Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Trinity


The Very Reverend Donald W. Krickbaum

June 3, 2012

Most Christians know instinctively the importance of the Trinity in defining their faith as Christians, and they are proud to bear its name. We proclaim the Trinity week after week in the Nicene Creed, and often begin what we do liturgically in “the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  We were baptized in that Name.  Belief in the Trinity is the central theological doctrine that sets Christians apart from other faith communities –– such as our Jewish and Muslim friends and neighbors –– who also believe in the same one God.            

But down through the ages, the Trinity has often been the source of confusion and dissension.  We might well ask: What is it about the Trinity that puts it at the very center of our Christian faith but yet remains so elusive to our everyday understanding? Does the Trinity have any spiritual meaning for us today or is it simply some outdated theological/intellectual argument that speaks to no one in the modern era?
We live in a world in which many question the very existence of God.   Some see God only as a “delusion.”  I read of one doubter referring to the God of the Bible as “a petty, unjust ... capricious bully” who should have no place in the contemporary consciousness. Journalist Sam Harris, citing terrorist acts committed in the name of God, argues that the time has come for “the end of faith.”  Some may remember a few decades ago when Time magazine created a sensation with its provocative cover asking, “Is God dead?”  -- from the ideas promulgated by the German philosopher, Nietzsche. . .  (I loved the great t-shirt I saw a few years later:  “God is Dead” ---Nietzsche;  “Nietzsche is Dead” ---God.)
What is a believer to make of all of this? Is it finally time to write God’s obituary and mourn his passing? Or are reports of God’s demise, like those of Mark Twain over a century ago, “greatly exaggerated?”  God is too often blamed for what his followers say about him and surely we can all hang our heads in shame over what has been done and is being done in God’s name.  Actually, what must die are the false notions of who and what God is – a God, too often, made in our image. As Anglican bishop and scholar J. B. Phillips wrote in 1952, “Your God Is Too Small!” Our notions of God are always too small, but does that mean that God is dead?  
It is often said that preachers should be very careful preaching on Trinity Sunday, because it is almost impossible to do so without committing some kind of heresy.  Why?  Because we really cannot understand God, as hard as we try to explain God (or the Trinity) to others.  Only God really knows and understands God.  

For me, Trinity Sunday is not the celebration of a doctrine.  It is not a time when we should be so bold to think we can explain the mystery of God.  Trinity Sunday is best kept simply as a joyful celebration of our life with God.  It is a time to recognize and give thanks for the relationship we have with God and the relationships God has with us in many forms of expression and experience.  The Trinity is an expression of community itself—the dance of God with each of us and with the community of faith.  This faith is grounded in our experience of God in our daily lives, in our worship, in our prayer, in our attentiveness to Holy Scripture, and in the apostolic fellowship of our life together.   

[In a children’s homily I did a few years ago, I used this analogy: My wife calls me Donald.  My daughters call me Dad.  My grandsons call me Papa.  Am I three different people?  Even though I may have at least three different names, no, I am the same person, simply three different relationships. . . .  It is all about relationships.]

Let’s look at our experience of God as a church/congregation.  As a people of faith, this is a time to reaffirm our belief in God, to name our experience of the Holy One in our lives and the life of the community, allowing God to shape who we are as congregation and what we are to do.  Only by having the courage to turn to God and by laying claim to the faith we profess can we truly become who God would have us be.  If we are not being formed by our prayer, our worship, and our faith then all that we do as a church will be focused solely on the need to survive as some sort of benevolent social club in competition with the secular organizations of the world. 

It has often been the tendency of the church, and especially in these more recent times, to structure ourselves on the model of the world around us.  The bishops and clergy become like C.E.O.s of a collection of institutions that we are sometimes hard pressed to tell apart from every other institution around us.  Our people work hard to see that we survive, and at times even thrive, in this secular world, bringing to our life together their own experience of the world.  But at the heart of our corporate life we must remember that we are the people of God and this is God’s church.  One of the great temptations in the life of institutional religion today is to simply to buy into the corporate/business model of functioning in a secular world, rather than seeking to be a genuine faith community set in the midst of the secular world with a mission to sanctify the unholy and to reconcile the alienated.

