Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Day 2011

As many times as I’ve heard story of Jesus’s birth from Luke’s gospel, as many times as I’ve read it myself, as many times as I’ve preached on it… I have never really noticed the prevalence of the manger in the Luke’s story. Luke mentions the manger three times. And we talk about it readily, see it everywhere, but I’ve never really thought about the Eucharistic significance. The shepherds greet God incarnate, not just in a barn, or a cave or a courtyard, not on a pile of blankets in the corner of the room. God incarnate is lying inside the feeding place. The shepherds greet God who is with us at table. Over and over again he feeds us: in his life and his ministry, in his teaching and witness, in his death and resurrection, and in the mystery and wonder of his birth.
It is meet and right, therefore, that we gather together today, on this day of his birth, and allow him to feed us again.
May you be given a taste of the hope, the wonder, the mystery of this baby who is God with us, and who will feed you whenever you ask.

Christmas Eve 2011

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.” Israel is truly a dark place as the prophet Isaiah proclaims this bit of good news. The land is immersed in deep and overwhelming fear as Israel and Judah are both facing their immanent destructions. In just a few years, Judah (the southern kingdom) will become a resident captive and the northern kingdom of Israel will be no more. At this point in history, political machinations are afoot, and the people of the northern kingdom of Israel have declared war on Jerusalem while the Assyrians are practically at the doors of the kingdom. Into this crisis, God sends Isaiah to speak good news to King Ahaz and his people. I am giving you a sign to show that I am with you, God tells God’s people, in the midst of their darkness. No matter what happens God will be with you.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.” Israel has found itself again under the darkness of Roman occupation. The efficient and ruthless Romans are ruling the country with an iron fist, and the people of Israel just try to keep their heads down and go about their daily lives. Some of the more shiftless members of the population of Bethlehem, the shepherds, are working, tending their sheep one ordinary night when a brilliant light splits the darkness and lights up the night. Angels appear to them and tell them the good news: God is with you. No matter what happens, God will be with you.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.” I know that I do not have to speak to you of the darkness of the world. You know of it as well as I. We see it writ large in war, torture, hunger, disease, terrorist bombings, and the wrongful use of power. We see it writ small in family quarrels, disease and death, old age and infirmity, rebellious children, fear, guilt, loneliness, and bereavement. No, we are not strangers to the land of deep darkness.
Modern day mystic and priest Anthony DeMello writes: “Look steadily at the darkness. It won’t be long before you see the light. Gaze at things. It won’t be long before you see the Word.”i We too dwell with the darkness. Tonight we come here to remember that Jesus Christ is God who is with us; we come here because we desperately hope that the light of Christ will drive away the shadows and the darkness of our lives, of our world. All throughout our story, the story of the love affair between God and God’s people, we, God’s people have pulled away, and God says to us, I am with you. Tonight we celebrate and remember the reality that God is in fact with us, no matter what darkness we may face in our lives. No matter what happens, God will be with you.
The artist and poet Jan Richardson has written a blessing for Winter Solstice that speaks to those of us who walk in darkness and long for the light of Christ in our lives and in our world.

Blessing for the Longest Night
All throughout these months
as the shadows
have lengthened,
this blessing has been
gathering itself,
making ready,
preparing for
this night.
It has practiced
walking in the dark,
traveling with
its eyes closed,
feeling its way
by memory
by touch
by the pull of the moon
even as it wanes.
So believe me
when I tell you
this blessing will
reach you
even if you
have not light enough
to read it;
it will find you
even though you cannot
see it coming.
You will know
the moment of its
by your release
of the breath
you have held
so long;
a loosening
of the clenching
in your hands,
of the clutch
around your heart;
a thinning
of the darkness
that had drawn itself
around you.
This blessing
does not mean
to take the night away
but it knows
its hidden roads,
knows the resting spots
along the path,
knows what it means
to travel
in the company
of a friend.
So when
this blessing comes,
take its hand.
Get up.
Set out on the road
you cannot see.
This is the night
when you can trust
that any direction
you go,
you will be walking
toward the dawn.ii

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.” Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy for all people. God is with you, this night and always. No matter what happens, God will be with you.

i. Anthony de Mello, Selected Writings, ed. William Dych, SJ. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1999, p 49.
ii. © Jan L. Richardson.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Blue Christmas meditation

Here is the link for the meditation I read at our Blue Christmas service. It was written by my friend and seminary classmate the Rev. Dr. Jackie Cameron.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

4th Sunday of Advent Year B

4th Sunday of Advent
December 18, 2011
The other night, as I was putting my 3 year old son to bed, Jack and I were talking about angels. Early on in the conversation, Jack says to me, “Me no like angels. Me scared of angels.” You’re scared of angels? I asked. And just as the words, “But why?” where coming out of my mouth, I realized something. The kid was on to something. Angels are scary! In just about all the stories in scripture about angels, what is the one of the first thing the angel says? “Do not be afraid!”
The word angel (angelos) means messenger. Angels always show up with an invitation from God; a warning that God is about to shake things up, and God invites that particular person to be a part of God’s new beginning.
In her book The Glorious Impossible, Madeleine L’Engle retells the story of the life of Jesus through her own words and the illustrations of the medieval artist Giotto. On the page about the Annunciation, she writes,
An angel came to Mary. A fourteen year old girl was visited by an angel, an archangel. In Scripture, whenever an angel appears to anyone, the angel’s first words usually are, “FEAR NOT!”—which gives us an idea of what angels must have looked like.
So the Archangel Gabriel, who visited Mary, greeted her with great courtesy, and then said, “FEAR NOT!”
And then he told her that she was going to have a baby, a remarkable baby who would be called eh son of the Highest.
Mary was already engaged to Joseph. The wedding would be soon. This was strange and startling news indeed. Mary, fourteen years old, looked the angel in the face, asking, with incredible courage, “But how can this be?”
And the angels told her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you. and the Holy Thing which shall be born of you shall be called the son of God.”
What an amazing, what an impossible message the angel brought to a young girl! But Mary looked at the angle and said, “Be it unto me according to your word.”
And so the life of Jesus began as it would end, with the impossible. When he was a grown man he would say to his disciples, “For human beings it is impossible. For God nothing is impossible.”
Possible things are easy to believe. The Glorious Impossibles are what bring joy to our hearts, hope to our lives, songs to our lips… i
When angels show up, it is always with an invitation to participate in the Glorious Impossible. God could easily do it without us, but God doesn’t. Augustine once said, “Without God, we cannot. Without us, God will not.”
Today we celebrate that God is inviting us all to participate in the Glorious Impossible: The miracle of God with us. Do not be afraid.

i. L’Engle, Madeleine. The Glorious Impossible. Simon and Schuster: New York, 1990, 1.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Advent 3B sermon

