Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve 2016

Christmas Eve-2016 This season, I’ve been listening to one particular Christmas cd over and over again. It is Yo-Yo Ma and Friends: Songs of Joy and Peace. I had listened to it several times without really thinking about it before something strange about it occurred to me. Out of the 28 Christmas songs that Yo-Yo Ma and his friends have compiled, 8 of them are different versions/ improvisations on one song: Dona Nobis Pacem. Dona nobis pacem. Do you know this song? It’s actually found in our own hymnal on page 712. It goes like this: It means, “grant us peace.” So as I’ve been listening to this Christmas album through this season, I’ve been listening to this one song over and over and over again. Grant us peace. Grant us peace. It is a simple song of both hope and longing. I think it is safe to say that every single one of us longs for peace. And like those different musicians doing different improvisations on the same song, we sing this longing for peace differently in our own lives. Some of us sing it hopefully. Some of us sing it sadly, remembering what peace we have lost. Some of us sing it angrily, as we see the injustice around us or in our own lives. But no matter how each of us sings it, it is the song that is found at the deepest, depths of each of our hearts. Lord, grant us peace. It is what we have come here tonight in search of. It is what we long to experience and encounter here, at least on this one night, if we can’t have it in any other place or time. Lord, grant us peace. So what do we make of the angels’ proclamation to the shepherds? “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” It seems that they are saying that peace comes with Jesus, but if this is so, then how is it that we long so desperately for it all these many years later? One of the deep truths that we are called to remember this night, when we celebrate the birth of Emmanuel--God with us--is this. Jesus doesn’t bring the kingdom of God; he reveals the kingdom of God. Jesus doesn’t bring peace. He reveals that peace is already here, within our grasp and within our hearts. On this night, of all nights, we remember that God takes on human form to reveal to us Godself, to reveal to us just how much God cherishes us. In and through this gift, God shows that God experiences and understands how difficult and dark our days can be, how confused we get about our identity and place, how many painful things we do to each other out of that confusion and insecurity. And through Jesus, God shows us, again and again and again, but also for the first time tonight, that God loves us—deeply, truly, and forever; that God is with us; that God’s kingdom is already here among us; and that God’s peace already dwells deep within us. The message of the angels for us this night is this. You are of infinite value, deeply loved by God. God is with you, and you already have the peace of God within you. So tonight, we sing this song of longing for peace out of place of thanksgiving—that God’s peace is already ours (You can sing it with me if you like…)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Advent 3A

