Memorial Day speech 2013 — K-M High School

27 May

Speech for Memorial Day Event, North Memorial Park, Kasson, MN
The Rev. Colin Snow Maltbie, Rector, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Kasson, MN

One of the most challenging parts of the bible is when Jesus tells us to “love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute [us]”… and also when Jesus says to “love one another as he loves [us]”…  I base much of my theological perspective on those two simple, but immensely complicated and challenging things…

I believe that we are called by God to be bearers of peace and love… and I do my best to model and encourage non-violence… and I try to foster such behavior within my family, and faith community, and with all whom I encounter.  I believe that God’s mission is one of love and compassion… of healing and reconciliation… and that part of our challenge in life is to come to know that we are all knit together by the same Holy Spirit… all of humanity, no exceptions… we are all sisters and brothers… beloved children of God… and we need one another… we need God… we need the love which God has revealed through his son our savior, Jesus Christ.

However, despite my commitment to non-violence, I am also eternally and immensely grateful for the sacrifices made by those who serve, or who have served, in the armed forces — our fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters who have put their lives on the line in the name of freedom and liberty for all…

Nancy’s story about the death of her little brother John Tobiason is heartbreaking… I am grateful that she has shared it with us… every day family members and friends are putting their lives on the line somewhere, and every day hearts are broken back home… About 6700 US servicemen and women have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone…

I was moved by an article on the front page of yesterday’s New York Times entitled, “Last Inspection: The Precise Ritual of Dressing the Nation’s War Dead”… according to the article most of those who have died at war are brought through Dover Port Mortuary, at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware… the article describes the process of dressing the soldiers for burial… the personnel who are assigned there “labor meticulously, almost lovingly over every crease and fold, every ribbon and badge of the dress uniform [of the fallen soldiers],” and they prepare the body with the same care, so that they may be presented to the family with dignity… even if the family will not see the body, the same care is given to each soldier… it has to be difficult and emotionally taxing work, but Staff Sargent Miguel Deynes, who serves there, says, “it is more than an honor, it is a blessing to dress each soldier for the last time”… what a blessing Staff Sargent Deynes is to those fallen soldiers and to their families who deserve the utmost honor and respect.

We live in a broken world… a world that is in great need of healing, of reconciliation and restoration… and while I believe there is much we can do to further God’s Kingdom of love and peace, here on earth as it is heaven – in the meantime, before that glorious day when all of Creation is renewed and restored, we struggle and we grieve…

I am generally opposed to war, but war happens… I know that there are times when we come under attack, when we are forced to defend ourselves, and to defend our sense of what is morally and ethically right and good…

It disturbs and angers me when anti-war protestors attack public policy but do not consider the human side of war… that right now there are soldiers in harm’s way… that right now soldiers are coming home – wounded warriors with injuries of body, mind, and spirit… right now men and women are dying in service of our country…

I hope we can all stand together behind a vision of peace throughout the world, someday… an end to violent death.  But in the meantime I hope we can keep one another in our thoughts and prayers, and support one another…  I hope that we can encourage and honor our sisters and brothers who have committed themselves in service to our country, in service to each one of us.  We are deeply indebted to those women and men, to those faithful, courageous people like John Tobiason, and all those whom we know and love in military service.

For them I am grateful, and by them I am deeply inspired.  Can I say that I have made a sacrifice as great as those in the military? As those emergency personnel in our towns and cities?  No.  I cannot.

