About djgrieser

I have been Rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Madison, WI since 2009. I'm passionate about Jesus Christ and about connecting our faith and tradition with 21st century culture. I'm also very active in advocating for our homeless neighbors.

Lectionary Reflections for Christ the King Sunday

RNS-HOMELESS-JESUS

This Sunday’s texts are available here.

Canadian sculptor Tim Schmaltz has incited controversy with his bronze statue “Jesus the Homeless.” The image gained notoriety when it was rejected by St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto. The latter image was installed at the Jesuit School of Theology in Toronto and another cast was purchased and installed at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Davidson, NC. The statue depicts a homeless man sleeping on a park bench. His facial features are partially obscured by the blanket that covers him but the marks of crucifixion on his hands and feet clearly identify him as Jesus. After the statue appeared in Davidson, the police were called by a woman who thought it was a real homeless person and others complained that it demeaned the neighborhood. One woman was quoted as saying, “Jesus is not a vagrant; Jesus is not a helpless person who needs our help.” (A story on Huffington Post with images of the statue is here).

This Sunday, the last Sunday of the liturgical year, is Christ the King Sunday, a day when we are encouraged to reflect on the reign of Christ. Often, such reflection takes the form of images of Christ ruling in majesty or coming in triumph. Today’s gospel from Matthew 25, points in a very different direction. We read the familiar parable of sheep, goats, and judgment. For all its familiarity, it continues to challenge us at the core of our existence and at the core of our faith. The king divides sheep and the goats on the basis of how they responded to the deepest human needs: to the hungry and the thirsty, the stranger, the sick, the naked and the prisoner. But when told of their respective fates and the basis for the judgment, sheep and goats answered alike, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or naked?”

The Kingship of Christ, the Reign of Christ, is not primarily about recognizing Christ in majesty and triumph. It is about being Christ—in the weakest, lowliest, and most vulnerable of humans; in feeding and clothing, ministering to and being with the stranger, the sick, the friendless. In acts like these, the reign of God is announced and made present. The reign of Christ is proclaimed in a homeless Jesus.

How’s that “read, mark, learn, inwardly digest” thingie going? A sermon for Proper 28, Year A

This Sunday’s collect, the collect for Proper 28, is one of my favorites:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Continue reading

Appeals Court throws out clergy housing allowance decision

A Federal Appeals court threw out a lower court’s decision in favor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s suit challenging the legality of the IRS tax exemption for clergy housing allowances. More here. The court said the FFRF lacked standing to bring the suit. In other words, it did not rule on the merits of the case.

The Parable of the 10 Drowsy Virgins: A Sermon for Proper 27, Year A

I hate waiting. I especially hate for appointments that are delayed. In fact, there was a time in my life when I scheduled doctor’s and other appointments for the first thing in the morning so that if I had to wait, I knew it was the doctor’s fault for not getting to the office on time. Doctors’ waiting rooms are especially annoying because the reading material available is usually year-old copies of magazines I would otherwise not read. Cellphones and the internet have made things somewhat easier still but if an appointment is delayed, I still find my anxiety rising. Waiting can be fun, even exciting, if the thing we’re waiting for is a joyous event. Think of children looking forward to Christmas. But waiting can also be a burden as we face a looming challenge of one sort or another. Continue reading

A prayer for today

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart [and especially the hearts of the people of this land], that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

On dying with dignity and our baptismal vow to “respect the dignity of every human person.”

I’ve been surprised by my personal response to the spectacle that’s recently played out in our media over Brittany Maynard’s widely publicized decision to move to Oregon to take advantage of that state’s assisted suicide law. On the one hand, I find the notion of terminally-ill people having the option of choosing when to die and the assistance of medical professionals appealing. On the other hand, making such a decision public in the interest of bringing attention to the death-with-dignity movement seems, well, less than dignified. End of life issues are deeply personal and gut-wrenching.

Part of my concern with the whole movement and the debate is how it is couched in term of individual rights and dignity. Many of those in favor of assisted suicide or death with dignity say things like, “I don’t want to be a burden to my family” or this (from Sarah Kliff):

Eric Holland, a brain cancer specialist at the University of Washington, calls glioblastoma multiforme “the terminator” of cancers. “It’s like the movie where there is this a killer that you can’t stop, no matter what you do,” he says.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few days reading about what it’s like to die from glioblastoma multiforme. Median survival for patients is 14.6 months. Death often happens with little dignity. There’s an essay that Stacey Burling, a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter, wrote in 2011 about her husband’s death, that I can’t get out of my mind. She describes the cognitive decline as “Alzheimer’s on steroids”:

He mistook the kitchen trash can for a toilet. He couldn’t figure out how to use a phone. I had to pull him with both hands through unfamiliar buildings because he could no longer walk normally or navigate. I bought Depends, just in case. Two days after we started using them, he asked, “What do you figure our last name is?”

Candace Mondello, who lost her brother Kim to the same tumor, describes the experience similarly. “Kim lost his ability to walk, talk, feed himself or use the bathroom,” she wrote in a 2012 essay. “He lost all dignity at this point. He had to be fed, wear diapers and was bed-ridden.”

Yes, it’s a horrific disease and if I were suffering from it I would likely want to end my life as well. Still, as I read these paragraphs, our baptismal vow came to mind: Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

What is “dignity”? Well, the word comes from the Latin word dignus, which can be translated as “value” or “worth.” We are tempted to see ourselves in purely instrumental terms. Our value or worth is tied up in what we have or what we do, not who we are, God’s beloved children. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby emphasized the potential of the proposed assisted dying law in the UK on the elderly and disabled.

No doubt, I’m in a shrinking minority in my church, but I fear for our culture if “death with dignity” is embraced. More importantly, I think we are called as Christians to be present in the midst of suffering; to be present with those who suffer, and to witness to the dignity of all human beings in the midst of their suffering.

Jason Welle, SJ wrote powerfully about his brother’s death (I linked to it earlier):

But his dying was never without dignity. I asked Tony to let us love him through his sufferings, and we were able to love him all the way through to the end. And in letting us do that, he showed us courage and heroism, and embodied real dignity. Tony’s journey through his own illness, suffering and death was nothing short of courageous; but that he did all this and cared for my dad in his illness and death is simply heroic. Courage and heroism aren’t born in complacency or contentment, nor are they the hallmarks of fearlessness and ordinary strength. They are created in response to trials and suffering, and they’re evidence of the triumph of hope over despair. Dignity too is made possible through courage and heroism, but love makes all of these possible; love in time of affliction is the condition that makes dignity a reality.

No, dignity isn’t opposed to suffering; sometimes in suffering dignity reveals its truest face.

Yes, it’s gut-wrenching, but as gut-wrenching issues usually are, there are hard questions and strong arguments on all sides.