Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve 2013

Christmas Eve 2013 I want you to take a moment and close your eyes. And I want you to daydream about what your perfect Christmas looks like…. Is it gorgeous music and candlelight? Is it a peaceful gathering of your family or closest friends? Is it a moment from your past that you remember as being “the perfect Christmas”? Is it one moment more with someone you have loved and lost? Is it peace on earth, forgiveness from one with whom you are estranged, healing for one you love who is ill? Is it the deep assurance that you are enough? Is it innocence? Is it hope? What does your perfect Christmas look like? What is it that brings you here this night? For what are you longing, hoping? I watched a video last week of how a picture of a normal woman is photo-shopped, touched up, and changed almost beyond recognition. I have been pondering that all week as I, like you all, have prepared for Christmas. I think about it as I hear others talk about their favorite Christmas traditions. I ponder it as we set up our nativity scenes at home and here in the church. I think about how we have all, basically, photo-shopped Christmas. Now please, understand me here. I am not saying this in judgment. I do not think that this is some sort of nefarious “war on Christmas.” I think that we all live demanding, difficult lives. I think that we long for comfort, for peace, for the loveliness of a soft-hued, sentiment-filled, Christmas scene. Life is hard and we work hard every single day to stem that chaos that threatens to overcome us. We deeply long for the loveliness, the peace, the beauty, the innocence of Christmas. But we miss out on so much when this is all we ask for from the story of Jesus’s birth. We miss out on the fact that God’s people also had a hard life. We miss out on the fact that the Roman Empire worked diligently to organize and keep the chaos at bay, so much so that it called for an empire-wide census in order to organize everything and everyone. We miss out on the fact that in the midst of this great controlling, and organizing power, God acts on the fringes, in the lives of a handful of people, in a tiny place in the middle of nowhere. When we cling so tightly to our photo-shopped Christmas story, we miss out on the fact that these are a bunch of terrified people who are also trying desperately to keep the chaos at bay. We miss out on the muck and stench of a whole lot of livestock that is not unlike the muck of our own daily drudgery. We miss out on the way that God breaks into their ordinary, confusing, frightening, chaotic and out-of-control lives in a most unexpected way, and we miss out on how God takes all that ordinariness and chaos and claims is as holy. When we cling too tightly to our photo-shopped version of the Christmas story, we miss out on the truth that God uses ordinary, chaotic, frightened people just like us to bring about the Incarnation. We come here tonight, I think, because we just need a break from the difficulty, just a little peace for just a little while. But that is not what God is about in the birth of Jesus. God is not coming into the world to make things just a little bit better, just a little bit easier for us. God breaks into the world in Incarnation. God lives God’s life in perfect union with God’s self. God gives Godself over to death, and God shows that God’s love is stronger than death in and through the resurrection. In and through God’s actions, God gives meaning and power to humanity that we have never known or seen before. We are each given the power of God to be creators of a more-perfect world. Tonight, when we come looking for peace, we are given power. Tonight when we search for “the perfect Christmas,” we find the glory of God that can be uncovered, always on the fringes, in the least, the lost the broken parts of our lives. Tonight we are given the gift to look at the world not as our enemy or something we need a break from. Tonight we are given the gift of viewing the world and those around us with wonder, for each of us is the dwelling place of God. So whatever you have come here looking for this night, I hope you will be disappointed. I hope that God will give you so much more than you can ask for or imagine. I hope that you will find God on the fringes, in the most unexpected of places. I hope that you will remember that you, also, are holy; for you are the dwelling place of God.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Blue Christmas homily--Advent 3A

Blue Christmas homily December 15, 2013 The children of Israel are returning home from exile once again. But they are finding their home a desolation, dramatically different from how they remember it. Isaiah reclaims an old image of a wilderness for this time and this journey for them, and this wilderness holds barren sand, a dry cracked landscape, thirsty ground and an abundance of dangerous wild animals, ravenous beasts. We all know something of this wilderness. It is why we gather for this service tonight. We know that things change and that life changes us, and places which once seemed safe and secure can quickly become wilderness or wild places. Take a moment right now and identify your own wilderness—the place of desolation and dryness and wild, ravenous beasts in your own soul. Where does it come from? What did it used to be? Do you feel yourself lost in it? Stumbling around in a frightening and foreign landscape? Now imagine a way through the wilderness, a clearly marked path, a highway, even. This way is so clear that not even a fool can get lost on it (which is a relief, because we all have a bit of the fool in us, don’t we?). And as you travel on this way, God’s way through the wilderness, imagine that the wilderness around you is being transformed to a place that looks much different than it ever was before--a place of refreshment, hope, and delight.

Advent 3A--John the Baptist and Walter Anderson

Advent 3A December 15, 2013 Sometimes he would dream of the wilderness. The blazing sun. The stark landscape. The wildness. The certainty. He would dream of the people who would come out to see him, and he would dream about the way of the Lord. And then he would wake in his cold, dark prison cell, with the bitter taste of disappointment in his mouth. He had never known before that disappointment had its own unique flavor, but now, it had become his constant companion. What is a wilderness prophet to do once he has been contained, restrained? How does one prepare the way of the Lord in isolation and darkness? Perhaps it was his lowest moment, his moment of greatest doubt of himself and all that he had proclaimed? Perhaps he felt that he had lost the way that had once seemed so certain? Perhaps he was disappointed in what he heard of Jesus, because he was not what John was expecting? Or perhaps it was the culmination of all that he had pointed toward when he finally sent his disciples to ask the question of Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" And I can’t help but wonder what John made of Jesus’s answer: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me." What did he do when he heard those words, all alone in his prison cell? I suspect that he did what all faithful are called to do, even in the midst of our disappointment and our frustration. He waited. But perhaps his waiting took on a different quality than it had before? Where before he had been waiting for the Messiah, now he waited for fulfillment. I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Walter Anderson museum in Ocean Springs for the first time this past week with Mary Margaret’s class. I found it to be both a whimsical and mystical place, and I was amazed to learn of similarities between Walter and John the Baptist. In two different videos, we learned of Walter’s life, about how he struggled to be a part of this world while longing for escape into his own wilderness on Horn Island, where he would have mystical experiences and live a life of deep meaning and deep connection with nature. We learned of how Walter, at one point, was institutionalized at MS State Hospital at Whitfield, and how he drew a tortured self-portrait during that time of his imprisonment and separation from the wilderness. We learned about how his family never really understood him, until after he died, when they found the little room in his cabin that he had always kept locked, the little room that was covered on all sides with his art in the form of mystical murals and which, to this day, emits a profound sense of peace. We learned how they found hundreds of his paintings, his journals, and it was only then that they felt like they began to know him, to understand him. After Walter’s death, his family, who I daresay, had lived with their disappointment with him as a most untraditional husband and father, found fulfillment with him through the discovery of his art and writing that they had never before experience during his life. Disappointment is a lonely burden to bear, and yet we all know something of it. People disappoint us. Life disappoints us. The choices that others make that directly affect us disappoint us. It is tempting to attempt to run from our disappointment, to try to leave it behind (whether through ending the relationship or situation), to allow it to morph into anger or bitterness, or to try to pretend that our disappointment does not exist, that everything is great. But the work of the faithful disciple of Jesus, the work of a mature spiritual life, is to offer our disappointment to God, and then to wait patiently for God’s fulfillment to come, because come it will. Here is what Frederick Buchner writes of this waiting: “I think we are waiting. That is what is at the heart of it. Even when we don’t know that we are waiting, I think we are waiting. Even when we can’t find words for what we are waiting for, I think we are waiting. An ancient Advent prayer supplies us with the words, ‘Give us grace…that we may cast off the works of darkness and put upon us the armor of light.’ We who live so much of the time in darkness are waiting not just at Advent, but at all times for the advent of light, of that ultimate light that is redemptive and terrifying at the same time. It is redemptive because it puts an end to the darkness, and that is also why it is terrifying, because for so long, for all our lives, the darkness has been home, and because to leave home is always cause for terror. So to wait for Christ to come in his fullness is not just a passive thing, a pious, prayerful, churchly thing. On the contrary, to wait for Christ to come in his fullness is above all else to act in Christ's stead as fully as we know how. To wait for Christ is as best we can to be Christ to those who need us to be Christ to them most and to bring them the most we have of Christ's healing and hope because unless we bring it, it may never be brought at all.”i.
The darkness of our own disappointment is dispelled when we allow the incarnate light of Christ that is within us shine out and inspire us to do his work in the world. We find fulfillment and hope when, in and through us, Jesus’s work is continued: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. In closing I leave you with a quote that is said to be from Walter Inglis Anderson: “I am responsible. Although I may not be able to prevent the worst from happening, I am responsible for my attitude toward the inevitable misfortunes that darken life. Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have--life itself.”ii i. Excerpted from Frederich Buechner’s sermon Waiting from Secrets in the Dark. Found at http://www.frederickbuechner.com/content/weekly-sermon-illustration-be-patient ii. http://www.searchquotes.com/search/Walter_Inglis_Anderson/