We are standing on holy ground.  We are in a sacred place.  It is in the church that the sacred touches the secular, a worship setting where God is made known to those of us in the world, and it is to this community we are commissioned to bring others to an encounter with the Holy. This is a holy and sacred place for each of us because here we have found God, we have been touched by Christ, and our lives have been transformed.

We say we are a people who believe that God is our Father who created us; that Christ is our brother who came to be with us – Emmanuel, God with us; and that the Spirit of God continues to nurture, feed, sustain, and love us every day of our lives.  We have committed ourselves to live in this apostolic community of teaching and fellowship, centering our common life around the Holy Eucharist and our life of prayer; we acknowledge our failures and we seek to return daily to God. Through our baptism into this family of God, we say that we will proclaim the Gospel to everyone; that we will recognize and serve Christ in others and love all of those around us; and we will work for justice, peace, and the dignity and value of each individual.  That is the foundation of this family of God; that is the sum total of what we are all about. This is our identity and the foundation of our relationship with God and with those around us.

The idea of the “Trinity” is not trying to figure out who God is, but, rather, this is simply our feeble attempt to speak something of our relationship with the Holy in our lives and in the experience of those who have turned to God.  We cannot “define” who this God is – we can only proclaim that God is Love, the Author of all creation and who created each of us; that God has sent his beloved Son to show us that we are in a unique relationship of love with God; and that God fills us with the Spirit to nurture that love in us, giving us the breath of life to share that grace with one another.  This is not everything we can say about God, but, perhaps, this is all that we really need to know about God.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

See How These Christians Love One Another

May 6, 2012
(Year B)

The Very Reverend Donald W. Krickbaum

ACTS 8:26-40 — 1 JOHN 4:7-21 — JOHN 15:1-8 

            There is a well-known song which is used often in the renewal circles of the church, which says, “They will know we are Christians by our love.”  There is such great truth to that simple song.  It is the essence of Christian life – it is the essence of all godly life.  Every major religion declares that love is the foundation on which all people are called to build a life with God and with each other.  In Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, among the classic religions,  as well as, among numerous Native American and other ethnic and cultural belief systems, all declare love to be at the very nature of their faith – love of God, love of other people, love for the creation and all creatures.  We are talking here of the universal, across the board, most basic drive and instinct of human nature, however tainted and corrupted it may be by what we call original sin.  Love is the essence of life and without it being clearly the priority of all living our existence will be marred by war, greed, hatred, resentments, prejudices, anger, hurt and unhappiness.

            Christianity declares that love is the basic Christian ethic by which all moral decision making should be made – “what is the most loving thing to do in this situation . . .”  The Shema is the most essential commandment of the Judeo-Christian community, “Hear, O Israel, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  The Second Reading today from 1 John is the classic essay on “love” in the New Testament (This is a passage which we should read at least once a week, along with 1 Corinthians 13).   If we were able to live out that command to love one another, because love is from God,” we would be well on our way to respond God’s greatest desire for us.  Not only is this the foundation on which we build our individual lives, we are also building a community – the community of the church – whose corner stone is that “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son. . .”  To make it even more urgent and relevant – this is the purpose and meaning of the life and work of the Church.  It is really that simple – as I have probably said too often – it is very simple, not always very easy, but very simple.  To this end, as far as I am concerned, the building of a community of love is the mission of this congregation and the entire church.  To proclaim the good news of God in Christ, to live in fellowship with one another, praying together, discovering Christ in the breaking of the bread, serving Christ in all persons, loving God and your neighbor as yourself, and respecting the dignity of all persons is the purpose of our existence.  Anything, anything at all, that distracts us or deflects this intent is a deterrent to the mission of this community.