Advent 3B
December 11, 2011
In his book about Paul, the British theologian and bishop NT Wright reminisces about his ordination over 30 years ago. In the many cards and notes of encouragement that he received, Wright remembers one card in particular. On the front was the Greek phrase: “The One who calls you is faithful.”i It is the heart of the good news; the crux of our hope. No matter what happens to you, no matter what choices you make:
The One who calls you is faithful.
Our readings for today bear witness to the dream of God. In the gospel of John, we see John the Baptist, whose call is to be a witness, to testify to the light that shines in the darkness and is not overcome. John the Baptist bears witness that the dream of God is coming into fulfillment and will be made incarnate in the person of Jesus.
The One who calls you is faithful.
In the reading from Isaiah, we fast forward from our reading last week which spoke words of promise and comfort to a people who had been in exile for decades. This week, we see the fulfillment of the promise: the restoration of God’s people back in Israel. The people who have been in exile have returned home and they are beginning to rebuild their lives and their land. Psalm 126 says that it is a like a dream-come-true. These people have dreamed for so long of returning home, and finally God has accomplished their home-coming. In the reading for Isaiah, we see the dream of God, the restoration of Zion, the Lord’s city, and what that will look like: the broken-hearted will be bound up, the captives and the prisoners will know release, the city will know the Jubilee year as well as seeing the Lord’s vengeance. The mourners will be comforted. And they will all be called oaks of righteousness.
For the one who calls you is faithful.
Isaiah is not just speaking about the work of individuals. He is talking about systemic change and transformation-- what happens when all people participate in the dream of God! What happens when all people of faith offer their lives, through hundreds of small acts of faithfulness, to the fulfillment of God’s dream, to the restoration of God’s city.
In one of the earliest Christian writings that we have, Paul is writing to the Thessalonians and offering them comfort and reassurance, explaining to them how to live in the meantime, as they wait for Jesus’s return. Again, in Paul’s writing we see a small slice of the dream of God for Christian community. How both individuals and the church are called to be: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil. May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.”
Are we giving ourselves over to the dream of God or are we waiting on God to fulfill our own individual dreams? Are we willing to accept the transformation that comes with God’s dream or are we expecting God to yield to us, to fix everything the way we want it and us remain unchanged? How are you being called to let go of your own dream, so that you can give yourself over to the dream of God, the dream of the one who is calling us and who is truly faithful? What might that look like?
In her memoir called Mighty Be Our Powers (2011), the Nobel laureate Leymah Gbowee (Pronounced: Leemah Bowee) describes how one night she became a participant in God’s dream while sleeping on her office floor: "I didn't know where I was. Everything was dark. I couldn't see a face, but I heard a voice, and it was talking to me — commanding me: 'Gather the women to pray for peace!' At 5 A.M. she woke up shaking, feeling like she had heard the voice of God.
Peace was a distant dream for Liberians after fourteen years of savage civil war (1989–2003). By some estimates, ten percent of the population had been slaughtered. Twenty-five percent had fled the country. Starvation, systematic rape, torture, mutilation and Charles Taylor's cocaine-crazed child soldiers had traumatized the nation. Schools and hospitals closed. Rats and dogs ate the unburied dead who littered the streets. There was no water, electricity or phone service.
Later that morning Gbowee related her dream to the women at her Lutheran church. Sister Esther Musah, an evangelist, led them in prayer: "Dear God, thank you for sending us this vision. Give us your blessing, Lord, and offer us Your protection and guidance in helping us to understand what it means." What it meant was the start of the Liberian women's peace movement that ended the civil war.
About twenty Lutheran women began to gather every Tuesday at noon to pray. Sometimes they fasted. They invited other Christian churches. At one meeting, a woman named Asatu spoke up: "I'm the only Muslim here, and we want to join this peace movement." "Praise the Lord!" shouted the Christian women. And so Muslim and Christian women formed an alliance. They shared their horror stories. Training sessions and workshops followed. They passed out brochures and marched to city hall. Three days a week for six months they visited the mosques, the markets, and the churches of Monrovia: "Liberian women, awake for peace!"
In the end, the women forced Charles Taylor to peace talks in Ghana, and then in Ghana they barricaded the do-nothing men in their plenary hall until they signed peace accords. After the 2003 accords, they were instrumental in disarming the country, registering voters, and electing Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as the first woman head of state in Africa.
When people ask “who were these women?” Gbowee says, "I will say they are ordinary mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters." They sowed bitter tears. They went out weeping. And through hundreds of small acts of faithfulness, they courageously participated in God’s dream of peace, joy, and laughter for their beloved country.ii
The one who calls you is faithful.
How are you being called, how are we being called to bear witness with our very lives to the one who is calling us and who is truly faithful? You do not have to be a Nobel-prize winning peace activist to participate in the dream of God. But you do have to relinquish a part of yourself, your desire for control, your plan or dream for the way that things are going to turn out. And to participate in the dream of God. It starts right here, right now, in hundreds of small acts of faithfulness.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes “…In the early Church people were attracted to it not so much by the preaching, but by the fact that they saw Christians as a community, living a new life as if what God had done was important, and had made a difference. They saw a community of those who, whether poor or rich, male or female, free or slave, young or old—all quite unbelievable loved and cared for each other. It was the lifestyle of the Christians that was witnessing.”iii
The one who calls you is faithful! What small acts of faithfulness might you offer to participate in the dream of God in your life, in this time, and in this place?

i. Wright, NT. Paul For Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians. London: SPCK, 2002, p 133.
ii. This story is originally found on the website of Daniel Clendin:
iii. Tutu, Desmond. Crying in the Wilderness. Ed. John Webster. London: Mowbray, 1990, pp 6-7

Sunday, December 4, 2011

2nd Sunday of Advent Year B

2nd Sunday of Advent
December 3, 2011

The Old Testament reading and the gospel reading for today, the 2nd Sunday of Advent, were both written for people who were dwelling in the wilderness of disappointment and frustrated expectations. In Isaiah, the prophet is writing to a people who have witnessed the destruction of their homes, their faith, their government, their very lives. And they have been living in this wilderness of disappointment, in captivity for decades.
Mark’s gospel is also written to a people who are dwelling in the wilderness of disappointment. Over and over again, the writer of Mark’s gospel is emphasizing that following the way of Jesus is difficult; that more often than not, we just don’t get it; that discipleship includes embracing suffering and death as our Lord embraced them. The writer of Mark is writing to try to deal with the apparent failure of Jesus’s message.
Into this wilderness come the springs of hope in the words of 2nd Isaiah and strangely enough, in the call of repentance of the rough figure John the Baptist. Both are reminding us that God longs to be reconciled with us. Both invite us to examine our inner landscapes, to see how God might be calling us to allow God to re-shape and rearrange our lives and our souls that we might be made less empty and more sated, less wounded and more whole, less self-centered and more godly.
In Mark’s gospel, the writer refers frequently to “the way.” Here it is written of the voice of one crying in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord …” The heart of Mark’s gospel is all about following Jesus on ‘the way’; it’s all about discipleship. And all throughout the gospel, Mark is showing us what it means to follow Jesus, to follow the Way—that it is truly a difficult path. Mark is trying to suggest that Jesus properly understands and accepts death and that he suffers and dies willingly, and so for Mark, that is what it means to follow Christ. That is the Way.
In our gospel for today, I am struck how John the Baptist suddenly appears in the wilderness. It’s not necessarily his home, where he lives, but it is where he shows up to deliver his message. And his message is to prepare the way and to follow it. He preaches about God’s ultimate purpose, the purpose that is captured so beautifully in the love song that is Isaiah 40. God’s purpose is forgiveness and reconciliation. Repentance or turning and confession are the call of John the Baptist. They are the tools that God uses in the wilderness to reshape our spiritual landscapes. Some of us are so reluctant to do this work, to embrace John’s call to repentance and confession. But this is the way that we must accept the death of ourselves in order to have the peace and the comfort that God so freely offers.
In our Old Testament and Gospel readings for today, we find much emphasis placed upon changing landscapes, the wilderness, and upon preparing the way of the Lord. These familiar words from Isaiah, about how God is going to dramatically shake up, rearrange and reshape the landscape, are words of great comfort and restoration for the original hearers—those who have been suffering in the wilderness of captivity and slavery for decades. It is said that the job of the prophets is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.
I know there are many of you sitting out there this morning who are also suffering in your own wilderness and exile, deeply longing for a great, dramatic shake-up, for a great change in the landscape. There may be others of you who are relatively comfortable, for whom these words of dramatic rearranging of the landscape are quite threatening. Now just wait a minute! I built my house on that hill! I do not want it to be brought down into a valley! Whether we like it or not, life and God periodically rearrange the landscapes of our lives and our spirits.
Whether you are one of those who are already pretty comfortable, or one of those in desperate need of comfort, we are all invited on this Second Sunday of Advent to ponder and to participate in the surveying of our interior landscapes.
Another preacher writes about this endeavor saying: “During Advent, we go with John into the wilderness to prepare the way to welcome Christ into our hearts and lives anew at Christmas. We have the opportunity to explore the inner geography of our lives for areas of dead wood, thorns or tangled knots. Twisted relationships, the dead wood of old hurts or habits, the confusion that sometimes comes when we feel we can’t see the wood for the trees—all these are wilderness areas, and they need to be cleared away before growth and new life is possible. Or perhaps there are desert patches—arid, dry areas where nothing can grow or blossom, parts of us which have almost withered away from not being used or tended or tested—some tenderness, some care, some talent, some forgiveness, some humor—that need the water of life to bring them bursting into flower.” (Kathy Galloway, Getting Personal: Sermons and Meditations SPCK, London, 1995, pp89-90)
What are the wilderness areas in your soul these days? Do you harbor the dead wood of old hurts and habits? Do you cultivate the thorns of disappointment or betrayal? What part of your soul has fallen into the dessert and so longs for water and nurture and nourishment? Do you have valleys of disappointment or half-hearted commitment that God is seeking to fill? How might God be calling you to rearrange the landscape of your heart and your soul to prepare the way for Jesus? What part of your life is God longing to reshape, to give you comfort and nourishment, if you will but allow it? Where are you being called to repent and to receive God’s forgiveness?
I read an Advent devotion this week by Richard Rohr in which he writes, “When people say piously, ‘Thy kingdom come’ out of one side of their mouth, they need to say ‘My kingdom go!’ out of the other side” (Rohr, Richard. Preparing for Christmas…Daily Meditations for Advent. St. Anthony Messenger: Cincinnati, 2008, p13). I invite you to think about that today as your pray the Lord’s prayer and all through the week. And ask yourself, “What wilderness part of me must die to make room for the new creation waiting to be born?”