Sunday, December 8, 2013

2nd Sunday of Advent Year A

Advent 2 Year A December 8, 2013 "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, `We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” John the Baptist is preaching to the church folk. John the Baptist is preaching to us. I don’t know anyone who can be faced with another person’s judgment without being made uncomfortable. Many Episcopalians find an oasis here from other traditions who preach judgment on a regular basis, so when the topic comes up for us, we are slightly allergic to it; we don’t want to sound like those hell-fire and brimstone Christians, and yet….the concept of judgment is a very real part of the Christian tradition that we have inherited. So let me tell you what’s different about this judgment upon us by John the Baptist, let me tell you what’s different with God’s judgment of us than most likely any other we have encountered in this life. I recently received a rather nasty email from someone who is a member of another parish here on the Coast, and she was judging me, judging my priesthood and my living into my ordination vows based on the little she knew of our recent process of conversations in this parish. At first, I was very angry, and then I was intrigued as to where this was coming from (since I have spoken to this individual only once before). And I realized that her judgment of me, had absolutely nothing to do with me; she doesn’t know anything about me, or my priesthood, or really this parish or any of you. Her judgment was about her own issues, and most especially, her own agenda. If any of you have been the beneficiary of a judgment-based sermon or other experience, then you have experienced this also. (It is the temptation that we preachers face and have to test constantly—am I preaching my agenda or God’s agenda? And we don’t always get it right…) John the Baptist offers us a different kind of judgment. He is the one who is called to “prepare the way of the Lord,” get everybody ready for Jesus. He calls us to repent, to turn from following one’s own agenda, to change our hearts, and amend our lives. The modern day equivalent of John’s admonition to his hearer’s to not rely on their heritage for their righteousness (saying, “We have Abraham as our father”) is the akin to our modern day concept of “We have Christ as our Savior.” While trust in God’s salvation through Jesus is a first requirement, it is not the last. We cannot substitute grace for human responsibility. They go hand in hand. But there’s another layer to this call for repentance from the John the Baptist. Marcus Borg suggests that repenting is about returning home from exile. A self-imposed exile. Many of the stories about Jesus and the stories that he tells are about this—how we live in our own self-imposed exiles, and he calls us to come home. This is also the call of John the Baptist. But we need to be mindful that this call is not only to us as individuals. The call to return home from our self-imposed exile is a call to all of us together as God’s people. The children of Israel are never once returned to the promised land after they had been in exile as individuals. It was always a home-coming of an entire people. Such is the call for us to repentance; it is a call to us as a whole people. We are all in this together. So here’s the good news (and the slightly uncomfortable news) about judgment. God cares about what we do (both as individuals and as a people). “…if God does not care about what I do, I will begin to suspect that God does not actually care about me. If God loves me enough to welcome me into Christ’s family, then God loves me enough to expect something of me.”i Here’s a little story that gets to the heart of all this: “One December afternoon…a group of parents stood in the lobby of a nursery school waiting to claim their children after the last pre-Christmas class session. As the youngsters ran from their lockers, each one carried in his hands the ‘surprise,’ the brightly wrapped package on which he had been working diligently for weeks. One small boy, trying to run, put on his coat, and wave to his parents, all at the same time, slipped and fell. The ‘surprise’ flew from his grasp, landed on the floor, and broke with an obvious ceramic crash. The child…began to cry inconsolably. His father, trying to minimize the incident and comfort the boy, patted his head and murmured, ‘Now, that’s all right, son. It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter at all.’ But the child’s mother…swept the boy into her arms and said, ‘Oh, but it does matter. It matters a great deal.’ And she wept with her son.”ii That is the judgment of the God who dwells with us and in us. We matter to God, so what we do matters. And that’s where we find the strange flip-side of judgment and the call to repentance in our readings for today. Who would have thought the flip-side of repentance (and judgment) would be…hope? “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul knows something of judgment and repentance. He had judged and persecuted the followers of Jesus, until he had an encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus and was transformed. He knows that hope is not just wishing that things will turn out ok for me and mine. For Paul, hope is cosmic, not just concerned with the self. For Paul, hope is that the promises of God are going to be fulfilled and seeing that rooted and grounded in the person of Jesus Christ. Hope is a gift of the Holy Spirit, that is given to all of us as we repent and God works to realign us within God’s priorities and Christ’s life. Hope is that we matter to God, and so what we do matters to God and makes a difference in God’s Kingdom. I recently read a poem that gets to the heart of this hope that is the flip-side of the repentance we are called to this Sunday. It is called “Hope and Love” by Jane Hirshfield: All winter the blue heron slept among the horses. I do not know the custom of herons, do not know if the solitary habit is their way, or if he listened for some missing one- not knowing even that was what he did- in the blowing sounds in the dark. I know that hope is the hardest love we carry. He slept with his long neck folded, like a letter put away. “I know hope is the hardest love we carry.” “Bear fruit worthy of repentance.” “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Amen. i.Feasting on the Word Pastoral perspective by David Bartelett p 46. ii.William Muehl as quoted in the above reference

Sunday, November 17, 2013

26th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 28C

26th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 28C November 17, 2013 I want to share with you something that not many people know about me: I love to read post-apocalyptic fiction. Adult, young adult, you name it; for some strange reason, I love to read stories about how society has completely broken down—due to wars or natural or man-made disasters—and as a result, society and government become oppressive and corrupt, and the hero or heroine fights to restore justice and peace and harmony. Most of these stories are very much about good versus evil in a world that has completely fallen apart, and the good usually triumphs. Not too long ago, I read a news story online about one for the more popular, young adult, post-apocalyptic series—The Hunger Games. (You may have heard of these or even read them; they’re in the process of making movies based on the books.) In this story, the districts have revolted against the government a century before, and their punishment is that every year each district has to hold a lottery to select a boy and a girl to send to fight other children in an arena. These children fight to the death until one is left remaining. The news story that I read stated that there was allegedly interest in building an amusement park based on this story. At first, I thought it was absolutely ridiculous, but then I started to understand the appeal of a place where, even though the world has gone horribly wrong, good still triumphs over evil. It’s something that I think we can all understand and relate to. All three scripture readings for today point to this reality. Each writer is dealing with what must seem like the end of the world; each writer must feel that they are living in a time after the apocalypse. The writer of Luke has seen the destruction of the temple and the end of peace at the hands of the Romans. The writer of Isaiah has seen the people of Israel taken into captivity and exile in the foreign land of Babylon. The writer of 2nd Thessalonians sees a community that is full of conflict and division as they wait anxiously for Jesus’s return and then dismay that is has not been fulfilled. Every generation has known the signs of the end times about which Jesus speaks. We have known the conflict and division that comes from wars and natural and man-made disasters. Just this past week, our world has been rocked by the news of the horrendous devastation in the Philippines from the typhoon. The estimate of dead continues to grow well beyond 10,000, and there is complete and widespread destruction. There is division and conflict in our own country about government spending and the Affordable Health Care Act. Even in our own lovely parish, we have seen signs of conflict and division as the Vestry has sought to have a conversation about whether or not we should pursue offering the liturgy for witnessing and blessing a life-long covenant or same sex blessing. For me, it has been the most difficult and challenging time in my 9 years of ordained ministry. I have witnessed conversations and encounters of open-heartedness and grace and I have witnessed conversations and encounters of hard-heartedness and meanness. I have been uplifted by the former and dismayed by the latter, and I have realized, once again, that most of us are a strange mix of both—depending on our best and worst moments. My brothers and sisters, in the midst of all this, I have grown so very weary. And then I read our reading from 2nd Thessalonians for this week, and it (and all the readings for this week) seemed to be an important reminder to me of the vocation and community of the people of God. “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.” And that is really the heart of what we are trying to figure out here—what is right? One of the commentators writes about the gospel reading: “Suffering always means pain, disruption, separation, and incompleteness… ‘It can render us powerless and mute, push us to the borders of hopelessness and despair.’ The opportunity to testify during times of destruction is, in part, the audacity to muster courage in the face of fear, the boldness to speak in the face of suffering. Great suffering changes some people and defeats others, but for those who endure, their very souls are gained. Suffering provides an opportunity for those who have been changed to tell of their hope.”i The time has come for me to tell you of my hope and of what I believe it means to “do right”. I do not believe that homosexuality is a sin. I believe that God has created us all, called us good, and that sexuality is an important part of how God has created us. I do not believe in a God who would create people to be certain way and then condemn them for living into who God has created them to be. This may come as a surprise to many of y’all, but I am quite ambivalent on the issue of whether or not we should petition the bishop to offer same sex blessings here. Since General Convention of last year, I’ve had three different same sex couples, all who are or have been parishioners here, ask if I could perform this liturgy for them. But for me, at this particular moment in time, the liturgy has never been the most important thing. For me, doing what is right is more about living more fully into what it means for us to be an inclusive community, to truly try to live into our baptismal covenant of respecting the dignity of every human being and seeing in each other (and in all people) the image of God in which we have all been created. For so many people, the inclusivity of St. Peter’s has been why people come here and stay, and I have discovered that it is an important part of our identity and our mission—what makes St. Peter’s by-the-Sea different from other Episcopal churches on the Coast. But my brothers and sisters, I have learned from our process and this conflict that there is a very big difference between being an inclusive community and begrudgingly tolerating those who act differently than us. And for me, being an inclusive community is what it means for us to do what is right. It means bearing with one another in our differences. It means choosing love over division and meanness. It means recognizing that all of us are God’s children, longing to know and experience God’s love, and that God welcomes all of us to God’s table with those with whom we both agree and disagree. Doing what is right means recognizing that each and every one of us falls short of the glory of God; that there is no such thing as better and worse sin. Sin is what separates us from God and from each other. Doing what is right means following Jesus, who chose to be with people who were flawed and imperfect, who chose to minster to those who were on the fringes of society. It means following Jesus who challenged the religious system that sought to create a hierarchy of insiders versus outsiders, and it means modeling our lives on his example. I read an essay this week by a woman named Dierdre Sullivan titled “Always Go to the Funeral.” In this essay, Ms. Sullivan writes about how her father taught her to always go to the funeral and why. It gets to the heart of what it means to not grow weary in doing what is right. She writes, “‘Always go to the funeral’ means that I have to do the right thing when I really, really don’t feel like it. I have to remind myself of it when I could make some small gesture, but I don’t really have to, and I definitely don’t want to. I’m talking about those things that represent only inconvenience to me, but the world to the other guy. You know, the painfully under-attended birthday party. The hospital visit during happy hour. The Shiva call for one of my ex uncles. In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn’t been good versus evil. It’s hardly so epic. Most days my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing.”ii The reading from Isaiah today gives us a glimpse of a peaceable kingdom—where the lion shall lie down with the lamb and the serpent’s food shall be dust. It speaks of peace and fruitfulness and fulfillment for God’s people. And the most significant part is that this glimpse of the peaceable kingdom is not at all about what we do. It’s about what God does. All that we must do is trust that surely it is God who saves us; we must trust in him and not be afraid. But trusting God means trusting God, (and to an extent, trusting each other), and not relying on our own will. And in and with and through us, God will make of us a new creation. “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.” i. from Feasting on the Word ii. www.npr.org Here are the readings for today: http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearC_RCL/Pentecost/CProp28_RCL.html