On this Memorial Day, let us give thanks for, and hold in our prayers all who have died in service of our country.  And let us pray for our enemies, and for those who persecute us, that one day we might be reconciled and restored in Him who was, and is, and is to come, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen


The Bible Challenge — Week 6

9 May

OK.  I am a bad blogger.  And this Bible Challenge really is a challenge — not as much the reading of scripture as the making time to read.  I am still working on just the right pattern of reading so that I am not constantly scrambling to catch up.  I have let a few days go as well.  But when I do sit down to read the scripture, I am glad I did so… even if the text isn’t as always as immediately rewarding as it is at other times.  In the Old Testament we had a wonderful narrative journey from the dawn of Creation, through the salvation of the Israelites from Egypt.  We were introduced to some of the great leaders of the faith.  (And at times we were at times bogged down by details, like measurements and genealogy.)  The end of Exodus and beginning of Leviticus provide a lot of those kinds of details, lots of technical information about how vestments, and worship space and form should be.  I think it is overwhelming and inspiring — what if we took such care in our lives, to sanctify all that we do in thanksgiving to God.  What if we believed that even the most mundane aspects of our lives were holy in the sight of God.  That is one thing I love about the Bible Challenge so far, that I spend a lot more time reading and pondering scripture.  I have noticed that I have been seeing things around me through the lens of scripture.  My experience of theological reflection is deepening.  Have you noticed that as well?

One interesting thing about this experience — we will find our way through each of the four Gospel accounts.  We have experienced Christ’s birth, life and minstry, and his death and resurrection, through Matthew’s eyes… and now we are immersed in the Gospel according to Mark.  A seminary professor once told me that Mark’s account is an express train to the Cross.  There is no birth narrative — we begin with John the Baptist, and Jesus’ baptism, as an adult, by John.  Then Jesus is immediately driven out into the wilderness by the Spirit and is tempted by Satan.  Jesus builds his team of disciples and immediately sets out to heal and proclaim the Good News.  Everything happens with great haste, immediately.  The disciples just don’t understand what’s going on, and yet Jesus continues to empower them to serve the Gospel.  Jesus keeps telling people not to tell others about him — which only seems to increase their zeal and motivation to shout with joy to all whom they encounter.  Many lenses for us to see and hear and experience the living Word…Read with others, and ask questions, and share your own perspectives… God’s Word continues to be revealed through us, in Christ.

The Bible Challenge – Days 16 & 17

18 Apr

The 6 chapters of Genesis that we’ve read the past couple of days take us through Joseph’s rise in power in Egypt, especially after favorably interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams.  Because of Pharaoh’s dreams Joseph predicts 7 years of prosperity and 7 years of famine, and Joseph becomes governor over all of Egypt, first gathering the abundance and then rationing out the stores during the famine.

Joseph encounters his brothers for the first time in years, and we have a powerfully emotional exchange — they come asking for food, and he gives it to them for free (placing their money back into their bags)… but Joseph is vindictive, just a little… he accuses them of being spies, and puts them in prison for three days.  He tells them to come back with the youngest brother, Benjamin, and Simeon must stay in Egypt until they return.  They return the next year, with Benjamin and twice the amount of money (to repay for the previous time).  More trickery awaits them — they are invited to dinner at Joseph’s house, and Joseph places a silver cup in their food bags, along with all of the money they brought.  He has his guard find them as they leave and accuse them of stealing, and they are caught with the cup.  But Joseph doesn’t let the act go on too long, and he eventually reveals himself to his brothers.  And sends them off to tell their father to move to Egypt, and live in Goshen.  His father rejoices.

Matthew 14 & 15:  We hear about the death of John the Baptist, at the hand of a cowardly Herod.  An act spurred by lust and pride.  It doesn’t say so, but Jesus seems to need some time to process the news of his cousin’s death.  John the Baptist was a friend, partner in mission, and some thing maybe even an early teacher/mentor to Jesus.  Jesus seeks some solitude, and withdraws to a deserted place.  But solitude is hard to find for Jesus.  It isn’t long before the crowd of followers finds him… and he takes the opportunity to impart the Good News.  When it is late the disciples are worried about what the folks might eat!  Jesus assures the disciples they have enough to feed everybody.  With five loaves of bread and two fish they feed several thousand people (it says 5000 men plus women and children) with food leftover.  The abundance of God!  We are richly blessed, even in meager times.  In loving community, and in prayer will we find what we need.  It can be hard to see abundance during difficult times… it can be hard to believe in the awesome power of God in our lives when we are feeling overwhelmed.  The indwelling Spirit of God works within each of us, the power of God is in our midst.  Doubt is natural, and OK.  Jesus asks Peter to walk on water, and Peter doubts, but Jesus doesn’t let him fall too far before helping him up.