            But, oh my, how the world and our society misuse and corrupt the use of the word “love.”  It is extremely frustrating to live in a culture in which words that possess such deep and essential qualities for our life when used rightly are being bandied about daily on the lowest possible level.  Are you as appalled as I with this latest genre of TV “reality” shows?  There are those geared to see how completely they can gross you out and show you how can you humiliate your neighbor.  There were those shows in which the bachelor was trying to determine which girl is the “hottest” prospect for a relationship or the girls who were vying for the presumed wealth of some hunk who in reality doesn’t have money, brains, or much of anything else to offer.  Then, there are ongoing daily fare of “soaps” with their sordid affairs and vindictive actions designed to really destroy their supposed enemies and cheapen any and all personal relationships.  Fairy tale weddings, romantic novels, and a long history of escapist fantasies bombard us regularly.  Even those classic children’s stories like the Mother Goose Tales feature fluffy love along with cruelty, deceit, greed, murder and evil step-mothers.  All of which make for spicy drama, but what of love?

            We then arrive in church on a Sunday morning to hear a preacher talk about “love” and our minds zoom off to the fantasy land of pop culture or we just “zone out” and “glaze over” as the sermon goes on with the expected and predictable pleas for a better understanding of this most basic of all divine directives, “Beloved, let us love one another. . . .”  

            While this is the basic building block of our relationship with God and one another and lies at the heart of the human community, it is really not all that easy.  In fact, this business of love is quite confusing and difficult for us to even begin getting it right.  The Greek philosophers even had different words for different aspects of love: for friendship, for affection like that of a parent for a child, for erotic or sexual love which is a basic and vital part of human nature, and, of course, divine love – agape.  And I am reluctant, even if I could, to try to draw a line between where one ends and the other begins.  In fact, it is God’s love which is the common thread which runs through the entire tapestry of life and which holds it all together.

            “In every moment of genuine love, we are dwelling in God and God in us.” (Tillich)  That is the point which I believe God wants us to hear.  This is the point I want to make and I think this is the point God would have us hear this morning – “In every moment of genuine love, we are acknowledging that we are dwelling in God and God in us.”

            In every moment of genuine love, we are living in God and God in us.  Stop for a moment, pause, and ask, “Have I never felt the strength of God welling up in me, giving me a new insight, a surge of energy, or a flash grace for the moment at hand, grace that can only come from a power beyond my mortal wisdom or ability?”  Think of those times in your life as you turned inward and you know that you have found deep within your soul that gift of God – undeserved and unearned, more than likely, but there it is – the presence of the Holy Spirit, the power of God.  That is the gift of love God shares in each of us. That is true prayer – a profound communication – a deep connection with the Holy.

            Now, what does this imply for us as we go about living today?  From that holy power comes the force in our lives that enables and ignites real friendship for another and the willingness to accept friendship offered to you.  It is the care for the well-being of others, unqualified respect for the people around us, the ability to give to those in need, a readiness to accept the care and concern of others, and the desire to live in a community of faith and mutual fellowship. 

            The love of God, in which we live, is, also, the source of the affection that we have for our families, our parents, and our children.  This is the gentle love and warmth that St. Paul said was patient and kind, not envious or arrogant or rude and a love which bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  It is that love the parent has for his/her child that remains no matter what they may do.  (This may be the closest approximation we make to God’s love for us.).

            There is physical love, the driving force of our own sexuality and, with it, the respect and care of that force in the lives of others.  This love is the one that can most easily be cheapened and most often abused, but it cannot and dare not be denied.  It is a love which is very sacramental as we commonly define sacrament – that outward and visible sign (physical) of an inward and spiritual grace.  Physical love is a grace that expresses itself in a deep and faithful relationship with another which is intensely personal, precious, and reflective of a love which would not be fully expressed without it.


            Lastly, but most importantly, soaring far above all forms of human love, there is God’s love  – the unmerited, unlimited, unqualified love God has for us.  All love has its origins in God and we do not live outside of his love.  As John said, “God first loves us.” 


            As promised, you have heard nothing new here this morning.  This is the old, old story.  It is in the energy and power of God’s absolute and perfect love for us that we live.  And that is why we gather here this morning and every time we gather as a worshiping community – to sing God’s praises, to be filled by his Holy Spirit, and to joyfully celebrate with one another that we are living in God and God in us.  We are celebrating all about who God is – LOVE -- and who we are – LOVE.