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Sunday after All Saints'--baptismal letter

The Sunday after All Saints’ Day November 3, 2013 A letter to Marlee Curtis upon the occasion of her baptism. Dear Marlee, You are being baptized on a most special day, today. It is the Sunday upon which we commemorate the Feast of All Saints’ Day, one of the major feasts in the life of the church and one of the days when it is especially appropriate for a baptism. On this day, you are being baptized into Jesus’s death and resurrection. Your parents and godparents are accepting for you your status as a beloved child of God. They are promising that you will live your life in a certain way, as a follower of Jesus. And then, after you are baptized, we will hand one of your godparents your baptismal candle and I will say to you, “Marlee, receive the light of Christ.” And that’s really what this day is all about; it's about how you will let the light of Christ, the light of God’s love for you and for others, how you let that shine forth in the way that you live your life. We celebrate this Sunday after All Saints’ as a major feast because this Sunday is about how other people’s lives and lights have shined forth in this world and have made it and our lives better. As another writer puts it, “These days [around All Saints’] are haunted for me in a good way; they offer an occasion to remember, to reflect, and to offer thanks for those who have shaped my path by the path they walk. These days remind us that in the body of Christ, death does not release us from being in community with one another.”i Today, Marlee, you are being baptized into the body of Christ. All who have been baptized, going all the way back to the first followers of Jesus, are also baptized into Christ’s body and into Christ’s resurrection. Today, we remember that those who have died are and will always be still alive and united with us in Christ’s body. Their light still shines in this world in the way that their faith has shaped ours. And we are aware that this is also true for all of us who have also received the light of Christ (as you will do today). Our light, our faith, our lives have the power to shine brightly with the truth of God’s love and to shape the lives and the faith of others. (You are already doing this, sweet Marlee, as you come to this church every Wednesday with your grandmother, and you bring a sense of joy and hope and innocence to all of us with your presence among us.) So today, Marlee, before your baptism, I will invite those who want to come forward to light a candle, and to light it for those whose lights have shone brightly in their lives. And I will also tell them to make sure that they light the candle for themselves as well, for their Christ light is still shining and has the power to light another’s path for a season. And then we will baptize you, and I will give you your own candle to be added to the others. In it, may you remember all those who have come before you and who will come after you to shine the light of their faith in this world; and may you remember the power that your one light has now and always. Your sister in Christ, Melanie+ i.http://paintedprayerbook.com/

Sunday, October 20, 2013

22nd Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 24C

22nd Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 24C October 20, 2013 On this day that we are baptizing Bailey Lipps, I’m feeling called to preach about something that often strikes fear into the heart of many a faithful Episcopalian. It is something that each of us promises to do when we are being baptized (or, as in Bailey’s case, something our parents promised on our behalf), and it is something that we all promise to do over and over again when we renew our own baptismal covenant. Are you ready to hear what this terrifying thing is? It is prayer. Prayer is something that we all know that we should be doing; it is something that we know is important. And yet, most of us Episcopalians don’t even know where to begin. I had the good fortune of being taught to pray by my father (who is the son of a Methodist minister) and a Jewish rabbi, but many, many years as an Episcopalian have made even me a little rusty. But do not fear. I have good news. Listen to what our Book of Common Prayer has to say about prayer. (This is on page 856, if you want to follow along.) “What is prayer?” “Prayer is responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with our without words.” (read it again). It is so simple, and yet it can be so very profound in how we understand prayer and our own life in prayer. Our prayer is a response to God. God’s Holy Spirit is already at work in us, so that when we pray, we are responding to God; Paul writes that our very urge to pray is actually prompted by the Holy Spirit, which is already at work praying within us, interceding “with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 9:26). That takes a lot of pressure off of us, doesn’t it? God is doing the initiating, and even calling forth the response from our own souls, and all we have to do is to show up and be open enough to pay attention to it all! The theologian and writer Frederick Buechner writes about prayer: “Everybody prays whether he thinks of it as praying or not. The odd silence you fall into when something very beautiful is happening or something very good or very bad. The ah-h-h-h! that sometimes floats up out of you as out of a Fourth of July crowd when the sky-rocket bursts over the water. The stammer of pain at somebody else's pain. The stammer of joy at somebody else's joy. Whatever words or sounds you use for sighing with over your own life. These are all prayers in their way. These are all spoken not just to yourself but to something even more familiar than yourself and even more strange than the world. According to Jesus, by far the most important thing about praying is to keep at it. The images he uses to explain this are all rather comic, as though he thought it was rather comic to have to explain it at all. He says God is like a friend you go to borrow bread from at midnight. The friend tells you in effect to drop dead, but you go on knocking anyway until finally he gives you what you want so he can go back to bed again (Luke 11:5-8). Or God is like a crooked judge who refuses to hear the case of a certain poor widow, presumably because he knows there's nothing much in it for him. But she keeps on hounding him until finally he hears her case just to get her out of his hair (Luke 18:1-8). Even a stinker, Jesus says, won't give his own child a black eye when he asks for peanut butter and jelly, so how all the more will God when his children . . . (Matthew 7:9-11). Be importunate, Jesus says—not, one assumes, because you have to beat a path to God's door before he'll open it, but because until you beat the path maybe there's no way of getting to your door. "Ravish my heart," John Donne wrote. But God will not usually ravish. He will only court.” (Originally published in Wishful Thinking) Prayer is about being deliberate and paying attention to the ways that God is already at work in our lives, and then offering to God all the stuff of our lives in response to that, with gratitude. The writer Anne Lamott has written that there are three prayers that she prays over and over again: “Help”. “Thanks”. And “Wow.” (I think perhaps some of you Ole Miss fans have had a recent experience of praying all three of these within the span of the game last night!) So the good news about prayer? It’s nothing to be intimidated by. Persistence is important, and above all, remember that it’s the deep prayer of your soul has already been initiated for you by God, and the Holy Spirit, or the God in you, is already responding. All we have to do is show up, and pay attention. “Help. Thanks. Wow!”