Jesus challenges the Pharisees, “the blind leading the blind,” who think that Jesus’ disciples are disobedient to God’s law when they eat without first ritually washing their hands.  “It’s not what goes in, but what comes out that defiles.”  This is interesting — Jesus suggests that what is in our hearts are evil thoughts and desires.  But, weren’t we created in the image of God?  I think that we have the capacity for good and evil.  Let us strive for good, and open our hearts to the Holy Spirit to transform us even more to be like Christ in the world.

And what about the Canaanite women? Is not even Jesus transformed by his encounter with this persistent and faithful woman?

And then we have a similar loaves and fishes story.  They feed 4000 men plus women and children with seven loaves of bread and a few fish.  What do you think about these two similar tales?

The Bible Challenge – Day 15 – April 15, 2013

16 Apr

Genesis 37 – 39:

37: We’re introduced to Joseph, Jacob’s favorite son, because he came to him in Jacob’s old age.  Joseph’s brothers are already jealous of him, but then Joseph has the audacity to tell them of a dream in which he rules over them!  This is the last straw, and they conspired to kill Joseph.  But Reuben tries to mitigate…  and they agree instead to sell Joseph into slavery to the Ishmaelites, and to pretend that a wild animal killed Joseph.

38: Here we find Judah, another son of Jacob.  He finds the daughter of a Canaanite woman, Shua, marries and settles down.  It is interesting that his wife has no name, but only her mother.  She gives birth to Er, Onan, and Shelah.  We encounter difficult theology again here, Er is disobedient and so the Lord kills him.  Onan is put to death by the Lord as well for his actions.  And we find a biblical source that some folks use to support masturbation as a sin, or at least ejaculation outside of an intent to procreate.  Some trickery by Tamar toward Judah… she dresses as a temple prostitute, and seduces him, taking his personal effects (cord, signet, and staff) as part of the negotiation.  Later Judah hears of her pregnancy, a disgrace for a widow, he orders her killed… but she has his number, and Judah takes responsibility for his actions.  Twins are born to Tamar — but the one who was to be born first went back in, after he was marked as firstborn, to follow his brother.

39:  Back to Joseph.  Joseph, the slave gains status in Potifpher’s court in Egypt, and is made a governor of the land.  He is a good looking guy, and Potipher’s wife attempts to seduce him, day after day.  Finally, after too many rejections she sets Joseph up and he is imprisoned.  But even there he is a man of status and responsibility, and he prospers.

Matthew 13: The Kingdom of Heaven like a field of wheat and weeds alike… you cannot clear out the weeds before the harvest because you are likely to pull out the good wheat as well… but separate the wheat from the weeds at harvest time.  The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed — the smallest of seeds, but grow into an expansive shrub!  The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast in bread, greatly increasing its yield.  The Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant who buys fine pearls, but then spends everything on one, the finest of pearls.  The Kingdom of Heaven is like a net that can hold all kinds of and every fish.  And the good will be separated from the bad, as in the end times.

Don’t you just love the saying, “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”?  So dramatic.

Jesus then continues teaching in his hometown, where he is met with skepticism, and rejection–for they all know him as a simple son of a carpenter…  “Prophets are not without honor, except in their own country and in their own house.”  This is related to what Jesus says earlier when the disciples ask why he speaks in parables… the people are not ready to hear the legit Truth of God… so Jesus speaks in parables to help them to a deeper understanding, one that requires some effort for them to get to.  In Jesus’ hometown, it is even more difficult for those closest to Jesus to hear such radical revelation come from one of their own.