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Last Sunday after Pentecost--Christ the King Sunday

Last Sunday after Pentecost (Christ the King)Proper 29A
November 20, 2011
Today is the last Sunday after Pentecost, the day upon which we contemplate the reign of Christ, and much of our readings and music today depict our lord as Christ the King.
We Americans have a love/hate relationship with royalty that goes back to our very beginnings; we covet our independence from monarchs, even as we keep an eye upon what those glamorous royals in other parts of the world are up to.
Kingship is an ambiguous image for us. My friend Sylvia Czarnetsky tells the story of how she planned a children’s Sunday school in her church once on Christ the King Sunday and the craft for the lesson was that all the children and the grown up helpers got to make their own crowns (made out of Burger King crowns and lots of glitter); and then they all got to wear them around during the Sunday school hour. She says that experience taught her one of the core tenants of kingship that every child seems to know: that is that if a person is king, he (or she) gets to boss everyone else around!
We get a completely different image of kingship in our gospel reading for today. In today’s gospel from Matthew, we get the only depiction of the Last Judgment in the New Testament. It comes at the end of a series of exhortations and parables through which Jesus is teaching his followers about right behavior, right action until he comes again.
In today’s parable, Jesus tells us about the coming of the Son of Man. He says that on that day, all nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And the question that will determine which people are sheep and which people are goats will basically be the question, “What have you done for me lately?” The blessed, or the sheep, will be the ones who have, by feeding, clothing, sharing with and befriending the less fortunate, in fact have been serving the Son of Man. The goats will be the ones who haven’t done this.
So, I have three questions for you today. Now, I’m going to do something a little unorthodox and ask you to actually raise your hands. Who here has ever in your life done what Jesus has asked of us in the beginning of the passage and fed a hungry person, clothed a naked person or visited a person in prison? You have! That’s wonderful! You are the sheep. Now, who here has, even once in your life, walked past a hungry person, failed to clothe a naked person, or not visited someone in prison? Well, that’s too bad. You’re all goats. How many of you raised your hand both times? You know what that means? It means that we are a bunch of good goats.

That little exercise is from a book called Good Goats: Healing our Image of God. And in it, the authors explain more about this concept of what it means to be a good goat. “All of us who have felt alienated, unloved, overwhelmed by shame or helplessly caught in an addiction know what it’s like to be in hell. And all of us who have been welcomed home, who have seen our goodness reflected in the affirming eyes of another or who have been loved into recovery know what it’s like to be in heaven. We all have wheat and weeds within us, sheep and goats. The kingdom of God is within us, and we’re all good goats.”i
What Jesus is teaching his disciples and us in the passage, is that salvation is not something that we can achieve if we work hard enough. Salvation is, like the love of God, something that steals upon us. It is something that we discover, often in the places where we least expect it. Salvation is what we find in those moments when we can manage to glimpse the face of God in the face of the other. Jesus’s kingship is an invitation to us to live more fully into the best of our own humanity. We may not be able to end hunger, to visit all who are sick, to include every stranger. But when we open our hearts to the King’s compassion, then we can look at least one or two of the suffering in the eyes and see them as God sees them: beautiful and lovely and worthy of love. We may not be able to change the world, but we can offer comfort and solace to those who are trampled down by life, in whatever small ways we can, along the way.
So although we’d all like to live more fully into a kingship in which we are the boss and we get to boss everyone around and run the world according to our own way (because face it, we know we could do it…), we follow a king of a different sort. We follow a king who is not too proud or too lofty to dwell with people in their worst moments. We follow a king who does not flinch from touching people right where they are sickest, most broken. We follow a king who dwells in the darkest of places, in the hearts of all of us who are poor, sick, stranger, imprisoned, and naked. We follow a king who invites us to see his face in the face of the other and to find our salvation and the Kingdom of God there.

i. Linn, Dennis, Sheila Fabricant Linn, and Matthew Linn. Good Goats: Healing Our Image of God. Paulist: Mahwah, 1994, p49.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

22nd Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 28A

22nd Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 28A
November 13, 2011
This past week, I learned something that has disturbed me greatly. A behavioral psychologist in Jackson was sharing with a group of clergy that she had been doing research among people of faith as we approached the vote on the controversial personhood initiative. She said that her research group had gathered significant data that showed that many people of faith were afraid of what would happen to them if they voted no. The data showed that the people of faith believed that God would be watching them when they entered the poll booth, watching to see how they voted, and they feared divine retribution if they voted no. People of faith actually told this behavioral psychologist that they believed that if they voted no on ballot initiative 26 then God was going to get them.
At first I was incredulous. And then I was somewhat scornful. None of these people could possibly be Episcopalians, because surely our theology is much more sophisticated than that! And then I felt so very terribly sorry for those people, for whom that is their faith, those whom have chosen to live their lives in that kind of fear of God.
And then I read the gospel for today. In today’s parable, Jesus tells of a man who is preparing to go on a journey, and he entrusts to three of his slaves an enormous amount of his money. Two of the slaves take the money and use it to make more money, so when the master returns, they give him his money back and then some. The third slave takes the money the master gives him and he takes a shovel and digs a hole in the ground to bury the money and keep it safe until the master returns. But when he returns that money to the master and confesses his fear to him, the master severely chastises him and has him cast into the outer darkness.
We make a mistake if we read this parable to be about God and the nature of God’s kingdom. This parable is, instead, about us and about all the people of God. The chief problem of the third slave, especially in contrast to the other two slaves, is the failure of his imagination. It is the chief failure of all people of faith, this failure of imagination. We can see it all throughout the story of God and God’s people: God invites peoples’ trust; God invites peoples’ best hopes, their best dreams, and our imaginations fail us. We cannot get over thinking that God is just as small as we are. We cannot imagine God to be any bigger, better, different than ourselves. And in that way, we fail, again and again and again.
Think about the stories of our faith, how the Israelites turned away from God over and over again because their imaginations failed them, their trust failed them. Think about the Pharisees, the Scribes, even the disciples. How they could not see the glory of God who was right in front of them because of the failure of their imaginations. We see this failure of imagination at work in the faithful community at Thessolonika, to whom Paul is writing to invite them to expand their imaginations, to not be discouraged, to remember their hope. He writes to capture their imaginations once again with the real hope “that God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.”
If we are truthful, we see this failure of imagination at work in our own world, in our own church, in our own lives. Truly we are not so different from those people who thought that God was going to get them if they voted a certain way. We all share in this failure of imagination regarding the goodness and the abundance of God.
The theologian James Allison writes about the success of the imagination of the first two slaves in this parable. He writes, “The key feature of this parable is that it is the imagination of the servants as to what their master is like which is the determining factor of their conscience and thus the wellspring of their activity. The first two servants…trusted that their master was the sort of daring fellow who would do rash and crazy things for which there was no script, would dare, would experiment, would risk losing things and so would end up multiplying things greatly. In other words, they perceived their master’s regard for them as one of liking them enough to be daring them and encouraging them to be adventurous, and so, imagining and trusting that abundance would multiply, they indeed multiplied abundance.”i

Again and again, Jesus invites us to step beyond our fear; to allow ourselves to be inspired by hope; to leave behind the limits of our own imaginations; to give our hearts to God’s abundance; and to stake our lives on this radical abundance that is so far beyond anything our own imaginations can provide. If only we could do this, if only we could give our hearts and our imaginations to God’s abundance, what a different world we would dwell in! How different our own lives would be!

Here are the readings for today:

i Allison, James. On Being Liked. London: Darton, Longman, & Todd, 2003, p 109.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A letter to those being baptized on the Sunday after All Saints

Sunday after All Saint’s Day
November 6, 2011

Dear Avery and Gabe,

Today is a very special day. It is the day when we are gathered to baptize you both and to begin the life-long process for you of walking the way of faithfulness to God through following the path of Jesus Christ. It is the day when we gather together to promise to support you in your life of faith, even as we renew and reaffirm our own baptismal promises. It is the day when we remember all of the saints who have come before us, those who have walked this way with us, and even those who will come after us.

In the gospel reading for today (on this day of your baptism) we see Jesus giving his first sermon, and he is telling his disciples, the crowds and us two very important things in this sermon. Jesus is, first and foremost, telling us about the nature of God, and he is telling us how to follow him on the path of faithfulness to God.

In this sermon, Jesus is telling us that God’s kingdom is based on the values of God and not on the values of this world. God values mercy, humility, kindness, peace, righteousness. God values the weak, the powerless, the little children; all those who most often get trampled by the powerful. And to be faithful to God and the values of God’s kingdom, then we must give our hearts to things which would seem to profit us little: mercy, mourning, peace, and meekness.

Jesus tells us that way of discipleship that we begin at our baptism is the process of following this road to the Kingdom of God. And we are both already there in the moment of our baptism as well as traveling there until the day of our death.

As you each walk this road of faithfulness all the days of your lives, may you remember what Jesus is teaching on this first day of your life of faith:
You are on the right road when you are poor in spirit for only then can you truly possess the kingdom of heaven.
You are on the right road when you mourn, and you will be comforted.
You are on the right road when you are meek for you will inherit the earth.
You are on the right road when you hunger and thirst for righteousness for you will be filled.
You are on the right road when your heart is pure for then you are able to see the face of God.
You are on the right road when you make peace and God will claim you as God’s child as God does on this day.
You are on the right road when you are persecuted for upholding the values of the Kingdom of God and you will thus belong to that kingdom.
You are on the right road when people despise you and mistreat you for the good things for which you stand and in that, you share kinship with our Lord Jesus who has gone this way before you through death and into new life and resurrection.