Saturday, April 7, 2012



April 8, 2012

(Year B)

The Very Reverend Donald W. Krickbaum

ACTS 10:34-43 — PSALM 118:14-29 — COLOSSIANS 3:1-4 — MARK 16:1-8

“Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has been raised; he is not here.  Look, there is the place where they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” [Mark 16:6-7]

          Mark’s original version of the Easter story is very short and ends abruptly with the women who went to the tomb being told that the Risen Lord had gone to Galilee and would meet them there.  Mark kept it very simple.  “Galilee” was back out into the world, into Jesus’ own territory, where he lives with everyone else.  That is where we, too, find Jesus and that is where he meets us.  That is the place of the church.  It is not a place of commemoration of a dead Jesus, not even simply a place to adore a Messiah that we are taught was raised.  Instead, the church is the threshold into Galilee, a window into the world where the risen Christ goes ahead of us.  It is the meeting point of heaven and earth, where the sacred and the secular meet in the presence of the living Lord.

          We are fed and nurtured, we are assured of the most basic and essential belief of Christendom that our God lives in the person of Christ, not confined to a box on the altar nor the boundaries of these walls.  Christ lives in the world where you and I live.  We have come here to discover him for ourselves in order to recognize him in our world, where we can point to him and say, “There he is, my Lord and my God.”  Easter is the very essence of life, not simply a recurring feast day in the Christian Calendar.  It is the shattering of what we think we know in order to make way for the real truth – that God is alive in our world and in the life of each and everyone of us. 

This is a challenge to all of us, as our Presiding Bishop once said, “The reality that Easter proclaims is that everything that restricts, diminishes, imprisons and limits life as God intends it . . .  is trampled down by the risen Christ.  Christ’s victory is therefore a challenge to everything within us and within the church and our world that resists Christ’s all-embracing freedom.” Presiding Bishop Katherine said, “In this Easter season I would encourage you to look at where you are finding new life and resurrection, where life abundant and love incarnate are springing up in your lives and the lives of your communities. There is indeed greenness, whatever the season.  Give thanks for Easter. Give thanks for resurrection. Give thanks for the presence of God incarnate in our midst.”

          Unhampered, for the most part, with confusion with secular celebrations, like Christmas, Easter is the ultimate celebration of the Christian experience.  It is on this day that we hear once again the story of our faith: the experience of the women who went to the tomb; the vision of the Apostles to whom he later appeared; the proclamation of the church through the ages that the tomb was empty and that Jesus has risen from the dead; and that we have been liberated and given new life and hope.

         Ironically, this is the most difficult day of the year for the preacher to preach, because one cannot really embellish on the story or say more than our worship says for us.  Easter, actually all of Holy Week, also, is the church at its best, doing what it is intended to do, being what we are called to be—a community of faith which gathers to share our faith and celebrate the love of God for us and one another.  It is our experience of God within our life in the church and with one another that defines who we are.  We are not here to explain or justify what we believe, but simply to celebrate it.  We are here to have a wonderful day of praise, worship, and sharing fellowship with one another, and, together, coming to the altar of our God to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.  Our life as Christians does not begin with understanding.  We cannot and dare not attempt to approach Easter with the idea to de-mystify it, rationalize it, or explain it in anyway that “makes sense.”

          Dean Alan Jones wrote, “The Resurrection is not about a dead carpenter being resuscitated and making it onto the six o'clock news.  It is the explosion of the radically New.  The Good News is about the New breaking in on our tired, frustrated, and divided world and filling us with awe, wonder, and longing. . It is an invitation to live and to live now. (Alan Jones,  Passion for Pilgrimage)

          The “New” of this Resurrection faith is the experience of the physical, material reality of the people of God who discover that we are living now in the reality of the Presence of the Holy.  Our faith may be informed by the experience of others, but our faith is formed by our encounter with the risen Lord. 