Sunday, October 13, 2013

21st Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 23C

21st Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 23C October 13, 2013 In today’s gospel passage, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. He is in an in-between time and at an in-between place. He encounters 10 lepers who, according to the holiness code in Leviticus (the religious law), have been made outcasts because of their illness. And they cry out to him, asking him to have mercy upon them. He answers them by telling them to go show themselves to the priests (another part of the holiness code through which lepers can be evaluated and if found to be disease-free, then reinstated into the community). And the writer tells us that as they go, they are made clean. And one of them (a Samaritan—a bitter religious rival of the Jews), upon seeing that he is clean, turns back, falls at Jesus’s feet and thanks him. Jesus asks him where the others are, and then he tells him to get up and go on his way, that the man’s faith has made him well (or whole or even literally his faith has saved him.) Then Luke’s gospel continues with a passage that we don’t hear at all in this lectionary cycle, but I think is very important and informative of how we look at this little story. Luke writes next, “Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The Kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For in fact, the Kingdom of God is among you.” Could it possibly be that the Kingdom of God is uncovered or revealed in and through gratitude? Oscar Wilde once said, “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” For us followers of Jesus (or followers of the Way, as the early Christians were called), we seek to uncover, to discover this Kingdom of God that is already among us. For us, it’s not about pie in the sky when you die. It’s about healing and wholeness and fullness of life here and now. It’s about living, not just existing. This little story from Luke’s gospel today shows us how the Samaritan leper was blessed not once but twice—once when he was healed with all the others and then a second time when he returned to give Jesus his thanks and praise. The Samaritan leper received not only the blessing of healing which all the other lepers received (simply by being in the right place at the right time?). But when he returned to give thanks to Jesus, he received the blessing that comes from recognizing blessing and giving thanks—the blessing of wholeness and even perhaps of salvation. In that way, this little story shows that gratitude is the difference between living and just existing. Another writer writes about this experience of the second blessing of gratitude in this way: “Have you ever noticed just how powerful it is not only to receive blessing but also to name it and give thanks for it? Maybe you’re at dinner with family or friends, and it’s one of those meals, prepared with love and served and eaten deliberately, where time just stops for a little while and you’re all caught up and bound together by this nearly unfathomable sense of community and joy. And then you lean over to another, or maybe raise your glass in a toast, and say, ‘This is great. This time, this meal, you all. Thank you.’ And in seeing and giving thanks, the original blessing is somehow multiplied. You’ve been blessed a second time. Or maybe you were at the Grand Canyon (or some other wonderful spot), taking in the beauty of the vista, when you lean over to your companion and say, “This is so beautiful. I’m so glad you’re here to share it with me.” And again, the blessing is multiplied and you’ve been blessed yet again. Thanksgiving is like that. It springs from perception -- our ability to recognize blessing -- and articulation -- giving expression, no matter how inadequate it may seem at the time, of our gratitude for that blessing. And every time these two are combined -- sight and word -- giving thanks actually grants a second blessing.”i And well, that’s easy to say, isn’t it, but not quite so easy to do, especially when the world seems to be falling apart around us. Only 5% of the population of our entire country is satisfied with the work that congress is doing in this stalemate and government shut-down that is affecting so many lives. Individuals are struggling—financially; folks are sick or unhappy with the way their lives are turning out. It is not always our natural inclination to be grateful. I can’t help but wonder what it cost the Samaritan to not follow Jesus’s instructions and proceed with the others to the priest but rather to return and give thanks. Was his gratitude so overwhelming and overpowering that he could not help but give thanks? Or was it because his mother had taught him to say thank you? I suspect it is the first, but the curious thing about gratitude is that it doesn’t really matter how we get there. We receive the second blessing of gratitude whether it is something that wells up within us or whether it is something that we are deliberate in seeking out. In his book Reflections on the Psalms, C. S. Lewis observed the connection between gratitude and well being. He writes, “I noticed how the humblest and at the same time most balanced minds praised most: while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised least. Praise always seems to be inner health made audible.” Most of us want to be happy and healthy and whole. So how we do this? How do we cultivate, how do we practice gratitude? What does it take to be grateful for the blessings and healings of our lives? It’s actually very simple. You can do this every morning to start your day or even multiple times throughout the day. Take a doodle card out of the pew in front of you (or any piece of paper will do). Take a few moments and think, right now, of 7 particular things—people, events, qualities, healings, gifts, even disasters—for which you are grateful (right now, in this moment). Write them down. (silence) How might things be different for you, for me, for us as a church, for our whole world, by our articulating often and loudly that gratitude? What happens inside when you give voice to that gratitude? At the offertory, you will be invited to come forward and place your thanksgivings in the collection bowls on the altar—your opportunity to thank God for those 7 good gifts in your life right now. (If you are not comfortable or able to come forward, then place your paper in the collection plate that the ushers will pass around). And then together, we will make Eucharist, thanksgiving, giving thanks to the Lord our God for all the good gifts God has given us. In conclusion, I will leave you with a quote from the medieval mystic, Meister Eckhart: “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was ‘thank you’ that would suffice.” i.David Lose from his blog: http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2796

Sunday, September 15, 2013

17th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 19C

17th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 19C September 15, 2013 A letter to Trace Cates upon the occasion of his baptism. Dear Trace, What a wonderful day for a baptism! As I shared with you previously, every Sunday is a feast day or celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection, and we can have baptisms on any given Sunday. But this Sunday is especially poignant for your baptism because of the way that your particular story intersects with the gospel reading chosen for today. In our reading, the righteous people are complaining to Jesus about the shady people that he is choosing to hang out with. In response to their complaints, Jesus tells them three parables, two of which we heard today. Which of you, he says to them, if you lost one sheep wouldn’t leave the 99 to go find the lost one, and then when you find it, wouldn’t you throw a big party to celebrate—costing much more than the one sheep is probably worth? And which of you, he continues, if you lost a coin wouldn’t exhaust all your time and energy until you found it, and then, once you found it, would throw a party for all your neighbors and friends, spending much more money than you had originally lost to celebrate its finding? Actually, I don’t know about you, but that probably is NOT what I would do in either case. It doesn’t really make much sense. So what is Jesus doing here? And then there’s the third parable in this series, told in response to the complaining of the religious folk. Jesus goes straight into that parable from our readings today saying, “There was a man who had two sons…” And he proceeds to tell his listeners how the younger son asks for his share of the father’s inheritance, runs off and squanders it. Until one day, when living in abject poverty, the son “comes to himself” and decides to go home and throw himself on his father’s mercy, admit that he really messed up his life. When the younger son returns home, he finds that his father is so overjoyed to see him, that even though he has squandered half of his father’s money, his father is going to throw him a huge party to celebrate his return. But the older son is bitter and jealous; he confronts the father, and he reminds the father that he is the one who has always been there at his father’s side—steady, responsible, dependable—and never once, did the father throw him a party. The father gently reminds him that all of the father’s wealth and resources has been his all along; he could have had a party anytime he wanted; and the father invites the older son to lay aside his hardness of heart and to come join the party. Three parables. Three parties. Especially appropriate on this day of your baptism! Because in your baptism today, you are acknowledging that even though God has named and claimed you as God’s beloved since your creation, still you have been somewhat lost, searching, longing for a place to call home. And God has searched for you, pursued you, waited night after night on the front porch staring into the distance, anticipating the time when you would “come to yourself” and return home to God. And when we renew our own baptismal vows with you today, we remember this about ourselves as well. No matter how long we may have been here, we all at some point, have been lost. And God has pursued us, found us, restored us, and celebrated us. Trace, today you make your promises to God that you will live your life a certain way, that you will open your heart to God and to others, and that you will return to God when you fall away or fall short. We renew these promises with you because it is the way that we also return to God after we have fallen away or fallen short. And then we will promise you that we will be your companions on the way; we will walk with you in your life with God, and you will walk with us, because the Christian life is not a solitary one. And then—we the Church are entrusted with the joyful task of throwing God’s party! It is the purest mission and calling of the church, a group of sinners who gather together and throw parties to celebrate the grace and love and forgiveness of God that we have received, and to invite others to join us in this celebration; because God’s grace and love and forgiveness is offered to all. Call it a homecoming of sorts! For each of us has been lost, and each of us has been searched for, pursued, anticipated, and restored by God in and through Jesus Christ. And in our baptism and every day after, may we have the grace to say, “Yes! Thank you, God!” Happy baptism day, Trace! And welcome home! We are so very glad that you have come to join us in God’s party! Your sister in Christ, Melanie+

