughter is instantly healed.

It may well be that in all of this Jesus was simply testing the disciples, renowned for their “little faith” as opposed to this woman’s great faith. He may have been waiting to see what they would do — if they would continue their approach of getting rid of troublesome people, appealing to Jesus to send them away: whether hungry crowds seeking spiritual and earthly food (Mark 6:36); innocent children (Mark 10:13); or even those exercising ministry in Jesus’ name though not part of his inner circle (Mark 9:38). It gives one pause for thought.

And one thought is to ask, To what extent do the heirs of the apostles continue their efforts at exclusion and dismissal? Or will they finally get the message of Jesus’ wish to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah that all will be drawn into his kingdom, even the formerly hopeless eunuchs and unclean foreigners. (Isa 56:4-6) All, all, belong to the Bridegroom, and his Bride is not fully clothed until every soul God loves is included in her.

We who appeal to the church for understanding and compassion, do not do so in vain, I am sure. Even if we must keep knocking long into the night, we trust that the door will eventually be opened. For I am reminded of another saying of our Lord, (Luke 11:11-12, in the Authorized Version)

If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?

You know the rest. I do not believe the church to be so hard-hearted, nor are those of us who are pressing the church to reexamine its past positions on sexuality asking the impossible. The church has shown itself to be remarkably flexible in its interpretation and application of any number of biblical injunctions and restrictions, down through the years, some of them even involving sex and marriage. It is not an earth-shaking abandonment of the gospel — the claims of some notwithstanding — to consider the possibility of recognizing and blessing the relationships of faithful partners in life, who wish to commit themselves to each other under that blessing and in that bond for life.

Those of us engaged in this patient and earnest appeal, though we be ignored, rebuffed, and labeled as less than worthy, less than human even, will not cease from mental toil, nor from prayer, nor from giving thanks for the scraps thus far cast in our general direction, nor from pleading our case, nor from claiming our blessing, though we must wrestle until dawn, and be put out of joint on its account.

Tobias Haller BSG

August 11, 2008

The Importance of Perspective

Quelque chose d' Norwood

Taken from the bus

Taken from the street

I've passed by on this bus trip many times before; the newly installed bus-shelter made all the difference.


August 4, 2008

Making Ends Meet

a sermon from Saint James Fordham • Proper 13a
Jesus said, They need not go away; you give them something to eat. They replied, We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.

Has anyone here ever lived through a time of scarcity? Perhaps you lost your job or were out of work; or if you were working you were always struggling to meet the bills. I remember my own childhood in a large household with six kids, Mom working hard as a housewife at home, and Dad working as a schoolteacher in a time and place where schoolteachers made far less than they deserved. It was a family of hand-me-downs and making do, of bargain hunting and vacations that mostly meant staying with my grandmother in Boston, after the long drive up from Baltimore. In fact, one of my earliest childhood memories is of what seemed to me to be the amazing complexity of the ramps coming off the GW Bridge and onto the Major Deegan, just a hop skip and a jump south of here. So our paths have crossed before, at least as far as the Interstate is concerned!

But I know I’m not alone in having lived through some hard times. I’m sure many of us here can testify to living through that kind of scarcity. Just as I’m sure that with the rising fuel and food prices, not a few of us are feeling the pinch right now, living through our own present time of scarcity — whether anyone wants to call it a recession or not, we are living through the midst of it, whatever it is called.

The fact is, though, that however bad things seem to be, however much we need to tighten our belts to live through these hard times, we do in fact live through them. We come out the other side, somehow having made ends meet. However short the resources, somehow they seem, in the long run, to meet the need.

Today’s gospel is a gospel for such times — and timely in that it comes at this time. It is a reminder to us that even when our resources seem to be meager — barely enough for a small family to survive on, five loaves and two fish — somehow the grace of God will provide what is lacking, and will make ends meet after all.

+ + +

There is, of course, a bigger lesson here — an eternal lesson about much more than bread and fish; about much more than a miraculous picnic in the desert. In fact, it is a lesson about salvation.

For in the miracle of the feeding of the five-thousand-plus people, Jesus didn’t just make ends meet. It wasn’t a case of cutting the cake into enough pieces so that everyone got at least a little. No, Jesus went so far beyond making ends meet that there were twelve whole baskets of leftovers even after everyone ate and had their fill.

Think about that. Imagine five-thousand-plus people attacking a buffet at a parish luncheon, each one piling his or her plate as high as humanly possible, then going back for seconds or thirds, and eating so much that they are fully and completely satisfied, and couldn’t eat another thing, just lying around leaning back in their folding chairs — why, some of the men have even unbuckled their belts — unconscious, and as we used to say in Baltimore, “bloated” — and yet the buffet is still full, with enough to serve a second seating! This is not just about making ends meet — but about exceeding all that can be asked or imagined.

Now, it won’t surprise you, given the sequence of parables we’ve been hearing in the gospels these past weeks, that this whole passage isn’t really about food — Jesus wasn’t really in the catering business — rather it is about the abundance of God’s grace. It is not about just making ends meet, just making it, by the skin of your teeth, but about the overflowing grace of God.