          Now, look and see for yourself where Christ is in your life.  Our acceptance of his presence changes our lives—how we see life, how we live life, how we relate to each other, how we set our priorities, how we go about the business of daily living, and ultimately, how we define ourselves.  Such an experience is what transforms and enlivens us within this community of faith.  It is almost more than we can bear because it is so wonderful, so powerful, so real.  God lives!  We are stretched to the breaking point in these turbulent times and in our own turbulent existence and, yet, we are brought face to face with the immeasurable riches of God.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Church is Not God

March 11, 2012
(Year B)

Exodus 20:1-7 – 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 – John 2:13-22

Today’s Gospel is so familiar to us and we, more often than not, take it with a smile or a smirk, thinking, “That’s right, Jesus, you show them.”  Jesus driving the money changers out of the Temple seemed good and right, but to the first Century Jew (especially the Scribes and Pharisees) this was the height of blasphemy and an attack on the very life of the Temple and its sacrificial system, not to mention a key component to the support system of the Temple and it priests.  To put this in a framework we can identify with, suppose some righteous soul, taking the Gospel at its word, came through the Farmers Market turning over the tables of the sellers or driving away the crowd with a whip as they sat down for a great meal at the Annual Auction.  Hmm. That would not go over very well, methinks.  We would call the police and have them arrested. 

But, as the Gospel says, will zeal for God’s house consume us?  What might be going on in the mind of God, presuming that God is sitting in on a Vestry meeting as we discuss the budget for the next year, or if Christ was eavesdropping on a Diocesan Council meeting as it was planning for the expenditures of the Diocese for the new year?

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I was a parish priest for forty years.  I know the challenges of maintaining the structure and operating realistically in today’s world.  I know the struggle of keeping your head above water and not being overwhelmed by the cost of keeping the ship afloat.  In my entire ministry, I never had a parish that there was not a huge task to meet budgets, pay decent salaries, pay the light bill and all of the other “household” expenses of the church. We had to hold all sorts of fund raising projects, hopefully keeping in focus what this is all about.  Nevertheless, I know all too well how easily we become so distracted by the struggle that we can, and often do, lose sight of what is our primary vocation.  I have said to every congregation I have ever served that I thought that I had heard Jesus muttering, as he looked at the contemporary church, “No, no, that is not what I meant!” 

On the other hand, I am convinced that there is truth in the fact that this is not first century Palestine, but 21st Century America with a totally different set of needs and issues.  The community of faith, that we call the church, is going to look differently today than two thousand years ago, one thousand years ago, one hundred years ago, and, maybe, even what that community looked like when I was ordained over forty-eight years ago.  But, have we worked ourselves into some sort of trap whereby we have to struggle to preserve what was, in our imagination, the “good old days” that may not have been all that good; or have the “shakers and movers” of the church and society really found anything that is that much better; or have we simply gone off-course and lost sight of the priorities that God has set before us? 

The bottom line question for me this morning is: “Does this Gospel have any significance or relevance to us and to the church of the 21st Century?”  I believe it has a profound lesson for us and a highly significant and relevant point to be made to our church and all Christian churches today.  By taking the point of the lesson to heart, we are being asked to raise the question, “Who are we as a church, as a people of faith living in community with one another; who and what is our mission?” 

Jesus tells us, when he speaks of the “Temple” being his body.  The church has always said, even if it did not understand, that the church is the Body of Christ. The presence of Christ in the world is made known, seen, and heard through the community of faith, this company of believers who re-present Christ to the world.  Jesus, the revolutionary, the compassionate zealot, who created the disturbance in the Temple precincts that day, is the incarnation of the mercy and the holiness of God.  If then, we are the Body of Christ in the world today, then the mercy and holiness of God lives in the hearts of all those who are of the household of God.  God dwells in us – you and me – and God desires for us to live fully in the compassion and grace of Christ and be an invitation to all others to come and be an integral part of the Body.  And to enter into the Holy of Holies at the center of our life together we must always seek to remove the obstacles that obscure our vision and block our access to God, just as Jesus drove out the sacrificial animals and the money changers from the Temple that week of Passover.

What we, the institutional church, has done is rather than allowing Christ at the heart of the church, we have allowed the church, its survival, and its comfortable place in our society of today to replace the heart of God.  I have often reminded my congregations that the church is not God – please do not confuse the two.  The church of our creation has too often become our own secret society or club which often bears little resemblance to the heart Christ.  With every good intention and every desire for the good, we may have lost the vision of Christ and replaced that vision with our own methods of survival in a secular world.