There may be times in your life and in your faith, when you feel so lonely, so overwhelmed, so unfulfilled, you so long for something more and better and not so difficult that you do not know how you can bear to continue down this road. And on those days, I invite you to remember this day, when all the believers past, present, and future gather together to promise to uphold you on this way and who, from this day forward, shine the light of their lives and their faith ahead of you into the darkness toward Jesus who walks this road before all of us. You do not walk this road alone, but you walk with a whole host of companions, a great cloud of witnesses.

There will be times as you follow this way of faithfulness that you will be faced with impossible choices. There will be times on this way when parts of you will die. Sometimes they will be the sick, unhealthy parts of you that keep you from God: your pride, vainglory, and selfishness. But other times they will be your deepest hearts desires: your hopes, your dreams and your wishes for the future. In each of those deaths, God is present with you in your mourning, and God offers you new life, new hope on the way.

Finally, we gather together this day to celebrate. Because no matter what hardships we might face in this life and on this road of faithfulness, we know the end of the story. We live the end of the story. We baptize you this day into the end of the story: that no matter what happens, God’s love is stronger than absolutely anything, even death. On this day, we baptize you into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is the way that we follow for faithfulness in God and to live into God’s kingdom; we seal you in the Holy Spirit and mark you as Christ’s own forever. And we celebrate with you, because from this day forward, no matter what happens in your life or what hardships you endure, you belong to God. And God’s love always wins. We promise to help you remember, and to walk this way with you. We promise to help you remember joy, to know peace and to hold fast to hope.
Your sister in Christ, Melanie+

Sunday, October 23, 2011

19th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 25A

19th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 25A
October 23, 2011

Messenger by Mary Oliver

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.i

When the lawyer approaches Jesus in today’s gospel, he asks Jesus, “which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus answers him first with the Shema, the cornerstone of Jewish faith, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
“In quoting the Shema, Jesus points out that the aim of the law is to orient one’s entire life toward God. However, one cannot love God without loving what God loves!”ii And what does God love? Everything. Everybody. All of creation. You, and your own unique life.
The question for us this day is How do we do this work? How do we do the work of ‘loving the world;’ how do we do the work of rejoicing, of gratitude? How do we love God whole-lifedly?iii
We love God whole-lifedly through our stewardship. Stewardship is all that I do with all that I have after I say “I believe.” Stewardship is not a season in the church year when the church is trying to make its annual budget. Stewardship is the choices that you make every single day of your lives. It is how you choose to be in this world, how you choose to be in relationship with God. Do the choices you make day in and day out drive you closer to God, or do they drive you away from God? Do your choices bring you closer to God’s people and God’s creation or do they separate you from them? Do you spend your time in this life taking? Or do you spend your time in this life giving, caring, supporting?
Some of these choices involve money and some do not. I had a conversation with my mother not too long ago, where she shared with me the fact that my parents’ decision to become vegetarians was a stewardship issue. They had learned about the miserable existence of most animals who are specifically raised to be food, and they no longer wanted to participate in that system. They had researched about the ways that they could reduce their carbon footprint in this world, to better care for the earth, and so they gave up meat, and they sold their SUV and replaced it with a much smaller, more fuel-efficient car. They are doing this work of conservation and in it they are loving the world and loving their children and grand-children. So the other day, after I had heard my mother talk about this, I was running out the door and went to grab a bottle of water from the fridge, and I stopped. I realized that it would only take a couple of extra minutes to get my aluminum bottle out and fill it with the filtered water from the fridge. Will I save the world with that one bottle of water? No. But in that choice, I chose to be a giver instead of a taker, and I felt more connected with God, the earth, and the people I love because of it.
Last week, I shared with you the fact that Jesus talks about money more than anything else except the kingdom of God. He talks about money more than he talks about heaven and hell combined; 11 of his 39 parables are about money. That should tell us something! There is a direct connection between our money and our relationship with God. I asked you to recall your first memory of money and examine what that memory says about your image of God. I know some of you did this, because you shared your stories with me. Today, I’m going to ask you to do another sort of examination this week. Jesus summed up the spiritual connection with money and the choices that we make in our financial stewardship when he said (in Luke12:34), “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” So I’m going to ask you to do this exercise at some point in the week. Take some time and look at your check-book, online bank statement, and your other financial resources. Just look and see what your checkbook says about where your heart is. Take some time and ask yourself: How do I love through the way I spend my money? Who do I love through the way I spend my money? What does my checkbook show about my relationship with God and others? In the ways that I spend my money, am I loving God whole-lifedly?
Next week is our Consecration Sunday, where we gather to worship and eat together, to celebrate our life together and to make our commitment to what we will give to God through God’s church in the coming year. As you are reflecting on how the choices you make shape your relationship with God, I invite you to pray about how you might grow in your giving and thus grow in your relationship with God. If you don’t normally pledge, then perhaps your step in growth is to pledge this year. If you are pledging, then perhaps your step is to examine what portion of your money you are offering to God and if you feel good about it, that it is an accurate representation of your gratitude for all the good things that come from God. Take the sheet from your bulletin home and see where you fall; look at what percentage you are giving and pray about whether you might be able to grow in your giving. If you show up next Sunday and write a number on the card, that is great! But you have an opportunity now to grow in your relationship with God if you are intentional and prayerful about this process.
I’ve been praying over this whole month about what we are going to write on our card next Sunday. We currently give 10% of my stipend to the church, and it is a spiritual practice for me to write the very first check after I get my paycheck back to God in thanksgiving. Writing that check for me, every other week, is truly a prayer, and I think about all the good things in my life which come from God for which I am grateful as I write it and as I drop it in the plate. When David started working last year, we started giving 10% of his income to different organizations for which we are thankful--organizations which have made a difference (and continue to make a difference) in our lives and in the life of our family, and this also has been a prayer for us. We’ve given to Stewpot and to their capital campaign; we’ve given to MPB, to our alma maters; we’ve give to General Seminary twice, to the Society for the Increase of Ministry (which gave David scholarships during seminary). We’ve given to CES, to the Humane Society. And boy, does it feel good to support these organizations that have supported and formed us! We will continue to do that with the tithe from David’s income, and this year we will be increasing our pledge to St. Peter’s by $50 a month.
‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” How do you do this work? How do you do the work of ‘loving the world;’ how do you do the work of rejoicing,of gratitude? How do you love God whole-lifedly ?
You love God whole-lifedly through your stewardship, through the choices that you make every single day of your lives. It is how you choose to be in this world, how you choose to be in relationship with God. Do the choices you make day in and day out drive you closer to God, or do they drive you away from God? Do your choices bring you closer to God’s people and God’s creation or do they separate you from them? Do you spend your life taking? Or do you spend your life giving and loving?

i. From Thirst. Poems by Mary Oliver. Beacon: Boston, 2006, p 1.
ii. Beach-Verhey, Tim. “Theological Perspective.” Feasting on the Word Year A Vol 4. Westminster: Lousiville, 2011, p214.
iii. This concept of whole-lifedly is attributed to Allen Hilton. “Homiletical Perspective.” Feasting on the Word Year A Vol 4. Westminster: Lousiville, 2011, p215.