The key to this is in the first lesson from Nehemiah. The historian Ezra recounts the well known story of how bad his ancestors were — and I remind you, no other nation on earth takes such delight in portraying its ancestors as such wicked cusses as do our spiritual forebears the children of Israel. Most people, you know, like to portray their ancestors as good decent folk, but the historians of Israel weren’t shy at all about recounting their failures and foibles. Ezra reminds his brothers and sisters about the awful stiff-neckedness of their ancestors, how they rejected the one who saved them, ready to go back into slavery rather than trust God to bring them through the desert to the promised land; ready even to turn from the living God to worship a thing made by their own hands, a cast image of a calf, and to have the gall to say, “This is our God who brought us out of Egypt” — I mean, really! To think that their own melted earrings and bracelets and necklaces could do that!

And the amazing thing, the abundant thing, that God does — in spite of all of these blasphemies — is to continue faithful to them even when they proved so faithless to him; not to abandon them when they were ready to abandon him, but to remain with them in a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire; and even more, to see to their sustenance with miraculous bread from heaven and water from the rock.

+ + +

This is the great good news of God: that even when things go rough, even when the cause of their going rough is our own doing, even when we work hard at our own destruction — still God is faithful to us, and forgiving, ever gracious. Saint Paul captures this stirring feeling of the abundant and insistent grace of God in that beautiful passage we heard today: that nothing, no nothing on earth can take God from us, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. Can hardship or distress? No, it can’t. What about persecution, famine, nakedness or peril? Nuh uh. How about the sword — that’s a tough one, isn’t it. Can violence and death separate us from God? Why not at all: “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth” — did I forget anything? Well if I did — “nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Only got two fish and fewer than half a dozen loaves — sit down to supper, for Jesus is here. Made mistakes in your past, losing hope in God, and ready to give it up and call it quits? Look out the window, the pillars of fire and cloud are still there waiting for you. Turned away from God and worshiped idols of gold, or fame, or success, or addiction, or violence? He knows; he knows. But he’s still there — still here — waiting for you — with your supper prepared and the table set.

This is the abundance of God’s overflowing grace — the only thing you can compare it with is an unending banquet, a picnic for eternity, the church buffet that never stops. For Jesus doesn’t just make ends meet — he is the End, the goal, the final point, as much as he is the Beginning, the source of light and life. He is Alpha and Omega, the first and the last — he is the cause of our seeking him as well as the goal whom we seek; he is the one who gives us hunger and thirst so that we may appreciate the food and drink that satisfies them, and that he also provides. And that food and drink, my friends, is not just bread and water, not just loaves and fish. It is his own Body and Blood, given for us and for our salvation, to feed us unto everlasting life.

And nothing can stop those ends from meeting — not our own insecurities or lack of resources; not anyone else trying to obstruct God’s access to us, or ours to God; no power on earth or under the earth can keep those ends from meeting.

So thanks be to God, who always makes ends meet — our end is in him, and by his grace, and his grace alone, we have been saved, and made inseparable from the one who created us, from the one who saved us and feeds us with his Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist, and the one who sanctifies us with the outpoured grace of the Holy Spirit. To God be the glory, in whom all ends meet, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and forever more.+

Tobias Haller BSG

August 3, 2008

Further on Salvation

As additional thought growing out of some questions on my earlier post, concerning Paul's theology of salvation, and how universal it was or wasn't.

I think Paul makes (what would later be articulated more clearly) a distinction between salvation, justification, and sanctification. In his system of thought, just as all were stained by Adam's sin, so all are redeemed by Christ. All means all. It isn't about "each" but "all" -- not about individuals but rather about the whole of humanity, which, from a rabbinic understanding was "present" in Adam. And so in Christ, the new Adam. "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive."

This is where the distinctions between "faith in" and "faith of" are important, and it's sad to see the NRSV has drifted in the former direction when the latter, as found in the KJV, makes more sense. (Note most especially Gal 2:16,20 3:22) It is the faith of Christ -- his faithfulness unto death -- that saves us.

Salvation is, in this sense, literally "healing" -- that is, healing the wound of sin that has affected the whole of creation, all of humanity, and with which we suffer willy nilly. We recover some of this sense of the meaning of "salvation" as healing when we speak of "the only Name given under heaven for health and salvation..." This is the opening of the door to eternal life.

Justification is another matter, and begins to involve the response of each individual to the free gift; it involves going through the door. This is where personal faith in Christ comes in. (Rom 3:25-26; cp 4:16) Not all will accept it, but all have been made capable of accepting it.

Sanctification follows, again as God's gracious offering, and is entering the room and maybe even sitting down! Or better, falling before the throne...

It is part of our task to distinguish between the sufficient belief in salvation for those who explicitly have chosen Christ and the possible hope that Christ is big enough so that all can find him and be found by him -- maybe the latter ones not even knowing it is Christ who has saved them until they come into his presence revealed in glory. I prefer to follow Paul into that realm of possibility that "all shall be made alive," while keeping one foot well-planted in the sufficient security that "all who call upon his name are saved." This, to me, seems to be where the best evangelism comes from, leaving the door open and reaching out beyond it; as, indeed, Christ did when he left his Father's side to come to us. As "little Christs" we are honored to assist in spreading that word, and the greater the graciousness of our speaking, the more will be won, and the further the word will spread...

Tobias Haller BSG