Is the church, for us, the body that points us to God or has it become an end in itself?  Is the church a place where the faithful gather to celebrate our life together in God or has it become a place of distraction and self-absorption – is it about God or is it about me?

The call is clearly to remove the obstacles that stand between us and God – to seek to discover God at the center of our life together, just as God is at the center of the Incarnate Lord.  We are called primarily to be a community of prayer.  More than simply coming together to say our prayers, we are a community of prayer which means we live in an awareness of the presence of God in our lives, in the lives of everyone we meet, and at the center of the life of all creation, and we celebrate that life of union with the Holy One.

Then, celebrating God at our center, we begin to ignite our desire to be like Christ, whose Body we claim to be, and live our life together with new and vigorous zeal of commitment to the mission of Christ.  We are called to be a prophetic community of faith, daring to be an invitation to others to be a part of this family of God and to share in the mission of Christ.  This may well mean that we must take risks, to make what amounts to a counter-cultural commitment to the mission of Christ to reach out to everyone: to care for the sick, the poor, the outcasts, the lonely, the elderly, the young, the fearful, the confused and the distracted.  We are called to be Jesus’ voice in this world which is running amuck – just look at our present political rhetoric, the rampant anger and hostility between people in the nation, in the world, and even in the church – a world that is starving for the sound of reason, decency, and mutual respect. If we are truly the church God wants us to be, we will be a reconciling, loving, inclusive, and renewed community of forgiven, thankful, grateful – eucharistic – people.  If we are genuinely placing God at the center of our awareness as a community of the faithful, we will begin to discover the reality of the presence of the Holy One in everyone we meet.

As the Body of Christ, we are called to live this life together with others, supporting and serving one another, offering our praise and worship, welcoming everyone into this fellowship of hope and love.  The more we seek to know God, the more we want to take up the cross and follow Christ, the more we work to serve each other, the more we will truly be the Church. It is here, in this sacred Body, that we promised in our baptism to serve Christ in all persons, to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.

In order to follow him, we need to remove the barriers and distractions, the self-importance and the greed, outgrowing the survival mentality that condemns the church to mediocrity and eventual death, and boldly and with courage transform our life together so that we may, indeed, become who God would have us be.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Cost of Discipleship

MARCH 4, 2012
(Year B)
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 – Romans 413-23 – Mark 8:31-38

Being a disciple of Jesus was not for sissies, Peter found out in the Gospel account today.  Jesus was telling him that he (Jesus) must greatly suffer, be rejected by all of the officials and important people of their society, and that he would be killed.  While he said he would rise again after three days, what Peter mainly heard was the suffering and death of this man whom he loved and for whom he had given up everything to follow.  In Peter’s usual blustery way, he declared that he would never let that happen and he rebuked Jesus for even thinking it, much less saying it. 
Then Jesus said a remarkable thing to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan.  For you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.”  Then Jesus said to everyone a remarkable and scary thing, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, the those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

Whoa!  That is not what most had bargained for and, I suspect, a number who were following Jesus left about that time.  It seemed there would be a high price, a great cost, to being a disciple of Jesus.  This is a feature of being a Christian that today we pretty much ignore and try to look the other way.  We are sure that being a Christian is about being good, moral, kindly to others, patient, generous, and showing up at church every Sunday.  Those are most certainly good things and important to our lives as Christians.  Jesus would not disparage such behavior, but Jesus is calling for something more, something more weighty and challenging, and, often, far more difficult.  You can even be a very nice and caring person without believing in Jesus or even God, but we really cannot faithfully be a follower of Christ without being a person of conversion: your heart must be where God’s heart is, as well as your hands and your feet.  This takes great courage.  It is far easier said than done.  I have not gotten it right, yet, but we begin with our desire.  Our desire to follow Christ, to take up the cross lies at the heart of discipleship.  To do it it right, to take seriously the words of Jesus in the Gospel today, there is a price to pay.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the martyred German theologian and pastor, who was executed by the Nazis in 1945, wrote in his great book, The Cost of Discipleship, about the contrast between “cheap grace” and “costly grace:”

           Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church.  We are fighting today for costly grace.