Readings for today can be found at

Sunday, October 16, 2011

18th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 24A

18th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 24A
October 16, 2011
A man suffers a serious heart attack and has open heart bypass surgery. He wakes up from the surgery to find himself in the care of nuns at a Catholic Hospital.
As he is recovering, a nun asks him questions regarding how he was going to pay for his treatment. “Do you have health insurance?”
"No,” the man croaks. “No health insurance."
“Do you have any money in the bank?”
"No money in the bank."
"Do you have a relative who could help you?" asks the nun.
"I only have a spinster sister. She is a nun."
The nun bristles. "Nuns are not spinsters! Nuns are married to God."
“Alright, already!” croaks the patient. "Then send the bill to my brother-in-law."
Perhaps not quite what Jesus meant when he said, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
In our gospel reading for the day, two opposing parties have teamed up in an attempt to trap Jesus: the Herodians who support the Roman rule and law and the Pharisees who do not. They approach Jesus with a question which is really a trap, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” There are a couple of issues at work here. The Romans claim that Caesar is the son of god, and they require the Jews to pay their taxes with a special coin that carried the image of the divine Caesar. The Pharisees saw the use of this coin as a violation of the first and the second commandments. So they are trying to catch Jesus between a rock and a hard place; if he says to pay the tax, he is advocating paying tribute to another god, but if he says don’t, then that is treason against Rome. So Jesus answers them with two questions, asking to see the coin used for the tax. Jesus points out that it is the emperor’s image and likeness that is imprinted upon the coin, and he answers their original question by saying, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.”
Now, we’re Episcopalians, and we aren’t always so comfortable talking about money. But did you know that Jesus talks about money more than anything else except the kingdom of God? He talks about money more than he talks about heaven and hell combined; 11 of his 39 parables are about money. That should tell us something! There is a direct connection between our money and our relationship with God.
I went to a workshop not too long ago, where the speaker asked us each to consider the following question. What is your first memory of money? Think about it for a moment. What is your first memory of money? When I spent some time with that question, I discovered that my first memory of money is of the day that my grandfather took me to the bank to open up a bank account. He had been saving his change (I think it was quarters) that he’d take out of his pants pocket every night to help me buy a piano. I had been taking lessons, but my family didn’t have a piano for me to practice on, and so, on this one particular day, Pop took me down to Citizens Bank in Columbia, and we opened a bank account together. We got one of those little blue bank books they used to use, and it had both of our names on the account. After time and a whole bunch of Pop’s quarters, we were able to buy me a piano. It is a powerful memory for me, about ownership in this process, even though I was just a little child; it taught me about abundance and generosity and gratitude.
After the speaker at that conference asked us what our first memory of money was, he then asked us to think about what that memory says about how we understand God, because the two are intricately connected. Our understanding of money (as shaped by our earliest experiences and memories) tells us a great deal about our understanding of God. How we feel about and deal with money reflects what image we hold of God. I invite you to spend some time with these ideas this week and ponder the question, “What is my image of God?” And talk to someone about your earliest memory about money, at brunch today, at coffee hour, at some point in the week; it is a beautiful and strangely intimate practice to share another person’s memory, and it helps us to understand each other and ourselves on a deeper level.
We become like the God we adore. Like the coin in the gospel imprinted with the emperor’s image, our lives have the potential to become imprinted with the image and likeness of God. Every day of our lives, we make decisions about how we spend our money, our time, our attention, and those decisions either help us grow more deeply into the image and likeness of God or they push us away from that.
What image is imprinted upon you through the God you worship? Is it the image of the living God as manifest in Jesus Christ—the image of compassion, hope, generosity, forgiveness? Or is it the image of the world-- fear, scarcity, despair, and un-forgiveness? What God are you really worshipping in your choices every day?
To God you are worth as much today as you were worth the day that you were born! What will you do with that worth? How do you spend this one precious life which is yours to spend?

The readings for today can be found at

Saturday, October 8, 2011

17th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 23A --The Runaway Bunny edition

17th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 23A
October 9, 2011
Our readings this morning are just chock-full of parties! There’s the party that Aaron and the children of Israel throw while Moses is on sabbatical that results in the construction of the golden calf and Yahweh’s wrath burning hotly against the people. And there’s the wedding banquet that is thrown by the king in honor of his son’s wedding which results in the murder of the kings slaves and the first round of wedding guests and then also results in one of the second string guests getting cast into the outer darkness.
Now, we’re Episcopalians, and we all love a good party. So, my question for you today is who wants to come to this party?
What is the good news in this parable of judgment? A king is determined to throw a party—a wedding banquet for his son. So he makes out a guest list of all the nobles in the land, and when he sends his servants with the invitation, the would-be guests refuse to come, even going so far as to kill the servants. The king acts and wipes them all out, but he is still determined to give this party. So he tells his servants to go gather up everyone, the good and the bad, and invite them to the party. Now these folks he’s inviting, literally gathering up off the streets, do not have appropriate attire so custom dictates that the king provide them with wedding garments that are fitting for the occasion. Everything is going along well, until the king sees one wedding guest who has accepted the invitation but who is unwilling to dress the part (and who won’t even answer the king when he asks him why), so the king has the guest thrown out of the party into the outer darkness.
So, who wants to come to this party?
In her sermon, "Wedding Dress" from the book Home by Another Way, Barbara Brown Taylor writes about this party. I’ve changed her language slightly to make it more appropriate for this place, this party at which we find ourselves today.
“Everyone in Harrison County was invited to be here this morning, but as you can see, some of them had other things to do. Some are on the golf course and some are at work. It just so happens that, for our own good and bad reasons, this is the invitation we decided to accept this morning. But like the underdressed guest, some of us have rolled in here without thinking much about it. We have showed up with our spiritual shirttails hanging out, lining up at the buffet as if no one could see the ways in which we too have refused to change - refusing to surrender our fears and resentments, refusing to share our wealth, refusing to respect the dignity of every human being. These are the old clothes we wear to the king's banquet - the clothes we prefer to the wedding robe of new life.”
So, who really wants to come to this party?
I used to think that our relationship with God is like the children’s book—The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown. There’s this little boy bunny who wakes up one day and arbitrarily tells his mother that he is going to run away; she tells him that she will chase after him, and so he constructs more and more elaborate disguises in an attempt to get away from her, but every time he changes, she changes into something so she can follow him. “I will become a sailboat to sail away from you,” he says, and she responds, “If you become a sailboat and sail away from me, ….I will become the wind and blow you where I want you to go.” Until finally, the mother’s love is so persistent that the little bunny decides to give up and stay at home with his mother. (And she gives him a carrot.)
Our Eucharistic Prayer C (that we will pray together in just a few minutes) says it this way: “From the primal elements you (God) brought forth the human race, and blessed us with memory, reason, and skill. You made us the rulers of creation. But we turned against you, and betrayed your trust; and we turned against one another. [Now here’s the runaway bunny part.] Again and again, you called us to return. Through prophets and sages you revealed your righteous Law. And in the fullness of time you sent your only Son, born of a woman, to fulfill your Law, to open for us the way of freedom and peace.”
It is saying that ultimately, God wins; love wins. And do get me wrong, I still believe that with all my heart. But while I used to be more focused on the ending, how God’s love always wins, now, I’m more interested in the running away-- why we do it and what it does to us. It’s the same reason someone would accept an invitation to a wedding banquet, but not be willing to wear the appropriate garb. Because these days I see, day after day, this running away, in my own life and in your lives too. I see this refusal to put on the wedding garment, which is obedience to God, because our own holey-worn-out clothes of our own wills and desires and priorities are just much more comfortable. It is so much easier and more comfortable to worship a god of our own creating that to worship the living God who holds us accountable for our refusal to give and receive grace.
Gregory of Nyssa, one of the church fathers, says, “Sin happens when we refuse to grow,” and we can spend so much of our energy in running away from God, in refusing to grow, that we make our own lives and the lives of those around us a hell on this earth, a hell of our own choosing.
So, who really wants to come to this party? God’s invitation is there, waiting for us to accept it. But once we get here, we must decide if we are willing to clothe ourselves in the wedding garments, if we are truly ready to put on our party clothes. Another question you might ask yourself this morning besides the one, ‘Do I really want to come this party?” is “what am I clothing myself in these days?” or “How am I allowing God to garb me?”
For the apostle Paul, we are called to put on the garments of rejoicing, of gentleness, of getting along with one another, of prayer and supplication, of the peace of God. We are called to put on the garments of truth, honor, justice, purity, excellence . And we are called to put on the fullness of Christ himself, who has taught us how to be in this world.
The medieval mystic Julian of Norwich says it this way: “Our good Lord is our clothing that for love wraps us up and winds us about, embracing us, beclosing and hanging about us, for tender love.”
So, who really wants to come to this party?

Here's a link to the readings for this Sunday.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

