The Smiling Heretic's Blog

Lent 1 :: Saying “NO” to evil!


I have always rather liked the gruff robustness of the first rubric for baptism found in a late fourth-century church order which directs that the bishop enter the vestibule of the baptistery and say to the catechumens without commen- tary or apology only four words: "Take off your clothes." There is no evidence that the assistants fainted or the catechumens asked what he meant.

[Aidan Kavanagh, A Rite of Passage]

What an interesting way to begin our Sundays in Lent: what a strange passage! If you think about it though, it really does fit. Lent is that singular time during the church year when we stand bare before God. There is nothing hidden, no aspect of our lives, that does not come under the gaze of Godly scrutiny this season. We are vulnerable. Small. Weak. Perhaps a bit ashamed, like those fourth-century about-to-be-baptized folk getting ready to be reborn into new life through the cold waters of baptism, we start out this Lenten journey stripped of all pretense, ready to have God clothe us with grace, mercy, and joy.

Advent 2 Homily :: Wilderness

Two images today: One of the way things are; the other of things as they will be

The First

Wilderness of Judea

  • -  Place of foreboding, where wild animals roam, dry, unforgiving.
    • -  This is where Jesus was tempted by the Devil.
    • -  This is the place where men and women religious, since the begin-

ning of time, have gone to find God.

-  It was not a place for wimps!

-  The wilderness was a place where one could find God in the midst of strug- gle. A Thin place if you will.

-  John was out there, like many other theos aner men & women of god who preached and proclaimed and prophesied and worked miracles.

-  Many people came to hear these god-bearers, hoping to have an experi- ence of the holy in their lives.

-  John set up shop out there, baptizing folks in a ritual ceremony of purifica- tion in anticipation of the coming of the Messiah.

-  All sorts of people came...

-  Even the rulers and leaders of the religious system, whom John called

Advent 2 :: Fleeing from, or to, God?

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“Who warned you to flee...?”

There is something about these words of John the Baptizer that sends shivers down my spine. I know that he is confronting the religious rulers of his day—Sadducees and Pharisees, the men who regulated right worship and religious practice for a whole nation—by delivering a one-two knockout punch in calling them out as slimy vipers and casting aspersions on their patronal lineage. But the words really seem to hit home for me.

Yes, I could be, for lack of a better term, considered a modern day Pharisee [no Sadducee am I, for they didn’t believe in the resurrection!]. After all, I am charged with regulating right worship and religious practice as a priest of the Episcopal Church. John’s words don’t strike at me because of all that. And, yes, I’ve been called out as something much worse than a slithery, slimy, snake-in-the-grass and I must admit—to my shame—that I have taken advantage of my privileged, white, male lineage. But that’s not why John’s words give me fits either.

Advent 1 :: Here we go again!

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“Stay awake!”

So here we are again at the beginning of yet another year in the warp and woof of our liturgical life set out in the church calendar. And here we are again being reminded that someday, somehow, somewhere, the Day of the Lord [Second Coming of Christ, Judgement Day, Armageddon, the Apocalypse—take your pick] is going to happen. Well. Really? Really?

So it’s been two thousand years and there’s been no Rapture, no taking up of folks into the Heavenly Realm to be with Jesus, no great and terrible conflagration where all you-know-what breaks loose, no blood-red Moon or stars falling from the skies or planets losing their way in orbit. Nothing. Now, there has been that Great-and-Powerful-Day we call Black Friday with all its terrible display of human greed and economic lust. But that hardly suffices for a great day of judgement which is supposed to come from God. Black Friday is a Judgement Day of another kind altogether. And don’t even get me started on the past election cycle and the yet-to-be-seen ramifications that will offer in the next months.

Pentecost 24 :: Climbing trees for Jesus

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So. In this, the mid-point of our parish's Stewardship Campaign, wee Zacchaeus gives us some food for thought, huh?

Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.

Hey, there’s some good stuff there. Right? Half of his possessions given to Jesus? Paying back fourfold anyone whom this tax collector has cheated? Why not throw in your vacay home in Tel Aviv? Or your timeshare on the Nile? Think what Jesus could do with all that, the people he could feed, the homeless for whom he could provide shel- ter, or the clothing he could hand out to kids. Good stuff! Right?

But let’s be serious for a moment.

Who in their right mind would give away half of her possessions or pay back many times over what he has cheated people on? And who would cash in a CD or IRA or liquidate their tax shelter or vacation home or sell off all their precious artwork and jewelry in order to follow Jesus?

Pentecost 21 :: Who’s In? Who’s Out?

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In this week's Gospel story we are confronted with two groups of folk deemed as outsiders by the religious authorities of 1st-century Palestine: lepers and Samaritans. Lepers were cast as outsiders—literally—by the presence of their contagious skin disease. Being “unclean” they were to be shunned by the rest of society and not allowed back into the community until after they were declared “clean” by a priest. They led lives of desperation, unable to work, begging for food, keeping their distance from anyone whom they might infect. They had to yell out, “Unclean! Unclean!” when approaching strangers as a warning not to come any closer.

Samaritans were cast as outsiders because their religious observances were markedly different from those of the rest of Jewish society. They were forbidden from interacting with Jews and Jews were prohibited from having anything to do with them. Each was anathema to the other. Imagine how it must have been for that Samaritan leper.

Pentecost 15 :: Keeping up Appearances

Hyacinth not sit down at the place of honor...

Our Gospel passage from Luke today seems hand-written for Hyacinth Bucket [that’s Bouquet]. Oh, you don’t know who Hyacinth Bucket is? Well, lemme tell ya.

Hyacinth is the lead character and matriarch—of sorts—in the English sitcom “Keeping up Appearances.” As the title implies, she desperately tries to come off as being something she is not: a very high-class, hoity-toity type of woman. Everything in her world is impeccably arranged and proper as she struggles to rise above her middle class lifestyle and present herself, her husband and family—and her home—as something other than middle-class. Hyacinth has a sister, Violet, who actually is upper class, and two sisters, Rose and Daisy, who decidedly are not. Daisy is married to a slob, Onslow [my favorite character], who goes around in a dirty undershirt and while at home always sits in front of the telly smoking cigs, drinking beer, and eating crisps.

Pentecost 13 :: Burn, baby, burn!


Fire is a common symbol of holiness and protection in Holy Scripture. It can represent God's action in the world and quite frequently is used to describe God's Word, "a consuming fire." While sometimes seen as a sign of God's destructive action against the sinful, fire is also descriptive of the purifying work of God's holiness. In the same way that fire is used to purify precious metals, God's purifying fire cleanses people from their sin.

It may seem somewhat odd that, in our Gospel message from St. Luke today, we hear Jesus say, "I came to bring fire to the earth." Isn't Jesus supposed to bring love and mercy and forgiveness? What's all this, then, about bringing fire? Well, that's where we have to see fire as a metaphor for purification and cleansing. Fire may, of course, be destructive, but it can clear out the old underbrush of sin, strife, enmity, pride, greed, etc., etc., that clutters human life. Forest management personnel use fire to clear out dead vegetation and old growth in order to help trees and new vegetation to flourish. Such use of cleansing fire can mitigate the damage done by uncontrolled fires resulting in widespread destruction and possible loss of property and life.

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