Sunday, September 8, 2013

16th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 18C

16th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 18C September 8, 2013 Sacrifice—it almost has become a dirty word in our culture. Even the definition from Miriam-Webster is kind of scary: “an act or offering to a deity of something precious; especially the killing of a victim on an altar.” Yikes! Our lectionary crafters and the gospel writer of Luke seem to be unrelenting in confronting us with a Jesus who’s words are extreme, uncomfortable—words about hating those whom we hold dearest, words about counting the cost, taking up crosses, and yes, that unpopular notion of sacrifice. Even in the church, where we talk about Jesus’s sacrifice every single week, sacrifice has become almost taboo. Feminist and liberation theologians remind us that for a long time the concept of sacrifice was used to subjugate people—especially women and poor people and people of color, and the people who weren’t in power. We were told that it was our Christian duty to sacrifice, and for many, many years the church wielded that notion over people. Now, the church is afraid to talk about sacrifice because 1. It’s not popular, and 2. People have so much competing for their time and attention and resources, and we fear that such an unpopular notion will drive them away, back out into a world that eagerly touts the joys of easy convenience and instant gratification. But you know what? I’m not afraid of talking about sacrifice with you or with others because I see you, and you are already sacrificing. I see you parents who give up almost every weekend you have in order for your children to enjoy the benefits of competitive sports. I see you who work grueling hours at jobs that do not feed your soul so that you may have the money and the resources to do what you need to do. I see you older folks who live on fixed incomes and sometimes have to choose between food and medicines at the end of some months, or those of you who must choose what you are able to do and accomplish within the growing limits of your physical capabilities. I see you who wake up at ungodly early hours of the day to exercise; I see you who are attentive to what you put into your bodies in an effort to lose weight or to be healthy. And of course, being a part of a community such as the church often means choosing between our own ideologies and the needs of others. Yes, you all know much of sacrifice already. And why is it that you are making these difficult choices? It is because certain things, people, relationships are important to you. We sacrifice for what is most important or most valuable to us. Over and over again in the gospels, Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God is here now, that eternal life begins now. This means that being a Christian—a follower or disciple of Jesus on the way isn’t about what we think or “believe.” It is about how we live and love and order our priorities, and it is about what we allow to possess us. “You sacrifice according to your priorities. And in today’s [gospel] passage Jesus is saying the Kingdom of God he proclaims and the kingdom life he exemplifies should be a priority, actually be the priority. So maybe we should contemporize Jesus’s parable and ask, ‘What parent wouldn’t count the cost before signing up for the traveling soccer team, and what new employee wouldn’t consider whether she is willing to work every weekend her first year?’ You are already making sacrifices in your lives, and Jesus tells us that Christian discipleship or the Christian life calls for the same.”i I’ve told you before that I had a rich experience a few months ago when I heard Bishop Greg Rickel speak about stewardship at Gray Center back in May. I was completely confronted when he talked about the incredible importance of telling the truth in our churches. He said to us, “How often do we say, “We didn’t have enough money, time, resources, energy to do_________(whatever, you fill in the blank). But the truth is really that we didn’t choose to spend our money, time, resources, energy to do that. And I was caught short, confronted by this important difference because I know this is so very true for my own life. How many times do I say in one week, “I didn’t have enough time to do that.” When really the truth is that I didn’t choose to spend my time that way. So the question that Jesus is inviting all of us to examine this week, with his challenging demanding words is “How do I choose to spend my life?” And the reality of God is that God takes whatever small portion of our lives that we offer to God and God multiplies it one thousand-fold. God accepts our scarcity and transforms it into abundance because abundance and fecundity is God’s nature. But deep down we still know that we have chosen to offer God only this tiny bit, when we have so much more that we are choosing to spend elsewhere. And we are ashamed, and that becomes even more of an impediment that we put between us and God. Jesus calls us beyond that. He calls us to examine our lives, the use of our time, those priorities and people we hold most dear. He invites us to say honestly—not I didn’t have enough…but rather this is what I chose. But he also invites us to sacrifice more for our relationship with God—because no matter how important these other people and priorities might seem to us now, when all pieces of this life are stripped away, it is only this—your uniquely created self and God. That is the most important thing there is. That is the essence of eternal life. So this day and this week, may we all be unafraid to speak the truth about our lives. To count the cost. To look at our lives, our calendars, our commitments, our titles, our relationships, our material goods, our checkbooks and to really and truly examine how we are spending our lives. And then let us prayerfully consider what God is inviting us to sacrifice in order to grow more deeply and more fully in the knowledge and love of God and in living a life of following Jesus. i. David Lose from his blog www.workingpreacher.org

Sunday, August 25, 2013

14th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 16C

14th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 16C August 25, 2013 There was a crooked man who walked a crooked mile. He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile. He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse, And they all lived together in a little crooked house. I had the good fortune this week of getting to discuss today’s gospel reading with some of my colleagues here at St. Peter’s as we met for the Coast Clericus clergy gathering. One of our retired priests mentioned how today’s gospel reminds him of this little nursery rhyme from his childhood. I’ve been thinking about that all week, and I’ll speak more about that momentarily. In our gospel reading for today from Luke’s gospel, we see Jesus teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath. While there he encounters a “crooked woman” one who has been bent over for 18 years. Jesus calls out to her, without her asking him for anything, and he tells her that she is healed from her crookedness. But then the leader of the synagogue starts up a fracas, about how Jesus has broken the commandment of not doing work on the Sabbath, and Jesus affirms the value of the woman and her need and right to be healed, despite how other people might interpret the law. Today’s story is interestingly situated. It falls in between the parable of the fig tree whose focus is on repentance, and the parable of the mustard seed and the leaven which are about the Kingdom of God and how to address discouragement or fear about what we feel we have when we believe we have failed. So what exactly is the word that is being spoken by this particular story that is situated between a call for repentance and an insight into the Kingdom of God? Another colleague talked about how we always have the temptation of reading the gospel stories and imagining that we are right there on Jesus’s side. But in this story, it is important for us to imaging ourselves on the side of the leader of the synagogue. The story of the crooked woman’s healing is an invitation to re-imagine and revision all the rules that we cling so tightly to through the light of Jesus’s compassion. “There was a crooked man who walked a crooked mile. He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile. He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse, And they all lived together in a little crooked house.” One of the truths that Jesus proclaims that has the capability of unbinding us all, is that each and every one of us lives with our own crookedness. As the nursery rhyme puts it, we are often drawn to be with and live with and worship with those whose crookedness matches our own, and we all live together in our little crooked house and are completely content. But then we encounter someone who is crooked in a different way than us—maybe she is a crooked woman in the synagogue, maybe it is someone who comes to church who doesn’t act how we think they should act…then we get all upset about their crookedness, paying absolutely no mind to our own. My friends, the good news is this. The light of Jesus’s compassionate judgment shines on each and every one us, and if we will pay attention, he will show us the ways in which we are crooked. Just like the woman in the synagogue, Jesus calls out to us and heals us of our crookedness before we even ask. And that healing often occurs when we bump up against someone else’s crookedness that is different from our own. It is why we, in the church, so desperately need each other, and especially need people who are different from us. Jesus uses each of us in the healing and the transformation of each other, if we but open our hearts up to it. So today, we are going to have extra time of silence after this sermon, in which I invite you to pray and ask Jesus to shine his compassionate judgment upon your own crookedness. When we get to the confession of sins in just a few moments, we will also have more time for you to prayerfully lay that crookedness down at Jesus’s feet. And when you think to judge someone else for their crookedness, remember that each of us lives quite happily in our own crooked house, and God loves each and every one of us too much …to let us stay there.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

