Saturday, March 13, 2010


Paying Attention to all things Burning

Let’s talk about Peter.

You may have heard tell of a rather prominent church in Rome, The Papal Basilica of Saint Peter; the mother church of the Roman Catholic worldwide community. I wish we had power point already because I want you all to see pictures of this – so go home and look it up. It is impressive!

If you can believe it, construction began in 1506 and it took more than one hundred years to complete, in 1626. Just that one fact alone is astronomical – 100 years to build a church…

And just for the record, it was built over top of the Old Basilica of St. Peter which was built by the Emperor Constantine sometime in the early 300’s.

Some of the best artists and stone masons of all time worked on the rebuilding project; people like Michelangelo, for example.

Apparently, Peter himself is buried deep under the altar… as are most of the popes through history. You see, tradition has it that after 30 years of Ministry in Jerusalem, Peter travelled to Rome; and unfortunately, was crucified, upside down, after that famous fire that burned most of Rome, and Nero fiddled during, but then blamed Christians for… Never mind the fact that most of the buildings that burned were dedicated to Augustus Caesar and the new ones would all be dedicated to Nero Caesar… but I digress…

My point is this – Perhaps the greatest church of all time, the centre of the only Christian nation on earth – the Vatican… is dedicated to and built around, Peter.

All to the glory of God and in honour of Peter; Petros in Greek, which is a nickname we might best translate as “Rocky”; one tough, stubborn, independent, fisherman.

See, now there is something you don’t see every day. It’s like some Shediac Cape lobster fisher ending up being Prime Minister and having huge buildings named after him… It’s not that it is impossible; it is just… improbable…

Now – keep the real Peter in mind – the one who was stubborn, the one who worked day and night out in the boats, the one who constantly messed things up and got in trouble with Jesus…

And then look back some 1500 years to Isaiah; one of the greatest prophets in the history of Israel – and the person who ended up knitting the community back together after decades of isolation and exile.

And look at the very beginning, the start, the year King Uzziah died, and everything changed.

Far from being certain of God’s call; Isaiah cries out: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"

Which is another way of saying – I have never said a good thing about anybody all of my life – and you want me to talk for God?!

But that’s always the way isn’t it? Moses was a runaway killer, a disgraced prince, a lonely shepherd with a stutter when God spoke out of the burning bush.

David was the youngest, the ruddiest, when he was chosen to be king – and even after he committed adultery and murder; God still had other plans for David.

Last week I asked, what is it that stops you from hearing God? What in your life would you yell out to prove you are unworthy of being chosen by God? Is it your past? Is it your fear? What is it?

Because what we need to see is that everyone God speaks to, has some reason not to listen – and for all of us, there is an epiphany, a moment when everything changes and we hear it, we get it, we respond knowing that what we have to offer is enough.

In Isaiah’s case we find that King Uzziah – historically recognized as the best king in hundreds of years, and perhaps of all times, has died. Isaiah is the court philosopher and prophet… and for forty years he has faithfully served this king. But that era is over. As Isaiah faces an uncertain future he has a vision of God – a vision that reminds him of two things – first and foremost, that Isaiah is clearly not capable of being great without God’s help… It takes Isaiah down a few pegs and reminds him of who he really is – and then… then God says, “I am not through with you yet.”

And what about Paul in our letter to the church in Corinth, what is with the resume? I want to suggest to you that it is the writing of an insecure person having a mid life crisis… Paul was never completely comfortable with his past, persecuting Christians, or his future, a call to ministry. All of the time he is writing about his limitations, about the thorn in his side that will not go away, about his failings… but here he is, saying despite that, something has changed.

Despite everything, he became convinced that God loved him… “I am what I am” he writes… and it is reassuring – because we have been there too; we all have our own skeletons in the closet – that is part of what leads us to those moments of crisis when we come to terms with our past and finally listen

In all if this, even in Peter recognizing Jesus as important, calling him master and throwing the nets out the other side; I want you to see that there is a cause and effect. It was Moses willingness to pay attention, and God’s willingness to speak. At that burning bush we read this passage: “When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush.” (Ex 3:4)

But think about this – it also matters that you pay attention to what is on the inside, to what you are feeling. The disciples walked the long dusty road to Emmaus with the risen Christ, we are told, and it was only after when they looked at each other and said, “were our hearts not strangely warmed?” that they recognized that God was with them on the road….

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote a great poem:

Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God;

But only he who sees it, takes off his shoes –

The rest sit around it and pluck blackberries.

For there are legitimate hurdles we must overcome; but at some point, it truly is up to us to turn aside, to recognize God at work in our midst, and to grasp the larger picture.

Nelson Mandela quoted Marianne Williamson in his inauguration speech:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

So – keeping in mind that God is all around you this very moment, calling, pleading, burning brightly in your life – I think the time has come to respond.

Let us pray, in the words of Ted Loder, from his book Guerrillas of Grace:

O God,

Let something essential and joyful happen to me now,

Something like the blooming of hope and faith,

Like a grateful heart, like a surge of awareness, of how precious each moment is.

That now, not next time, now is the occasion to take off my shoes, to see every bush afire,

To lead and whirl with neighbour, to gulp the air as sweet wine,Until I’ve drunk enough to dare to speak the tender word: “thank you” “I love you” “you’re beautiful” “Let’s live forever beginning now; and “I’m a fool for Christ’s sake.” Amen.

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