16th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 22A

16th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 22A
October 2, 2011
“On the 11th of September 1522 Sir Thomas More wrote a short letter to his daughter Margaret. Obviously she had asked him to send her some money, and in his reply More wrote, ‘You ask for money, my dear Margaret, with too much bashfulness and timidity, since you are asking from a father who is eager to give…As it is, I send only what you have asked, but would have added more…So the sooner you spend this money well, and the sooner you ask for more, you will be sure of pleasing your father.”i
This morning in our collect of the day, we pray to a God who is “always more ready to hear than we are to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve” and we ask God to pour upon us the abundance of God’s mercy…forgiving us and giving us those good things for which we feel unworthy to ask. It is important to remember this—what we are praying, what we are believing about God this day before we even begin to think about the readings for today.
Let’s start with the gospel. Today we hear Matthew’s version of Jesus’s parable of the wicked tenants, which is the second in a series of three parables that Jesus tells in the temple after he has ridden into Jerusalem in triumph, thrown the money changers out of the temple the day before and come back to teach the next day. These three parables are all set in the context of the chief priests and elders’ question to Jesus: “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
In this second of the three parables, Jesus tells about a landowner who planted a vineyard and then left it in the hands of some tenants and went away to another country. The wicked tenants don’t want to give the landlord the fruits of their labor in the vineyard, so when the landowner sends two different groups of slaves and then his own son, the tenants resort to more and more dramatic acts of rebellion, finally killing the son of the landowner in a ridiculous and unreasonable plan to inherit the vineyard themselves from a landowner who is still living and whose wrath they have now provoked.
In its original setting, the parable holds at its heart the idea of how Israel rejects God. It also may serve us this morning as an invitation to examine how we reject God.
How do we reject God? In the Old Testament reading, we see the people of Israel receiving the 10 commandments. God begins with not a commandment but a deep truth about God’s relationship with Israel out of which all the following laws flow: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other Gods before me.” In a part that is left out of our reading today, God tells the people that they shall not bow down to or worship other idols, “for I the Lord you God am a jealous God…” God is claiming the full affection and demanding full relationship with the children of Israel. And so we reject God (or at the very minimum, we two-time God) when we bow down to worship other idols. We do this when we give our hearts to something that is not of God. We do this when we order our lives and our priorities around something that is not God. When we try to divide our attention with God, we are rejecting God.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians today, we see a glimpse of what has happened to Paul in his conversion, how he goes from pride in his own achievements to gratitude for an utterly gratuitous call to a completely new way of life. In the past, Paul has rejected God when he placed too much pride in his own achievements. And so do we also reject God.
We reject God when we let others tell us who we really are and do not listen to the God who knows us and loves us for our most true selves.
We reject God when we reject other people for reasons of our own; we reject others because they do not fit into our standards of what is good, appropriate and fitting, and when we define others as being less worthy, less human, less valuable than ourselves, then we are rejecting God.
We reject God when we do not value and believe in the goodness in which God has created each of us. We reject God when we cannot believe and trust that we are, in fact, good.
We reject God when we place our trust in the world’s scarcity that says you’ve got to hold onto and fight for what is yours because there is not enough to go around; we reject God when we do not give our hearts to God’s abundance that says, not only is there always enough, but there is radically more than enough—resources, love…-- for everyone.
We reject God when we live too much of our lives and our faith in the sacrifice of the cross—in the “no” and we do not include the surprising gift, the “yes” of the resurrection.
We reject God when we refuse to die to our old selves and are not accepting of God’s gift of renewal and new life.
We reject God when we are not grateful for all the good gifts God so freely gives.
In the book The Parables of Judgment, Robert Capon writes about this parable of Jesus and this phenomenon of how we continue to reject God and to reject God’s grace through Jesus Christ saying, “So it is with me, if I am honest. And so it is with you. The Father’s will for you—his whole will, his entire plan of salvation—is that you believe in Jesus, nothing more. He has already forgiven you, he has already reconciled you, he has already raised you up together with Jesus and made you sit together in heavenly places with him. And better yet, Jesus himself has already pronounced upon you the approving judgment of having done his Father’s will. But if you do not believe him—if you insist on walking up to the bar of judgment on your own faithless feet and arguing a case he has already dismissed—well, you will never hear the blessed silence of his un-condemnation over the infernal racket of your own voice…”ii
This morning, may God who is always more ready to hear than we are to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve inspire our hearts to
Choose God. Choose blessings. Choose abundance.

i. O’Driscoll, Herbert. Prayers for the Breaking of Bread: Meditations on the Collects of the Church Year. Cowley: Cambridge, 1991, p161.
ii. Capon, Robert. The Parables of Judgment. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1989, p110.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

15th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 21A

15th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 21
September 25, 2011
I want you to take a minute and imagine this scene. We are all sitting in here on an average Sunday, worshiping God in our usual custom, when a man enters Gulfport in a triumphant procession—a parade where crowds gather along the side of the roads and they proclaim him king as he comes into town. And then this man walks into our church and starts criticizing the ways that we make worship, conduct our business, help the poor, teach our children, and he starts tearing up the place, turning over tables, throwing prayer books and hymnals out of the backs of the pews and running people out of church. After he leaves, and we manage to recover ourselves, and we come back the next day to try to worship God, then he comes back. You can imagine that we would be somewhat wary and wanting to know why he is doing all of these things.
This is what has happened to the people in the temple in Jerusalem just prior to today’s gospel reading. Jesus has entered Jerusalem in a triumphant procession, with the people shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” Jesus then proceeds directly to the temple where he turns over the tables of the money changers and drives out all who are buying and selling in the temple, and then he proceeds to heal the sick in the middle of the temple. Then he leaves and goes to the outskirts of town to spend the night, and he comes back to the temple the next morning. That’s where our reading for today picks up. When he shows back up in the temple, the chief priests and the elders know he is dangerous, and they know they do not want to provoke a similar scene as the day before. So they ask Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” It’s a reasonable question. Perhaps we would ask, “Why are you doing this?” So Jesus, like a good rabbi, answers their questions with a question, and when they do not answer, he tells them a parable, and he concludes the parable by telling them (us) that the tax collectors and the prostitutes, the drug dealers and the petty larcenists are going into the kingdom of heaven before them (us).
In our Wednesday night class this past week, we talked about authority, about what is authoritative for us as Anglicans and Episcopalians, what is authority for us as the people of St.Peter’s by-the-Sea and as individuals. John Westerhoff writes in his little book—A People Called Episcopalians: A Brief Introduction to our Peculiar Way of Life—that authority is the source of our life of faith that is grounded in God as revealed to us in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit; and he says that authority is essentially how we come to know the mind and the will of the triune God (6). Authority is how we come to know the mind and the will of God. So in our reading today, perhaps it might help us to look at the question the chief priests and elders ask Jesus as being—how do you know this that you are doing is a part of the mind and the will of God? And we see how Jesus answers that question.
So, how do we know the mind and the will of God? Paul has an interesting take on this in the portion of his letter to the Philippians that we read today. Paul is writing to the Philippians in this letter about a conflict that they are having between two women in the congregation—Euodia and Syntyche—and he is urging the two women and all of the people to “be of the same mind.” For Paul, this is what that “same mind” looks like: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself…” Paul is teaching them that to be of the same mind as Christ Jesus, they must be humble, they must be empty of their own selfish desires and ambitions and be filled with concern for the other. That is what it means to have the same mind as Christ Jesus. He ends this section by writing, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Get yourself out of the way and allow God to work in you and through your work.
So Paul is saying that we know the mind of God through humility. We find our authority in humility. How does that work?
When the chief priests and the elders refuse to answer Jesus about where John the Baptist’s authority came from, he tells them a parable saying, “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you…’”
What is the dynamic that is going on with the two sons to make the one answer no and then change his mind and go and the other answer yes but not follow through? I imagine that after the father comes to the first son, and he tells his father he won’t go work for him in the vineyard; the son goes back to whatever he is doing, but he can’t stop thinking about his father and his father’s request. He knows his father needs his help to bring in the harvest of the vineyard; he remembers all the love and the support and the goodness he receives from his father, and so he gets over himself and his own preoccupations; he lets go of whatever plans he had that would prevent him from working in the vineyard, and he changes his mind and goes to work. The second son tells the father he will go work, but maybe he gets busy. He’s caught up in the middle of a drama in his own household, he has a major crises he needs to tend to; he’s just gotten to the best part of this novel he’s reading and just can’t put it down. He doesn’t give any thought to the father and the father’s request of him after he answers yes, and he is so preoccupied with his own affairs.
We can only know the mind of God when we make room for God through humility and self-emptying. Humility and self-emptying can only occur when we are focusing on the needs of the other and on the priorities of God.
When writing about this concept of self-emptying in Philippians, theologian William Greenway writes, “One does not ‘self-empty’ by focusing upon oneself. One is emptied of self to the degree one is overcome by the needs, pains, hopes, and desires of others. When concern for others takes one utterly beyond self-interest, beyond obsession with achievements and self-obsessing guilt over failures, beyond self, then one receives the comfort of an Easter ‘yes’ so overwhelming, unconditional, undeniable, and absolute that it is experienced as unfailing and forever—a yes more potent and enduring than any imaginable no”(Feasting on the Word, Greenway,114).
Humility is not comfortable, nor is seeking the mind of God easy. In both, we come into contact with our own brokenness, with our own pain and suffering and with the pain and suffering of the whole world. It is not work for the faint of heart, but through it we will receive the yes of the resurrection.
In closing, I share with you the words from the end of the little book, Falling Upward: Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Franciscan priest Richard Rohr that get to the heart of this understanding of humility and God’s invitation to us to participate in the mind and the will of God. Rohr writes, “Pain is part of the deal. If you don’t walk into [growth and spiritual maturity and the kingdom of God], it is you who do not want it. God will always give you exactly what you truly want and desire. So make sure you desire, desire deeply, desire yourself, desire God, desire everything good, true, and beautiful. All the emptying out is only for the sake of a Great Outpouring. God, like nature, abhors all vacuums, and rushes to fill them” (Rohr 160).