13th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 15C

13th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 15C August 18, 2013 Luke 12:49-56 Jesus said, "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law." He also said to the crowds, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, `It is going to rain'; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, `There will be scorching heat'; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?" Let me just start out by saying that I do not like this reading from Luke’s gospel today, and I really did not want to preach on it. I do not like to think of a Jesus who is invoking fire and promising division and conflict. We have enough division and conflict in the world, in our everyday lives, Jesus, thank you very much! We come to church in search of peace and harmony! Just what are you trying to do to us? Well, let’s think about this for a minute before we get all panicky. Maybe Jesus has a perfectly good explanation for being so snarky! In this portion of Luke’s gospel, Jesus has ‘set his face toward Jerusalem.’ He knows where he is going and what is going to happen there. As we say in our modern way, “He is stressed!” He is wrestling with the subjugation of his will and desire for survival to God. He is surrounded by people who just don’t get it, and he is preparing to place himself in the intersection between fear and hope, between hatred and love. He knows that it will be incredibly painful and heartbreaking and lonely. When Jesus talks about the conflict that following him brings to families, he is undermining the most basic fabric of life in his time; the household or family is the most deeply valued social unit, around which all of society is ordered. By claiming to bring division and conflict instead of peace to that sacred institution, Jesus is threatening to undermine and obliterate the current social status quo. You know all those people who bemoan the undermining of traditional family values? Well, that is exactly what Jesus is about in the gospel reading for today. So what is a preacher with a husband and two kids, a rector who is charged with the care of the household of the church supposed to make of this troubling passage and this troubling Jesus? My dear ones, we in this parish find ourselves to be in one of these conflicted times that Jesus predicts for people who follow him. (Interestingly enough, I have discovered that these conflicted times most often occur here in the height of hurricane season, when people here are at our most anxious.) Over the past-almost four-years that I have been your priest, we have seen tremendous changes. Our average Sunday attendance, the best predictor of church growth has been steadily climbing and is higher now than it has ever been. Our giving has been steadily increasing, and last year saw the first year since 2007 that we ended the year with a budget surplus as opposed to about a $20,000 deficit, and that is thanks to your gratitude and generous response in your giving and thanks to a new creativity among the vestry that I have never witnessed or experienced in any other church I’ve been a part of. We are doing more things, offering more programs, formation offerings and opportunities to engage in ministry than at any other time in the life of the church. New people are coming; some are just showing up, being led here by the Holy Spirit; others are being invited by you because you are excited about being a part of this faith community and you are offering the words to your friends that harken all the way back to Jesus’s words of invitation to his first disciples, “Come and See!” I strongly believe that we as a church are growing more and more into who God is calling us to be. Yet in the midst of this change and growth and new life, we are experiencing conflict. Change is hard for many people; while some rejoice as St. Peter’s by-the-Sea becomes a more diverse and inclusive community, others feel challenged and conflicted in encountering people who are different from them. What once felt like a closely connected family for some now feels alarmingly unfamiliar (and maybe more than a little scary and even dangerous). So a handful of people have left—both recently and over the last couple of years. And it is heartbreaking and maybe a little frightening to see people leave who are our friends, people who have worshipped in these pews with us and broken bread with us and given money and untold hours of their lives in ministering beside us over many years; they are people who I both love and respect. Sadly, it was their choice to leave, and they have all been told that the doors here will always be open to them if they choose to return. I long, just as much as many of you, for this church to be a place of peace and harmony and to just be one big happy family. But perhaps those are not the most important aspects of who we are called to be as a community of faith and followers of Jesus. I read a quote from the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams where he was asked about spirituality and the life of faith, and he replied, “‘Speaking from the Christian tradition, the idea that being spiritual is just about having nice experiences is rather laughable. Most people who have written seriously about the life of the spirit in Christianity and Judaism spend a lot of their time telling you how absolutely bloody awful it is.’ Williams argued that true spirituality was not simply about fostering the inner life but was about the individual's interaction with others."i So even while I find Jesus’s words today to be a source of deep discomfort for me, they are also indicating that here and now, we are bumping up against the gospel, the good news. Jesus reminds us that the work of the Christian life and the work of the church is not toward peace and comfort and contentment. He reminds us that we are baptized not into a family but into his body—the very body which he prepares to hand over to be crucified—killed, murdered, dead—so that all may experience the transformation and the new life that can only come with resurrection. My brothers and sisters in Christ, we are not called to be a family. We are not called to be peaceful; we are not called to be happy; we are not called to be content. We are called to be transformed! And transformation often includes a refining fire that burns off the parts that hold us back, make us impure. It may not be easy or comfortable, but it may very well be the most life-giving, Spirit and grace-filled work that we ever do together here. We are called to be the body of Christ which means we are not all the same. We come from a variety of backgrounds, bringing a variety of gifts. Some of us have been Episcopalians our whole lives (or at least it seems that long) and have a deep ownership in this church, having helped rebuild it from the rubble; some of us have been so deeply wounded by other churches that we can only marvel that we have been able to find a church where we feel at home. And some are somewhere in between the two. We have so much to learn from each other, and there is room for everyone at God’s table. I read an interview recently with the Rev. Lillian Daniel who has recently written the book When Spiritual But Not Religious is Not Enough. In the book and the interview, she is going after people who talk about being spiritual but not religious, but her words are also an important part of the life of the church and an important reminder of the reality of why we gather week after week to worship together. She says, “Any idiot can find God alone in the sunset. It takes a certain maturity to find God in the person sitting next to you who not only voted for the wrong political party but has a baby who is crying while you’re trying to listen to the sermon. Community is where the religious rubber meets the road. People challenge us, ask hard questions, disagree, need things from us, require our forgiveness. It’s where we get to practice all the things we preach.”ii My brothers and sisters, we need to practice what we preach, here and now. It is time for us to stop talking about each other and to talk to each other. I wrestled with God mightily about whether or not I was going to preach this sermon, and well, I guess you see who won… It is my hope that rather than serving to emphasize division and conflict among us, this may be the beginning of an opportunity to have honest, open, respectful conversation about how we, all together, will be the body of Christ and do his work of loving, healing, and reconciling in this place. I.http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/aug/15/rowan-williams-persecuted-christians-grow-up ii.http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2013/08/13/answering-the-spiritual-but-religious-an-interview-with-lillian-daniel/#sthash.BYS1QeYk.dpuf

Sunday, August 4, 2013

11th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 13C

11th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 13C August 4, 2013 “Once, with great sadness, a lawyer who was on the brink of retirement told [someone] that he had spent his career in the midst of fights over inheritance that occur between siblings. And really, he said, they are fighting over their parents’ love. So the pain that Luke remembered in the short plea, ‘tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me’, is deep and ongoing among us. Luke remembers Jesus using the moment to define greed (the storing up of resources) as the opposite of living richly toward God.”i The theologian and scholar Walter Brueggeman says that “greed is born out of the idea of scarcity and scarcity is born out of anxiety and all three are acted upon in an abundant world. Abundance is denied, not trusted, forgotten in our culture.”ii I had a spiritual director once who used to say to me, “If you scratch the surface of anger, there is always something underneath.” I have learned over the course of time in paying attention to my own inner life and in walking with other people through their own lives of faith, that more often than not, that “something underneath” the anger is anxiety. So what are we supposed to do with our anxieties? The Franciscan priest Richard Rohr had a meditation this very week (on the day that I needed to hear it most) about where anxiety comes from and how people of faith deal with it. (Note that Rohr is heavily influenced by Carl Jung, which is why he uses some of the particular language that he uses in this meditation.) He writes, “Only the great self , the True Self, the God self can carry our anxieties. People who don’t pray basically cannot live the Gospel, because the self is not strong enough to contain and reveal our delusions and our fear. [He says that he is most often quoted for this line:] “If you do not transform your pain, you will always transmit it.” “Always someone else has to suffer because I don’t know how to suffer; that is what it comes down to. Jesus, you could say, came to show us how to suffer, how to carry ‘the legitimate pain of being human’ as C.G. Jung called it. Beware of running from yourself and your own legitimate suffering which is the price of being a human being in a limited world.”iii Both this week and last week, our lectionary has given us readings from the prophetic book of Hosea as our Old Testament reading. Hosea is one of the minor prophets who is speaking to his own people, the people of the Northern Kingdom after Israel divided in half. And Hosea is speaking during a time of great chaos and turmoil and anxiety. The Northern Kingdom at this point in history is at war with Assyria and in virtual anarchy. Hosea is called by God to take a prostitute as his wife (which we heard in last week’s reading), and eventually Gomer leaves him. But Hosea brings her back publicly after her infidelity. And this relationship with her is used as the image of the relationship between God and God’s people who have been unfaithful. Overall, the book of Hosea is quite tumultuous and speaks heavily about the ruin that is coming to Israel. But our reading for today is so very poignant; written from God’s perspective, we see the cost of God’s love. We see God’s memory of God’s child growing through the years, how God has observed and cared for God’s people. It is beautiful, nurturing language: “it was I who taught them to walk, I took them in my arms; but they did not know I healed them. I led them with the cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bend down to them and fed them.” And God knows the peoples’ anxiety, and God knows that disaster is coming. And we who often ask “how can God allow such horrible things to occur” (in our lives, in our world), should note that God asks this question of Godself no less than four times: How can I…” do this? And the answer is that God’s heart recoils and God’s compassion is kindled. God remembers Godself with the words, “for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.” It is this God whom Jesus reveals and to whom we are invited and challenged to be rich toward—a God who is steadfast and loving, the Holy One in our midst. So what does it mean to be rich toward God? Being rich toward God isn’t about money, although money can certainly be a part of it. It’s about how we deal with our anxiety and our suffering; being rich toward God is about how we are in relationship with God and with each other. The writer of Colossians talks about this in the verses just after the ones we read this morning (in verses 12-17). It says that those who are rich toward God treat others with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. They bear with one another and forgive each other; they clothe themselves in love which binds everything together in perfect harmony. The peace of Christ rules in their hearts so that they are truly the one body to which they are called. They are thankful and proclaim their gratitude to others…It is the difference between being self-actualized and self-absorbed; it is the difference between being driven by anxiety versus being driven by hope, and it is the good news to which we are called this week. And so this is our particular good news in this particular place. Part of what it means for us to be a resurrection people. It means we trust in God’s love for all people; we trust in God’s faithfulness; and we will not let ourselves be bound by our anxiety or our fear or our scarcity. It means that we continue to be a living witness to God’s abundance that is never diminished, even when it is shared. One of my favorite saints, Dame Julian of Norwich, had a revelation of the abundance of God’s love. And she came out of that mystical experience and uttered words that have helped anchor anxious souls back in God all across the centuries. She experienced God’s love, and she wrote, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and every last thing shall be well.” These words are set to a little song that I often sing to my children at bedtime and even sometimes to folks who are especially anxious. I believe I have sung it in this pulpit before. But I want you all to learn it today, because it is the work of the church—the proclamation of the gospel—to sing the good news in a world that is consumed with anxiety and scarcity and fear. And it is the work of people of faith to pray to God, to manage our own anxiety, and live richly toward God. So I teach you this song today, and I promise to sing it to you when you are anxious, and I will ask you to do the same for me, for that is part of what it means to be the church together. (I’ll sing it through one full time, and then you can pick it up as you are comfortable on the second or third time through.) All shall be well; and all shall be well; and every last thing shall be well. i.Written by Nancy Rockwell in her blog The Bite in the Apple. http://biteintheapple.com/rich-toward-god/ ii.Ibid. iii.Richard Rohr’s daily meditation for Thursday, August 1, 2013 from www.cac.org Here are today's readings: http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearC_RCL/Pentecost/CProp13_RCL.html