Cheap grace means a grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system . . . Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without Church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession.  Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate . . .

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again . . .  Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.  It is costly because it costs us our life, and it is grace because it gives us the only true life . . .
Grace is costly because it compels us to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I have a confession to make:  I was not sure that I believed that Jesus’ yoke was easy or his burden light.  I did not understand that assurance from Jesus until one memorable day many years ago in Costa Rica.  When I was first ordained I went to Costa Rica as a missionary and I was there for six wonderful years.  I was at one of our missions for a couple of days and was staying in a small little room at the back of the church.  One morning, I opened the shutter to see a teenage boy across the way hitching up a team of oxen to pull some huge mahogany logs from out of the edge of the jungle.  He placed a large heavy yoke across their necks and tied it to the oxen.  He then connected a large chain from the yoke to the logs and started beating on the oxen to pull the heavy load.  The oxen strained and pulled against each other and made all sorts of unhappy noises as the boy continued beating on them.  About the time, the boy’s father came running out of their small house and he pushed the boy aside and he tied the heavy yoke to the oxen by lashing it to them so tightly that I thought he would pop their horns off.  Then an amazing thing happened.  The oxen settled right down.  With a very light tap on their rumps the oxen pulled the huge log out of the field towards the lumber mill like it was a match stick.
Watching this scenario, it all dawned on me about what Jesus meant when he said, “My yoke is easy.”  By attaching the yoke so tightly, instead of it being a burden it became a source of strength and power.  That is what Jesus meant when he said, “Take up my cross.”  When we attach ourselves so closely and tightly to the cross of Christ, then in place of it being a fearful burden, the cross becomes a source of great strength and power.

This is the great invitation to follow Christ.  To so bind ourselves to him then, even in our own weakness and flawed humanity, we are infused with the power and grace of Christ and we make our journey towards God, serving God and God’s people and creation with Jesus’ obedience and courage.
Being a Christian means that our desire is to be like Christ (even though we are far from fulfilling that desire) and to seek to live a life with new and , at times, countercultural commitment to his mission to bring others into this family of God: to care for the sick, the outcasts, the poor, the elderly, the lonely, and the fearful in such a way that they know the grace and love of God.  This can be a lonely and confusing task, but being a follower of Jesus means that we embrace this loneliness.  As God came to be fully human in Jesus, so we too, understand what is means to be fully human through Jesus.  This is where we find glimpses of grace.

How do we even begin such a journey?  We begin with a life of prayer – not just the saying of our prayers, even though that is how we start – but living in an awareness of the presence of God in our lives and in the lives of every person.  We seek to see and know the power of God in all places.  We live this life together with others of faith as we support one another, together we offer worship and praise to God, and we live as grateful, thankful, eucharistic people.  With that foundation, we reach out to everyone in the world around us, caring for and loving one another, seeking peace, working for justice and the well-being of others.
We began Lent with a reminder that we are but dust and to dust we shall return.  But even in the reality of our limitations and our mortality, we have been empowered by the cross of Christ to be like him.  Yes, to be like him!  Leave behind our fears and our notions of inadequacy and take up the cross and follow him in order to become who God would have us be.  The more we know God, the closer we come to Christ, the more we become ourselves.  There is true freedom in what Jesus asks of us – the freedom to draw near to God, to love and accept one another and ourselves, as well, without constraint.

Let us always ask, and listen, “where is Jesus asking me to follow him in my life today?”  Perhaps it is time to take that step of faithfulness, of vulnerability, of be being loved by God, of living and sharing the Good News, to reach out in love and compassion to everyone, and to know that in this body we call, “the Church,” there are no outcasts.  Here we are trying to serve Christ in all persons, striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The following prayer was given to me by Father Nick Minich on the occasion of my ordination to the priesthood on February 16, 1964.  It has been a daily prayer for these past forty-eight years.  I give thanks for the gift, the joy, and the privilege of that call.


You have called me to your priesthood to carry on the work which you began.