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

13th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 19A (10th Anniversary of 9/11/01)

13th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 19A
September 11, 2011
It was my second day of seminary at the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church in New York City. I was just beginning to fathom what I had done—having left behind my Mississippi home and family and moved to NYC (with my faithful cat) to follow God’s call into the priesthood.
I was in a small group session on this second morning of classes with some of my classmates, and we were discussing our first book we were reading as seminarians. It was a book titled Resurrection by a man named Rowan Williams—whom none of us had really heard of but who was soon to be named the next Archbishop of Canterbury. And it was a fascinating book about how Jesus’s resurrection and the Christian interpretation of the Easter gospel is the foundation of the Christian life, and the book explored new ways of interpreting the resurrection in our daily lives.
In this little book, Williams talks about how all of creation is caught in this cycle of victims and oppressors and how, periodically, the victims rise up, overthrow the oppressors, and then change places-- with the oppressors becoming the victims and the victims becoming the oppressors.
Williams says that it is Jesus’s crucifixion and his resurrection that finally breaks this cycle—for Jesus the victim does not become the oppressor. Rather, through his resurrection he offers forgiveness to those who crucified him and to those faithful disciples who abandoned and betrayed him, and he offers to all reconciliation and salvation.
It is a provocative little book, as Williams peels back the layers that have built up around the notion of resurrection and invites us to see Christ in the face of all victims—even those who perpetrate great crimes.
Our small group was in the thick of our mid-morning discussion on these issues when the chapel bells started ringing incessantly. Now we’d only been in class two days, but we knew this was odd. The chapel bells rang, as scheduled, three times a day for worship, and it was currently class time and not time for worship. We continued our discussion somewhat distractedly as our tutor, Chris Keller, a seasoned parish priest and PhD student, went to find out what was going on. When he came back, his face was stark white and he said to us, in a breathless kind of voice, “Someone has bombed the World Trade Center! We all need to go to the chapel!”
Confused and alarmed we headed to the seminary chapel where the others students, faculty, and staff were already gathered and praying the Great Litany in the BCP while the 1st Tower burned and chaos erupted less than two miles away.
For weeks following that horrible day, as the ashes blew over NYC and the smell of burned metal hung heavy in the air, I struggled to hold onto hope in the face of so much hatred and so much suffering.
And 10 years later, I still struggle. How do we follow the way of Christ in the face of this? How do we hold on to the hope of the resurrection in the face of evil and suffering? How do we preach about forgiveness on today of all days? How do we hope for healing of these old, deep wounds that we all carry around with us and that don’t ever seem to get healed?
My brothers and sisters, there is good news on this day. There is hope of resurrection. First, there seems to be chaos and destruction for the enemies of Israel and Yahweh in today’s Old Testament reading. It seems to be good news for us because our ancestors in the faith, the Children of Israel are saved from slavery under the Egyptians in one divisive act by God, as they walk through the Red Sea unharmed and then all of Pharaoh’s army and their horses drown in the Red Sea. But it’s rather a grisly picture if we take a moment and think of all those dead bodies floating in the Red Sea, and it’s certainly not good news for the army of Egypt. How can something that is good for one people and so terribly bad for another be good news in the Kingdom of God?
There’s an old Hasidic tale that says that the angels were rejoicing over the deliverance of Israel at the Red Sea. They were playing their harps, blowing their horns, singing and dancing and laughing with joy. When one angel noticed something and said to the others, “Look! The Creator of the Universe is sitting there weeping.” When the angels approached God and asked “Why are you weeping when Israel has been saved and delivered by your power?” The Maker of the Universe answered, “I am weeping for the dead Egyptians washed up on the shore—somebody’s sons, somebody’s husbands, somebody’s fathers.”i
The story of the God weeping over the Egyptians is our story too—the story of God weeping for those who died in the attacks on September 11th, 2001; it is the story of God weeping for the families who lost loved ones, mothers, fathers, and children. It is the story of God weeping over the deaths of those who have died in combat since then, fighting for peace. It is the story of God weeping over the deaths of the terrorists who perpetrated such evil and those who still seek to do others harm.
It is the story of God weeping for us, who cannot lay aside our own wounded-ness and fragmentation; it is God weeping for us who continue to hold onto old wrongs, old grievances rather than relinquish them to God, asking forgiveness for our own hardness of heart and offering our own forgiveness. The Maker of the Universe weeps for all of creation in our wounds and in our suffering whether we are the good guys or the bad guys, the winners or the losers, the victims or the oppressors. God weeps for all and longs for reconciliation with and forgiveness for all.
In this week’s reading from the Letter to the Romans, Paul writes, “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” Anybody recognize this passage from a service in the Prayer Book? I’ll give you a hint. (sing portion here: “For none of us has life in himself/ and none becomes his own master when he dies. For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord,/ and if we die, we die in the Lord. So, then, whether we live or die/ we are the Lord’s possession. I am resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord.”) It’s in the BCP on page 491--the opening anthem for our burial liturgy. It’s the liturgy of the church in which we find the most comfort, the most meaning in the Resurrection of our Lord; it is where we say that no matter what happens to each of us in this life, we find our hope in Christ’s resurrection which proves, once and for all, that God’s love is stronger than anything, even death. It is how we, as the Body of Christ, find hope and meaning in the midst of our sadness and suffering, by giving our hearts to the hope that the lives of those who are the Lord’s possession will always be the Lord’s possession.
In the gospel reading, Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, if a brother or sister sins against me, how often should I forgive?” Peter and the other disciples are embroiled in some minor dispute or offense among them stemming from their previous discussion of who is the greatest, and Jesus says to him, “Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy-seven times.” Do not ever cease in offering forgiveness, Jesus tells them. It’s important to remember what happens in the rest of Peter’s story—how he denies Jesus, abandons him in his most difficult hour, and after the resurrection, Jesus appears to Peter alone, and he forgives him and restores the relationship with him.
Peter tastes the grace of God in Jesus’s forgiveness, and he is formed and shaped by it; he carries this taste of grace into all other conflict he encounters in spreading the gospel of our Lord.
Finally, it is important on this day, to remember that not just our little lives and our individual hurts and wounds will one day be healed and reconciled. All of creation which now groans and longs for fulfillment, for its hurts and its wounds to be healed, will one day become a new creation through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is not something that happened once long ago. It continues to happen, continues to break into our reality and Christ’s resurrection continues to restore not just individuals but the whole big story of all of humanity.
So while you might not be yet healed of your deep wound, your deep sadness, your deep grief, through the Lord’s resurrection, you will be. And while all of humanity may not be healed of our deep wounds, our deep sadness, our deep grief, we will be, through the Lord’s resurrection.
Did you know that every Sunday in the church is a feast day? It is a celebration of the Lord’s resurrection! A sort of mini-Easter, every Sunday. Every week, we are an Easter people, a resurrection community. So even as we wait for the fulfillment of the resurrection in our lives and in our world, we celebrate Easter, we celebrate resurrection.
And we wait. We hope. We pray for healing. We taste the graciousness of God, and we invite others to taste God’s grace. We forgive others, again and again and again. We ask for our own forgiveness. We allow ourselves to be forgiven. And we allow ourselves to be healed.
i. Referenced in 9/6/11 Christian Century article “Living by the Word” by Theodore J. Wardlaw (18). Originally from Albert C. Winn’s sermon ‘A Way Out of No Way: Exodus 14:5-31’ published in Journal for Preachers.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