Sunday, July 21, 2013

9th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 11C

9th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 11C July 21, 2013 Someone recently wrote, “I think that one of the great reasons the church is declining during our day is that most of our people have a hard time connecting what we do at church with what we do the rest of the week. Their faith practices on Sunday are nice, perhaps even comfortable, but they don’t inform their daily decisions at work, home, or school. In short, they don’t find their faith particularly useful.”i. In that same vein….in a reflection on the reading for Amos today, the Methodist Bishop William Willimon asks the question, “What would Amos preach to us today?” and he writes about a friend of his who teaches theology at Oxford University. Willimon writes that his friend likes to open his theology class by asking his students, “With what is theology concerned?” “The students typically answer, ‘God,’ or ‘Religion,’ or ‘Spiritual things.’ He corrects their misapprehension. ‘No, Christian theology is concerned with everything!’ There are presumably religions that are concerned exclusively with personal, private happiness, with individual morality, but neither Judaism nor Christianity is one of those religions. In Judaism and Christianity, God not only creates the world but continues to interact with it and to take care of everything in it. This God makes no distinction between ‘religious’ concerns and ‘secular, nonreligious concerns.’ This God is concerned with everything.” Today’s reading from Amos reminds us that “worship of the God of Israel and of the church is not limited to Sunday. Worship continues in what we do at the office on Monday and continues throughout the week. This God does not want just our ‘heart or our ‘soul.’ This God wants all of us.”ii Amos is about the work of afflicting the comfortable, about showing them how they have left behind God’s teachings because, no matter how faithful they are, they are taking advantage of the poor, rather than caring for them, which has always been a priority for God and an important aspect of being God’s people. His harsh proclamations can be a reminder to us that what we do matters. How we make our money and spend our money matters. How we spend our time also matters, not just in our own relationship with God but in terms of how God has connected all of us through Jesus Christ, who is the “visible image of the invisible God.” A modern day form of this indictment comes from a writer named Barbara Ehrenreich in her book, _Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America_. She writes that in her work as a waitress, “The worst [patrons], for some reason, are the Visible Christians—like the ten-person table, all jolly and sanctified after Sunday night service, who run me mercilessly and then leave me a $1 on a $92 bill.”iii And then there is Martha in today’s story from Luke’s gospel, Martha who is doing exactly the right thing in terms of Jewish culture and faith, offering hospitality to the one who has come under her roof. And yet she is worried and distracted and ultimately jealous about her sister’s inactivity. Martha is doing exactly what she is supposed to do, but she is not finding the joy in the ministry or the offering of her time and labor. And it is because she has forgotten that she is valued and loved-not because of what she is doing but because of who she is. It is true that what we do matters in this world and in our relationship with God. It matters how we make and spend our money; it matters how we spend our time and our attention because all of those things impact our relationship with God and with others—which are the most important part, truly the needful thing. But no matter how you spend your money, no matter how much you give or don’t give to the church or to the poor; no matter how you spend your time—whether it’s going to church every Sunday or only once in a blue moon, whether it is spending all your time helping out at Feed My Sheep or whether it is spending all your free time playing games on your computer, God is not going to love you any more or any less than God already does. That is the one “one needful thing” the better part that Mary is able to remember and choose and that Martha is not. But when you realize this, that God is not going to love you more or less than God already does, there is a freedom and a gratitude that comes with this, and we want to spend our lives and our money and our time in ways that are in keeping with God’s values and not our own. In closing, I leave with the words from the SSJE meditation by -Br. Geoffrey Tristram titled: Compassion from Jul 12, 2013: Compassion: “When we know ourselves to be judged with love and forgiven, restored and set free, the words, “I was hungry and you gave me no food. I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,” do not fill us with fear about the final judgment, but break our hearts with compassion.”iv i.David Lose. https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=2644 ii.Willimon, William. Feasting on the Word. Ed. Bartlett and Brown Taylor. Homiletical Perspective. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010, p 246-248. iii.Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2001, p 36. iv.www.ssje.org

Sunday, July 14, 2013

8th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 10C (a teaching on the laity)

Pentecost 8—Proper 10C July 14, 2013 Today is the last in a series of four homilies that Scott and I have preached on the ministers or the four orders of the church. We’ve used the catechism in the back of the Book of Common Prayer as a guide for these homilies, and it is important again to mention that the order we have saved for last is actually the one that the Prayer Book positions as first, and therefore, most important. It is the laity, from the Greek word laos for people. Turn to page 855, and let’s look again at what the catechism has to say: Q. Who are the ministers of the Church? A. The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons. Q. What is the ministry of the laity? A. The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ's work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church. Q. What is the duty of all Christians? A. The duty of all Christians is to follow Christ; to come together week by week for corporate worship; and to work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of God. It is easy to forget that one of the most memorable of Jesus’s parables begins with a timeless question that could easily be asked by any one of us today: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The story then moves from that question, on to another question—‘who is my neighbor?” But notice, the story from Luke and the parable answer neither of those questions. In fact the story and the parable show us how we are missing the point when we ask those questions—what must I do to inherit eternal life, and who is my neighbor. Here is what another writer wrote about this passage from Luke’s gospel that gets at the heart of this misunderstanding that affects so much of our life of faith. He writes, “This is where the lawyer in our Gospel lesson didn’t get it. The ‘way to inherit eternal life’ is not formulaic. It is a way of life that lives into eternity now. It is living our lives with the knowledge that everything is spiritual, and so our whole lives are spiritual expressions of our love for God (with all that we are and all that we have)…Jesus’s parabolic Samaritan doesn’t ask who his neighbor is; he lives into being a neighbor to all, especially to the one in need.”i. Eternal life is now; it is already happening. The Bible and our Prayer Book give us the tools for how we can live into it more fully and completely. It tells us that the way of eternal life is found in “bear[ing] witness to [Christ] wherever [you] may be; and, according to the gifts given [you], to carry on Christ's work of reconciliation in the world; and to take [your] place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.” Notice, again here, the order. The church is listed as last and your work in the world is listed as first; so which one is more important? Here’s another way of thinking about it. How does your faith connect to the life you live outside the doors of this church? A small group from our church went to a conference a few weeks ago. It is the Bishop’s Annual Stewardship Summit or BASS, and the speaker was the Rt Rev. Greg Rickel, Bishop of Olympia. Bishop Rickel told us that he has a theory that the church should be like an airport. Nobody goes to an airport to stay. They go there; they hang out for a while, and then the leave, to either go home or get to where they are going. Rickel says the church should be like this, too. Another priest from that same diocese posited that the goal of the church is to gather people together, to create a space where we can all be transformed, and then to send everyone out into the world to do their ministry. I realized just this week that there is a disconnect in my own life and ministry at times. It is so easy to slip into the thinking that eternal life is something we have to work to inherit as opposed to something we are already given, that we just have to seek to discover. I was on staff at Camp Bratton Green this past week, with a whole host of third and fourth graders. I love this age group of kids, because they really get into camp. Many of them are experiencing it for the first time. The downside of this is that many of them often get homesick, understandably so, since this is the first extended time that many of them have been away from their families. This year, we had several girls in our cabin who got very homesick the first night, and the counselors were trying to talk to them and do all the stuff they had taught us about in staff training on how to deal with homesickness. But it just wasn’t working. And because homesickness can be contagious, it looked like we were about to have an epidemic on our hands. So they came to me as a last resort. I tried talking to the different kids, tried to keep them busy, until I also was stuck. And then it occurred to me. You just might have a particular gift that could be of use in this situation. So I told each of the girls, “You know, I’m a priest. So why don’t I say a prayer for you, and then I will give you a blessing, because that’s something that priests can do.” So I prayed with each of them, and I made the sign of the cross gently on their foreheads and offered them God’s blessing, and each and every one of them went on to bed. For me, in that moment, I tasted eternal life, when I was able to use my gifts in the world to help someone else. But, you know, it almost didn’t even occur to me. And I think that is our biggest impediment to discovering eternal life. It is not paying attention—to our own lives and our own gifts, how God might be calling us to use them, and also not paying attention to the needs and lives of others. Beginning this fall, this parish is going to offer some opportunities to help you in that endeavor, helping you to claim your work as your vocation, helping you to discover what your gifts are and to also discover how God is calling you to live more fully into your calling as God’s people—“bear[ing] witness to [Christ] wherever [you] may be; and, according to the gifts given [you], to carry on Christ's work of reconciliation in the world; and to take [your] place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.” It is no accident that every week, our deacon, whose role is to be the embodiment of the ministry of servant hood and whose job it is to connect us to the needs of the world outside our church doors, leads the dismissal for our worship. The dismissal is the call to service in the world. It is the challenge to go out into the world, and find and claim eternal life, to discover it in what you are already doing. It is about claiming your life and your calling and your ministry to others as holy. In closing, let us pray (this is a collect: For the Mission of the Church BCP p 816): Everliving God, whose will it is that all should come to you through your Son Jesus Christ: Inspire our witness to him, that all may know the power of his forgiveness and the hope of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. i.From Steward’s Stirrings by The Rev. Canon Lance Ousley, Diocese of Olympia.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

7th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 9C--Teaching on the Priesthood

