Our summer season is upon us!

Services are at 8:15 a.m. and 10 a.m.

The Wheat and the Tares

The Wheat and the Tares

“‘Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ The Master answered, ‘an enemy has done this.’” Matthew 13:28

The Reverend Luther Zeigler

July 23, 2017 – 7A Pentecost

A few years ago when I was preparing some parents for the baptism of their infant daughter, the mom stopped me in the middle of our conversation and said: “You know, I really don’t know why we have to spoil a perfectly joyful occasion with all this talk about ‘Satan’ and ‘evil’ and ‘sinful desires’?” She was, of course, referring to the questions we always ask candidates for baptism – “do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?…do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?…do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?” Often called the ‘three renunciations,’ these questions have been a part of the baptismal rite since the Church’s founding. But to this mom, and to many modern-day Christians, this language of renunciation seems hopelessly anachronistic. What are we to make of it?

Our gospel lesson today – the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares – is a good place to start in framing an answer to this question.[1] The Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus says, is like a field where the Master has spread plenty of good seed. There are acres and acres of flourishing wheat; but there are also weeds trying to take root among the stalks of wheat. ‘Where have these weeds come from?,’ the field workers want to know. Surely, they say to the Master, you would only scatter good seed. Yes, he assures them. So why are there weeds, they want to know? And then in one short, mysterious, but profoundly important sentence, the Master says: ‘An enemy has done this.’

When Jesus later takes his disciples aside to explain to them the meaning of the parable, he tells them that this enemy is the Devil. God is the Master who has created a wonderfully thriving wheat field; but then there are weeds, placed there not by God, but by the Devil.

For most of us, talk of devils is weirdly alien, an image drawn from a bygone mythology. But ‘the devil’ of this Parable is best understood not literally, but rather as a symbol of a deep theological truth – namely, that evil is real, and has a reality beyond the sum of its parts.

We moderns describe the array of destructive forces that surround us in different terms. Rather than devils, we talk about the scourge of addictions, obsessions and compulsions; the plague of depression and melancholy; the ravages of cancer; human preoccupations with violence and domination; and the like. We like to think we have a more sophisticated understanding of these dehumanizing forces, but at the end of the day, these realities are the same as they were in Jesus’ time, and they remain as intractable and destructive as ever, notwithstanding our fancier ways of describing them. To say that the enemy is the Devil, then, is not to revert to pre-scientific fairytale images but rather to acknowledge, through the ancient language of Scripture, that evil has a cosmic, trans-human reality.

Read More

Captive to Sin, Freed by Grace

Captive to Sin, Freed by Grace

“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Romans 7:15.

 The Reverend Luther Zeigler

5A Pentecost – July 9, 2017

If you’ve noticed these past few weeks, our epistle lessons this summer have been drawn from St. Paul’s magisterial, yet difficult, Epistle to the Romans. Well, I’ve dodged him long enough, so today I take up St. Paul and one of his favorite topics: sin. And not only do I hope to talk about ‘sin,’ but even more foolishly perhaps, I shall try to persuade you that ‘sin’ is still a theologically important category, a helpful and true way of talking about the human condition, even if the concept is, at the same time, in need of some modest rehabilitation.

Let me frame our conversation with a story: In the early 1970s, about a decade before I arrived on the Stanford University campus for my graduate work, a young psychologist there had made quite a name for himself because of a controversial experiment he had conducted in human behavior. His name was Phillip Zimbardo, and his study has come to be known as the Stanford Prison Experiment.

What Zimbardo did was this: He ran an ad in newspapers around the country seeking volunteers to participate in a study of the psychological effects of prison life. He sought healthy, intelligent, college-age men, and he screened them to eliminate candidates with psychological problems, medical disabilities, or a history of crime or drug abuse.

The young men were then arbitrarily divided into two groups by a flip of the coin: half were randomly assigned to be guards, the other half were to be the prisoners. They were essentially invited to role-play, so as to recreate the atmosphere of prison life. Zimbardo outfitted the basement of the Stanford Psychology Department building to serve as the prison.

The guards were given no specific training on how to be guards. Instead they were free, within limits, to do whatever they thought was necessary to maintain law and order and to command the respect of the prisoners. To give the experiment a feeling of authenticity, the prisoner volunteers were actually arrested by the Palo Alto Police Department from their homes, strip-searched, fingerprinted, given prison uniforms, and then confined in the makeshift prison. They, too, were given no specific instructions as to how to behave, but were left free to react to their captivity in whatever ways seemed real to them.

Read More

Welcome

Welcome

“Jesus said, ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.’” Matthew 10:40

 The Reverend Luther Zeigler

4A Pentecost – July 2, 2017

Heroes seem few and far between these days. I’m not sure if every generation thinks that things were better in the past, but it is hard to look around the current landscape of politics, culture, or sports, and find many candidates whom one might nominate as a hero.

Perhaps for that reason, I believe now more than ever in the importance of learning from heroic lives. It is one thing to study the abstract truths of moral and religious philosophy; but it is altogether more rewarding to see how a real, living and breathing person uses his or her talents to make the world a better or more beautiful or more just place. Which is to say we find such people ‘inspiring’ – or literally ‘filled with the Spirit’ – which is why we call them heroes or saints.

When I was a chaplain to an elementary school many years ago, I taught a fifth grade religion course that was all about “heroic lives,” a unit I entitled “Saints of Yesterday and Today.” In the course, we studied saintly lives, both past and present, and as a final project, I asked each student to select a person whose life the student found to be compelling, and to do a presentation to the class about the saint.

Little Johnny was a quiet, Catholic boy, who was new to the class and whose family came from Hawaii. Johnny came up to me after I had given the assignment, and said to me: “I’d like to do my project on Father Damien.” I had vaguely heard of Father Damien, because the Episcopal Church had at the time recently included him in our own book of saints, but I honestly didn’t know much about him. “Terrific,” I said. “I look forward to learning about Father Damien.”

“Tell me, Johnny,” I asked, “why did you pick him as your saint?” Johnny thought for a moment, and then said: “because he welcomed people who nobody else liked.”

Read More