12th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 18A

12th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 18A
September 4, 2011

One of the blogs I occasionally read had a slight retelling of our gospel reading for this Sunday.
And Jesus said, “If another member of the church sins against you…just talk about them behind their back.”
“If another member of the church sins against you…just call a bunch of people in the church to complain about them. You may even want to start a letter-writing campaign against them.”
“If another member of the church sins against you…just send them a nasty email. Copy the clergy. And while you’re at it, cc the bishop…”
“If another member of the church sins against you…don’t say anything. Just avoid them. Unfriend them on Facebook. And if you can’t avoid them on Sundays, then just leave the church…” i
Hmmm. Maybe not…
Let’s go back and look at today’s gospel.
“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” I don’t know. Seems like the first way might be easier. Let’s look at what’s going on in Matthew’s gospel in this section and in the surrounding sections.
Here is what scholars say about this passage. First, the NRSV does a disservice by translating the Greek to read “another member of the church.” And it is not certain that the words “sins against you” are in the original text either. A more accurate translation of this passage might be to say, “If a brother or sister sins, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone…” Second, we are reminded that sin in this text does not necessarily have all of the connotations that we put upon it. The word for sin in this text is an archery term which means “to miss the mark.” So now we have, “If a brother or sister misses the mark, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone…” Third, this section of Matthew’s gospel has been called the “Rule of Christ” “because [it] redefine[s] the goals of confrontation or intervention in seeking to rescue and forgive, to offer care in a spirit of humility.”ii Fourth, it is important to look at the context of this passage in Matthew’s gospel. This is only the second instance in the gospels where the term ‘church’ or ekklesia appears, and the first one, we heard two weeks ago, also in connection with the roles of binding and loosing. Fifth, this passage is nestled in between two other passages that shine light upon it, all within the context of the entirety of chapter 18, in which Jesus answers the disciples’ question about who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven by referencing a little child and in which Jesus speaks, again and again, about “little ones”. The passage just preceding today’s gospel is the parable of the lost sheep—in which Jesus tells of a shepherd who has 100 sheep and leaves the 99 to go chase down the one who has strayed. And this passage is followed by Peter’s question of how often we should forgive, and Jesus answers him that we should forgive in a radical abundance, over and over again.
So what do these points tell us about today’s gospel? They tell us that the writer of Matthew’s gospel is speaking to and about a family-the family that is the church universal and the family that is the local church. They tell us that the focus is not on punishment of the offenders but upon reconciliation. They tell us that “the Rule of Christ is to care for the offender or sinner and not necessarily to establish the rights of the offended”. They tell us that it is the “responsibility of the offended one to seek reconciliation.”iii They tell us that reconciliation is an important part of the work that the community of believers does together, and they tell us that one of the key elements in this process and in discipleship itself is humility.
If the church is to be a place of forgiveness, grace, and mercy (for which I believe we all long in our deepest heart of hearts), then we must treat one another with forgiveness, grace, and mercy. So much is at stake in this! We are not just individuals standing before God, we are the entire body of Christ, bound together by virtue of Christ’s love and saving work, bound together by our baptism, bound together by our need for forgiveness and reconciliation. We are in this together, and if we are not actively doing the work of reconciliation within, we are actively thwarting the kingdom of God which we try to proclaim. In his book, Forgiven and Forgiving, Bill Countryman writes, “So I can’t be the only forgiven one. God has forgiven everyone else in the same way and at the same moment as me. That’s a fundamental reality I have to live with. God’s forgiveness isn’t available to me as a separate, private arrangement. It’s available to me only as a part of this big package. This reality has consequences. If I want to withhold forgiveness from my neighbor, I’m effectively withholding it from myself, too. If I am willing for God to forgive my neighbor, I’m allowing God to forgive me, too. It’s all or nothing, everybody or nobody.”iv
The apostle Paul writes about this in today’s portion of his letter to the Romans, and he writes about our call to love, inviting us to “lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” inviting us to “live honorably” and equating quarreling and jealousy with the sins of reveling, drunkenness, debauchery and licentiousness. Paul ends this passage by challenging the church to “Make no provision for the flesh.” For Paul, the flesh isn’t just our fleshly desires. The Flesh represents all the devices and desires by which we try to fortify ourselves—not with Jesus, but against Jesus and against our neighbor. ‘Make no provision for the flesh’ means ‘By God’s grace turn from your self-absorption.”v
It is hard and costly work, this work of reconciliation; this work of turning from our own self-absorption; this work of forgiveness; this work of growth in humility; this work of being in community; this work of loving our neighbor; this work of being the church. And yet, it is the way that we have chosen. It is why we are here, because we have been chosen by Christ, called out to follow him, and in response to his calling we choose to follow Christ; because we choose to follow a different way than the way of the world; because we choose the resurrection, we choose life, we choose the love of God above everything else.
May God give us the grace to do this work God has called us to. And may God help us to continue to choose the way of Jesus Christ, the way of forgiveness and reconciliation, above all else.
i From Rick Morley’s blog post “Before you Unfriend” at
iiFrom Estrella B. Horning, ‘The Rule of Christ.’ as quoted in Feasting on the Word p 45.
iii Andrews, Dale P. Feasting on the Word p 47.
iv Countryman, William. Forgiven and Forgiving (Harrisburg, Pa: Morehouse, 1998), p 42.
v Bartlett, David. Feasting on the Word p 43.

Monday, August 29, 2011

10th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 16A

10th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 16A
August 21, 2011

The week before last, I spent three days at Gray Center fulfilling some of my diocesan responsibilities in doing the work of the Commission on Ministry, of which I’ve been a part these last several years. The COM is established by Canon law, and functions in every Episcopal diocese with one purpose: to give the Bishop advice and recommendations about the leadership in the church –the raising up and training of priests and deacons, and everything related to their selection, training and continued well-being.
An essential part of our ministry is for us to remain in close contact with people in the ordination process—both people who are currently in seminary being trained and formed as priests, and people who are attending our diocesan Deacon’s school and being trained and formed to be deacons (while still facing all the demands of their day to day lives). It is rewarding work for me, as we ask questions of those being formed for ministry, and we listen carefully to their responses, often inviting them to go a little deeper. There is the highest level of trust among committee members, and I always come away from these meetings reminded of why I began my own journey into the ordained ministry, and it helps me to continue to reflect upon my own vocation as a priest (which has been my part these past 6 and 1/2 years) and how God continues to call me to grow into that.
Last week, we spent our time with 4 people (and their respective spouses) who are currently at seminary and 1 person who is about to enter the Deacon’s school, and we met with them to see how they are progressing on this spiritual journey and to learn from them how they are being formed for the priesthood and deaconate.
As you might imagine, spiritual formation is a rather tricky thing to assess in an individual, but we have found that is actually a fruitful endeavor to look at a person’s spiritual formation when that person has been open to being formed, when he or she has been doing the difficult work of self-reflection and prayer and sorting through external experiences and the internal working of God through the Holy Spirit.
But there are a handful of others whom we encounter from time to time who might win the “rock of ages” awardi that is awarded by a certain seminary professor every year to the member of his class who remains the most unmoved, most unchanged, most resistant to the process of spiritual formation. And those are the ones who are difficult to converse with about their spiritual formation because they refuse to admit it is happening, even though we know that they are being formed in some way, either for good or for ill.
We are changed and shaped and affected—for good and for ill—by what we encounter in this life. Paul writes to the Romans, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Very few people can truly be “the rock of ages;” we are either conformed to this world or transformed more and more into the image and likeness of Christ.
I like to think of this process of formation—whether it be priestly formation at seminary or Christian formation of all baptized into the image and likeness of Christ--like being a rock in a rock tumbler.ii How many of you have had any experience with rock tumblers?

One of my brothers had a rock tumbler, and we set it up in the formal living room (where no one ever went) just off my bedroom. Into this machine, my brother would put all these regular old rocks with some water and several different steps of abrasive and polishing agents. And he turned it on and just let it run for what seemed to me to be forever! as I could hear it just running and running—this motor sound and rocks tumbling around and around-- every night when I went to bed. And these rocks tumbled around and around in this machine and knocked up against each other over and over again, and when we finally opened it up, we discovered that some rocks had all their rough edges knocked off, worn down, smoothed out; but others had been broken to bits under the force of the tumbling or left with sharp pieces that had not been smoothed.
In our Gospel lesson today, we see Jesus asking his disciples a series of questions. Who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am? And Peter, in a moment of God’s pure revelation, answers Jesus—“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus, in his delight at Peter’s answer, bestows upon Peter, a new name—the Rock—and he bestows upon Peter a blessing. We see in this story which is the middle of three Peter stories that our lectionary gives us in a four week span (starting with two weeks ago when Peter tried to walk on water and failed miserable and ending next week, when Jesus rebukes Peter and says, “get behind me Satan!”), that in Peter’s journey with Jesus, he is still very much a rock in the rock tumbler, as opposed to an unchangeable “rock of ages”. He’s still getting his rough edges knocked off and will continue to do so well after Jesus’s resurrection and ascension. And yet in this one moment, Jesus sees the strength of Peter’s character, his ability to be open to revelation, and his willingness to be formed by that. And it is those gifts that Jesus celebrates and blesses.
So what about us? What does this story have to teach us about our lives? We are all of us rocks tumbling around in this rock tumbler that is life, where the sharp jagged rocks of events and people have the very real potential to damage others and also the potential to shape and form us for the better. How do you name these sharp jagged rocks in the rock tumbler of your life? Is it failing health? Is it financial woes? Is it a weighty decision you must soon make? Is it a difficult person whom you keep bumping up against? Is it relationship problems? Is it doubt? Is it the loss of someone you love? Is the jagged rock in your rock tumbler your own self-loathing?
And then what do with this? What do we do when life or others keeps bumping up against us and wearing us down? We can be formed for good or for ill. So how do we keep from being ill-formed? We give ourselves over to the transformation that comes from God—“to the renewing of our minds so that we may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”. And once we discern that, we hold fast to what is good.
If we are not being formed in the will of God, then we are being conformed to this world. And to be formed in the will of God, we must remain steadfast in striving toward transformation, giving our hearts fully to God’s will and not our own. We do this through regular corporate worship, through a willingness to grow and develop through Christian formation, in the reading and study of the scriptures, and in regular prayer; we do this through silence, through breaking bread together, through the regular giving of ourselves and our resources—our time, our attention, our money. We give our hearts to the way of Christ—practicing mercy, forgiveness, kindness, and an unflinching and steadfast stance in the face of injustice and evil and persecution.
How will you be formed this day? Will you be conformed to the way of the world, giving your heart to the pursuit of your own will, no matter what the cost? Or will you open yourself to transformation and give your heart to discerning the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect in your life—allowing yourself to be shaped and formed, polished and smoothed through the life of faith into the image and likeness of Christ?