7th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 9C July 7, 2013 It was the summer of 1996. I was entering my junior year in college and had not yet declared a major because I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had thought I might go to law school (it’s ok, you can laugh at that, it’s funny!), but that just didn’t seem to be the right fit. One day, I was sitting on the window seat in my parents’ kitchen and talking to my mom about the vocational difficulties I was having, and she said to me, “Have you ever thought about being a priest?” I was stunned. Not because I hadn’t thought about it, but because I had. But I hadn’t told anyone, because I just wasn’t sure. But when she asked me that question, it was as if I could actually start really considering it, because someone else had seen that in me. But still I was nowhere near sure. That summer I entered a semester long program of study abroad through Rhodes and Sewanee, and so I set a goal for myself that I would spend much of that time in prayer and reflection, and I would come back with an answer—am I called to be a priest or not. It was an incredible semester! We spent 8 weeks in England, and we tramped around all the old monastery ruins, so many thin places where so many prayers have been offered and the veil between this world and the next seems to be non-existent. We learned about our fathers and mothers in the faith, and I was steeped in English and European history, art, religion, and culture. And still I kept praying, “God, please, let me know if you are calling me to be a priest.” I was still so very uncertain. Then one day, we had an extracurricular assignment in a church outside of Florence overlooking the city. It was a very simple church, and my college roommate and I went in and sat and started working on our assignment. As we worked quietly, a woman soloist came in and started rehearsing; she was singing Ave Maria, and I found myself praying my same old prayer, “God, please, let me know if you are calling me to be a priest.” And then suddenly, unexpectedly, a voice, that was as familiar as my own and also not, spoke in my soul and said, “Faith is not knowing but doing.” When I came back to myself, I knew, right or wrong, I was going to pursue the priesthood because what I understood that one sentence to mean-- “faith is not knowing but doing”--is that we are called to act, even when we are uncertain, and we are called to trust that God will pick us up if we fall. So eventually, I spent three years in seminary, where they trained me in many useful and not-so-useful things. They tried to equip me with tools for my ministry as a priest. I learned the basic definitions. For example, open your prayer books to page 855. Remember from last week, “Who are the ministers of the church?” The ministers of the church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.” Now look on 856. “What is the ministry of a priest of presbyter?” “The ministry of a priest is to represent Christ and his church, particularly as pastor to the people; to share with the bishop in the overseeing of the Church; to proclaim the Gospel; to administer the sacraments; and to bless and declare pardon in the name of God.” Flip back to 855 again, and notice that under laity, bishop, priest, and deacon, we all have the same foundation. We ALL are called to represent Christ and his church in different ways. Seminary also taught me that the order that the Book of Common Prayer lists things is very important to pay attention to. Look at how they list the four orders of the church. What’s the first and therefore, most important? The Laity. More on that next week! They taught me the importance of scripture in the Episcopal Church. In fact, it is so important to us that in all three ordination services, the deacon, priest, and/or bishop make a public statement to the gathered congregation (and then sign it) saying (BCP 526), “I do solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church.” (Come to my Inquirer’s class, and I’ll unpack that a little more for you.) Seminary also taught me that while some of our mor Protestant brothers and sisters were formed with the mantra Sola Scriptura or “Scripture alone” that is not the Anglican or Episcopal way. Rather we are formed and shaped by a concept articulated by Richard Hooker in the 16th century that we call the 3 legged stool, and the legs are scripture, tradition, and reason. All three are essential to the other in our faith, and it is why I have taken the time to teach you all about the four orders of the church—because it is an essential part of the tradition that we have inherited and also a key component of our identity, in ways that make us different from other traditions but that do go all the way back to the early days of Christianity. Seminary also taught me about language, how the Greek word, presbyteros, means “elder,” and it is found in the New Testament (e.g. 1 Peter 5:1-4); our word “priest” is a later term that comes from the shortened Anglo-Saxon contraction of this word presybteros. But there are also things about the priesthood that I didn’t learn about in seminary. They are the things that you all have taught me, that I would never have dreamed about when I accepted God’s call in that simple church outside of Florence those many years ago. You have taught me about the sacramental life, about how when offer something simple and humble to God, God will bless it and make it holy, and give it back much richer and fuller than it was to begin with. You have taught me the deep value and difficulty of being vulnerable. I see it in you every Sunday when you come to the communion rail, and some days it is all I can do not to weep, because it is so deeply holy; and you have called it forth from me—not the least of which in climbing into this pulpit week after week and opening a small window into my soul. It comes when we love each other, and when we break each others’ hearts, which we do from time to time. We see this vulnerability as essential in Jesus’s instructions to the 70 he is sending out in today’s gospel reading. He challenges them to go out and proclaim the gospel, to take nothing with them, to rely on others’ hospitality, and to seek out and use the resources that are available. (note here about discretionary giving last week?) So in closing, let me just take this opportunity to thank you for calling me to be your priest, those almost four years ago. Thank you for the ways that you continue to shape and form me in my ministry and for the ways that you allow me to walk with you as we all seek to live more deeply into our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It is truly my deep joy to be your priest. Let us pray. (BCP 528). O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were being cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

6th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 8C (A Teaching on the Order of the Episcopate)

6th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 8C June 30, 2013 If I gave my sermon titles, this one would be titled: “What difference does all this Bishop stuff make to me, anyway?” Who knows what the word “Episcopal” means? Right, it means Bishop. So, what is a bishop? Many of the times in the Episcopal church when we have questions, we can find the answers in the Book of Common Prayer. Turn to page 855. Q. Who are the ministers of the Church? A. The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons. The four groups are what we call orders of the church, and each group has its own unique ministry. Q. What is the ministry of a bishop? A. The ministry of a bishop is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as apostle, chief priest, and pastor of a diocese; to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the whole Church; to proclaim the Word of God; to act in Christ's name for the reconciliation of the world and the building up of the Church; and to ordain others to continue Christ's ministry. The word Episcopal or bishop comes from two Greek words—“epi” meaning “over” and “skopos” meaning “sees”. So Episcopal literally means “overseer” or superintendent or even an inspector. There is evidence of bishops in the New Testament in 7 key references: 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:7-9; 1 Peter 2:25; Philippians 1:1; Acts 20:28; Acts 1:20 and 1 Peter 5:24. Many of these talk about the bishop’s ministry of oversight. (You’ll have time in a moment to read through these.) i We also have evidence of these separate ministries in the writings of the early church fathers. The first clear evidence of a three-fold church order of bishops, presbyters or priests, and deacons is found in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch (circa 107). Ignatius emphasized the importance of unity in the role of the Bishop—thus the bishop is not just an overseer but also a unifier. Some of the other early church fathers wrote about the bishop as being the chief presider of the Eucharist (Ignatius and Hippolytus); the bishop as a teacher of the faith (Irenaeus); and the bishop as the leader in the councils of the church (Cyprian).ii So, in the early church, the apostles were the leaders, and they had the authority of Jesus’s teaching. They were the ones who had been taught by Jesus; they had walked with him, touched him. The apostles passed their authority to local leaders by laying their hands on the new leaders. So, as the apostles died, new leaders were chosen and the authority of the apostles’ teaching was continued. This is what we call the apostolic succession. I want you to close your eyes and imagine a chain of hands bestowing authority, starting with our own bishop (and the new bishop whom we will elect), and this chain of hands stretches back through the ages in an unbroken line until it ends (or begins) with the hands of those who have touched the hands of Jesus. That is apostolic succession. And that’s great, Melanie, but what does it have to do with us? Do any of you remember at some point, promising to “continue in the apostles teaching and fellowship…” Turn to page 304. It’s part of the Baptismal covenant. The selection of a bishop through the working of God’s Holy Spirit is a key part in maintaining that connection with the apostles in our own time and for future Christians who will follow after us. It is both for our own benefit and for the benefit of our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren in the faith. It is also a very important reminder for us Episcopalians in this time of Christendom when so many Christians are convinced that all that matters is their own personal relationship with Jesus. The Episcopate and apostolic succession remind us that its not just about us and Jesus; our faith is about all of us together across the ages. What we do in the life of our faith affects everyone else! So today, we are doing important work. We are helping to select the next bishop of the Diocese of Mississippi by filling out a survey for the nominating committee. This survey will be used by the nominating committee to create a profile of our diocese as we seek to discern who is called to lead us more deeply into unity in the apostolic faith in the coming years. It is so important, that we’re going to hand them out now, and if you haven’t already filled it out (on paper or online), I strongly encourage you to do so now. In the meantime, Scott and I are available for you all to ask questions about the process. But first, let us pray again the words of the collect for the day that are so appropriate as we do this work together: Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 The saying is sure: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way— for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace and the snare of the devil. Titus 1:7-9 For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or addicted to wine or violent or greedy for gain; but he must be hospitable, a lover of goodness, prudent, upright, devout, and self-controlled. He must have a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching, so that he may be able both to preach with sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it. 1 Peter 2:25 For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls. Philippians 1:1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: ___________________ ______________________ Acts 20:28 Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. Acts 1:20 ‘For it is written in the book of Psalms, “Let his homestead become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it”; and “Let another take his position of overseer.” 1 Peter 5:2-4 to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it—not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away. i.“Origins of the Episcopate and Episcopal Ministry in the Early Church.” By the Rev. Canon Professor J. Robert Wright. ii.ibid Here's the link to take the survey for the next Bishop of Mississippi: http://bishopsearch.dioms.org