Psalm 13 – “How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me forever?”  Sometimes, even those of great faith can struggle to feel the presence of God with us… it can be hard to believe, but it is true… God is ever with us, in all times good and bad… the Grace of God is ever present.  This we believe by faith.  And we have a wonderful example in the psalms of the kind of prayer that can help us to make it through difficult experiences.

Reflections on the Bible Challenge – Day 13 – April 13, 2013

13 Apr

Genesis 34-36:
Genesis 34 – Dinah, Leah’s daughter, is raped by Hamor, the Hivite… and then he has the audacity to say he loves her and would like her for a wife!  This sure is a glaring example of how drastically different the cultural context of the narrative is from ours.  “Traditional marriage” as described in scripture.  Jacob’s sons have inherited a bit of the “trickster” from their father, and they deceive the Hivites to convert to their covenant with God through circumcision… and then while the Hivites are still in pain Jacob’s sons have them all killed, and loot their town.
Genesis 35 – Jacob is told by God to go back to Bethel… the place where he had the dream of the ladders and the angels going up and down.  Jacob is told again by God that because of their covenant relationship, Jacob will be blessed — through him will be a nation, a company of nations shall come from him.  Rachel dies giving birth to Benjamin, and is buried on the way to Bethlehem (where Jesus is said to have been born).  And there is a strange inclusion of Reuben having relations with Bilhah.  Isaac, Jacob’s and Esau’s father dies.
Genesis 36 – A long list of descendants, that confounds me… so don’t worry if you don’t read them in too much detail… I admit to skimming them myself.

I find it interesting that the Lord doesn’t punish, but rather rewards, the sons of Jacob for their deceit and violence against the Hivites.  I also find it interesting that Rachel is buried on the side of the road, instead of in a place of honor (like Abraham provided for Sarah).  I also find it interesting that the Lord has Jacob return to Bethel.  It seems to be a place of importance.

Matthew 12 – The Pharisees are out to catch Jesus and his followers up, questioning why they can harvest a bit of grain to eat on the Sabbath… I suppose that would be considered labor.  And Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, also considered “labor” by the Pharisees.  But Jesus refers to a power and a way that transcends the Law (Torah — the Book of Moses).  They wonder if Jesus is wielding the power of Beelzebul, a powerful demon, sometimes used interchangeably with our concept of Satan or the Devil… although it’s not a great comparison.  Jesus affirms that what is good is good, and what is evil is evil.  If healing occurs then it is by the Holy Spirit.  This is an intense exchange, vv34-42… “You brood of vipers!”  He is accusing them of being blind to God’s healing power, even in their “righteousness”.  vv48-50 is hard for us to hear… what can he mean, “who is my mother”?  Jesus means that God intends for all of us to be like kin… to be like family of one another.  To love and support, and be patient and tolerant… just like we are with our kin.

Psalm 12 is a good match for Matthew 12… a reflection of the challenge of living a good and Godly life in the midst of a troubled and misguided world.  Let’s now worry so much about what we shouldn’t be like, and live in love and charity with one another.  World peace begins in our hearts and homes, and spreads out from there.

The Bible Challenge — Weeks 1 and 2

12 Apr

Blogging is a growth area for me… actually, to be honest I find most practices difficult that require vigilance and disciple… which is one reason why I think the Bible Challenge experience will be immensely beneficial… I am so glad that you all have engaged this challenge with me.

I do plan to blog regularly as we read, and I invite your comments… I hope this blog space can be a place of discussion and debate, in addition to other “face-to-face” opportunities throughout the year.

I am up-to-date with the reading schedule, but I have not yet posted to the blog until now… and the days have gone by… and so much has happened!!!  In the interest of time, and in the spirit of the non-anxious, guilt-free experience that I hope we will all have, I will only write a bit about the past couple of weeks… and start fresh with a plan for daily posts.  There is always hope.