        Fit me, I pray you, for this task with such faith that through my voice even the disbelieving may listen to you word;

        With such hope that through my hands even the despairing may be held fast in your grip;

        And with such charity that through my heart even the despised may know that you can never cease to love them.

        Join me so deeply to yourself that no one I meet shall lie beyond your saving grace.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

FEBRUARY 12, 2012
(Year B)

 A Homily

The Very Reverend Donald W. Krickbaum 

2 KINGS 5: 1-15b — 1 CORINTHIANS 9:24-27 — MARK 1:40-45

This is the season of Epiphany, the time when the light of Christ is made known to the world.  Now is the time for us to shine the light of Christ into this darkened world in which we are living.  Today and throughout this liturgical season of Epiphany, we are hearing stories of healing – one of the means through which Jesus expressed the authority and the love of God in a given moment.  We hear later in Mark’s Gospel, how Jesus spoke of his coming passion and death, inviting those who loved him to take up the cross and follow him.  We watch as he broke bread with his disciples for the last time and was immediately arrested and executed.  And then, we stand before the empty tomb early on Easter morning to be told that he is alive, he is risen.  It is a powerful and soul-shaking story.  Sit down and read Mark’s Gospel right through.  It is not very long, and you will be overwhelmed by the story as it unfolds before you all at one time.

If you do that, you will be caught up in the truth that the kingdom of God is right here, right now.  A sense of immediacy and urgency will overtake you and you will see the true mission of Jesus to show us who this God is and what God is like, and how we are to live if we choose to be a part of the story.  We are living in a world where we need to recapture the sense of urgency that existed in the early church and today make an immediate and urgent call for light, a call for reconciliation, healing, and peace -- a call for God.

Jesus began this work of reconciliation by touching and healing those who turned to him.  This is what the kingdom of God is all about: touching, healing, loving, caring for each person.  Jesus used his miracles to get the people’s attention so they could hear his teaching; hear that he was calling them to come and find new life; and for us to hear that we who have been called are now sent to call others to come and see what we have discovered – that we are loved and offered peace and new life.

Is the Gospel relevant to today’s world?  You bet it is.  Is it relevant to each of us?  Is the Gospel of Christ relevant to you in your life today?  Yes, indeed.  What I think we sometimes miss in the whole wonder of the Gospel is the fact that Jesus was sent to each one of us and that his whole life, while caught up in the mission of the reconciliation of the world, never lost its focus on the person.  Jesus stopped and touched the leper.  In his grand scheme, his love and his desire to touch the lives of people would cause him to pause to heal, to reach out to those who hungered for what he came to give them.  Do you understand that this means that he came for you — you, yourself, just as you are at this very moment?  Today’s reading clearly reminds us of the directness and the immediacy of God’s love, desire, and care for each of us.  He stops and turns toward us and says, “Peace, be whole.”

You see, we are invited into a relationship with a God of Peace, who cares about the peace of the world and peace among nations, and who also cares deeply about your peace.  As we are called to pray for peace, we are called to pray with and for one another.  Jesus was always “person-centered.”  God is “person-centered.”   “He so loved the world,” but because it is your world.  God desires peace for his creation, because it is your home.  God desires peace for each of us and a sense of joy and health for every individual.  And, by his example, Jesus is teaching us about how we should be as his church, his family and community – to care for each person and to love every person.  Yes, we are concerned with great and weighty issues – issues of war and peace – but we must, also, turn to those around us, caring for the person next to us, and showing that God loves and redeems every individual who will accept his love – note, I said, accept, not earn. 

We can get so preoccupied with our plans and the building of institutions that we lose sight of the primary mission of Christ.  Like Jesus, we are called to draw others to God and, like Jesus, we are to show others who God is and what God is like.  Like Jesus, we keep our eyes on God and his love for the world, but, at the same time, we must never lose sight of the leper who was touched and healed, for we, in fact, are the leper.  We are the individuals who are touched by the compassion of Christ and the love of God.  We have been healed because he has chosen to do so.  Now we are the prophets, the wounded healers, the restored and reconciled sinners.  We are the Beloved’s beloved.