We have already covered much ground in the book of Genesis, Matthew’s gospel account…  God created everything from nothing, in 6 days, and then God blessed the 7th — God’s first act of blessing.  We’ve been introduced to Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Laban, Jacob, Rachel, Leah, and the sons of Jacob… so much good stuff there to talk about: the two different Creation accounts; Adam and Eve and the Garden (and the Serpent!); the rise and fall of Noah; Abraham and Sarah, unlikely leaders at their ripe old age; Abraham passes his wife off as his sister not just once, but twice!; of course, the near sacrifice of Isaac is compelling; Isaac and Rebecca give birth to twins, and Jacob is a trickster!; Jacob’s wives and their handmaids have many children, an unconventional family! (Interesting in light of the current debate about “traditional” marriage).

Some of us might struggle with some of the Old Testament theology… with a God who would blot out all humankind with a flood, who would ask Abraham to sacrifice his son (his only son), who would favor one people and destroy another.  We might struggle with the anthropomorphic image of God, of a God with whom we can negotiate, talk to as we might talk to one another.  I think it is important as we read scripture, both Old and New Testaments, that we read with an open mind, and understand that although these writings were written in a very different context than our own.  It is OK to read scripture as a metaphor.  There are many valid and appropriate interpretations possible.  Read scripture in community, and ask questions, and share your reflections.  That way when difficult passages come up that trigger a strong emotional response we are in good company to debate, disagree, and discuss…

In Matthew’s account Jesus is born to Mary, in what would seem to be a scandalous situation… we meet the evil Herod, the Wise Men… then we skip ahead to when Jesus finds John the Baptist and is baptized in the Jordan… and soon after he gathers his disciples, who seem to follow quickly and eagerly, we witness his first major teaching moment on mountain, the famous “Sermon on the Mount” which sums up much of what Jesus is all about… we bear witness to his first healing miracles, and his interactions with the Jewish authorities.  We come to know Jesus, right of the bat, as one who serves the poor and destitute, sick and hungry… those on the fringes including tax collectors and prostitutes.

I have appreciated the psalms as prayer partners… one a day is a good reminder that we are not alone in our mixed emotions about God… the psalms are wonderful examples where all at once the psalmist cries out against God, wonders where the heck God is, rejoices in the many blessings that God has bestowed up them, and reaffirms their faith in God’s promise and power.  Very emotionally complex, and spiritually rich.

I will post more in depth about the readings for  4/13/2013 in a little bit… please comment!  Share your own thoughts — both about the scripture and about how you would like to interact with me and one another as we read… is the blog helpful?  would you like to have meetings on weeknights?  on Sundays after church?  Let me know.

Blessings to you all,


A reflection for this holiday season

20 Nov

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

These words are both a challenge and comfort as we enter into the holiday season, which tends to be an emotionally complex experience for us.  Even at its best, the season is fraught with family conflict – we stress over money issues, we scramble to prepare our homes for guests, we are torn between family members vying for our presence with them.  And this season is even more difficult for those who have lost loved ones, especially for those whose loss has occurred recently. 

I pray that you all find joy in this blessed season, no matter the challenges you face.  Rejoice!  Our awesome God breaks through all barriers to guide us from darkness to light.  Emmanuel!  God is with us. 

I pray that you find much loving support and comfort in prayer, and with your family and friends and faith communities. 

I pray for grateful hearts and a generous will to share your abundance with others.

As this wonderful and overwhelming holiday season comes upon us, let us offer gifts of loving kindness toward one another.  Let us continually seek a deeper relationship with God and a greater openness to the movement of the Spirit, so that we may be the hearts and hands of Christ in the world, a healing balm for all who need it.

The peace and love of God, which surpasses all our understanding, be with you all,

The Rev. Colin Snow Maltbie
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Kasson

(Submitted on November 15, 2012 to the Dodge County Independent.)