Advent 3A_2016 December 11, 2016 “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” It’s quite a different picture of John the Baptist that we have this week compared to last. Last week, we saw John in his glory, preaching repentance out in the wilderness, calling people “a brood of vipers” and so certain in his mission, to prepare the way for the Messiah. This week, we have John, imprisoned, alone, abandoned, uncertain: “are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” John is looking for assurance, for fulfillment, for hope, and amazingly enough, even in the midst of extreme persecution for speaking the truth to power, John is prepared to wait and remain true to his purpose—pointing people to the Messiah. Jesus responds (as Jesus often does) without really answering John’s question—but rather telling John’s disciples to “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…” Jesus points to the acts of healing, mercy, justice, reconciliation, and joy that are the fruits of his ministry, and he offers those as the answer to John’s question. By answering John’s question in this way, Jesus invites John (and John’s disciples) into visioning the new kingdom of God that is being born in and through Jesus. I imagine that it was incredibly hard work for John, alone in the dark of his jail cell, to vision the new kingdom that God was creating through Jesus. It’s hard for us too, all these many years later. I was talking with a friend from another church not too long ago, and she and another woman were talking about the disappointment in their church and the choices those in power had made. The other woman said to my friend, “Why couldn’t they let the new church be born?” A little over two years ago, your vestry decided that it would utilize the priest in charge process from our diocese as you called your next priest. Your search committee received 8 names of suitable candidates from the bishop, and they went to work---they read all the candidates’ profiles and resumes and cover letters; they read sermons (from the same Sundays so they could be more accurately compared); they composed questions for the candidates to answer and then read and compared all those. Then they interviewed 3 of the candidates, asking each a series of the same questions, and they worshipped with each and listed to each preach. It was the most thorough and well-organized search process I have ever participated in. At the end of that process, you chose me; and I chose you. And together we are St Columb’s. I gave you my heart long ago. I admire and respect from where you have come and I see so much wonderful potential and possibility in you that I am eager to help you engage with. But I have also been deeply disappointed in the ways that we have all recently allowed grumbling, malicious gossip, and lies to tear the fabric of our community, and we have been so quick to believe the worst of each other. In the reading from James today the writer says, “Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged.” He writes this to a community who is being persecuted, and he urges them not to grumble against one another because they need each other, they need that faithful community to help them await the Lord’s coming. Survival over the long haul requires patience, not only with the Lord, who brings fulfillment in God’s own time, but with each other lest we destroy the community that holds us up during the waiting. We can do better. We have the power to name and confront grumbling and malice when we see it (both in our own hearts and in the words and actions of others) and to not allow it to divide us. For we are St. Columb’s. Many years ago, a small faithful group of you acted with great courage as you made the decision to move from West Jackson to Ridgeland, and you committed yourselves to the vision and the dream that a new church would be born. More joined you, and you acted courageously once again to help the new church be born when you built this nave. More have joined us, and it is time for us all once again to call upon the plucky courage that is the foundation of this congregation, that has been stoked and nurtured by those of you who have been here all along and to allow the new church to be born. For we are St. Columb’s. Today is the culmination of our annual giving campaign. We will be turning in our pledge cards that represent our commitment to this parish and to God’s mission and ministry which is being lived and carried out here among us. Now, I know some of you don’t want to pledge until you see which way all this is going to go, and that is certainly your prerogative and is something that is between you and God. But that is not the choice that I am making, nor is that what God is calling me to do. I am making my pledge and my commitment to God in and through this place because I have seen how God’s kingdom is made manifest by our common life—people are transformed by the love of God in and through the people of this parish; acts of mercy and kindness are shared with those who are in need or are suffering; and we still have an abundance of joy, even in the midst of hardship, which is the product of hope and our trust in God and God’s love for us. So I make my pledge, my commitment to God and the new church that is being born in this place, and I invite you to join me in that hope. For it is only together that We are St. Columb’s.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Advent 1A

Advent 1A November 27, 2016 Today we celebrate the beginning of a new year in the church calendar. It is the first Sunday of Advent, a season of the church year that is characterized by anticipation and waiting, by expectant hope and longing, by preparation for Jesus’s coming again through his birth at Christmas and by preparation for Jesus’s coming again into this world as he promised. Advent is, perhaps, the most counter-cultural of our seasons because all around us, the stores, the yards, the houses are all decorated for Christmas in a riot of carols and colors. And yet in Advent, we light our single candles week by week and huddle expectantly around the light of those individual flames. In our gospel lesson for today, we see Jesus in what is know as the “little apocalypse” entreating his disciples (and us) to “keep awake!” And that’s really the theme of this season, isn’t it: Keep awake! But how do we do that, we who are not so good at or comfortable with waiting? In Advent, we are invited to dwell for a season with our longing. We sing every week “Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free. From our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee…” We remember for a season that we are a people who are called to wait, to watch expectantly, to hope. Most of the time, we just refuse to wait. We rush or we ignore it or we distract ourselves with our smartphones, but in Advent we are called to embrace the waiting and the longing that comes with it, and we are invited to keep watch while we wait. We are invited to keep watch for the presence of God, who does show up and who will show up. A while back, one of my favorite songs was titled “Awake My Soul” by the British band Mumford and Sons. The refrain of the song goes: “Awake my soul! For you were made to meet your maker.” St. Augustine wrote a long time ago that at the center of each of us is a God-shaped hole. We try to fill it so often with things that aren’t God or of God. But in the end, only God can fill that void. So one way of keeping awake during this season of Advent is to embark upon an examination of our longing. What is it for which we wait? What does our deepest longing reveal about each of us? And what would it be like to kneel before God (perhaps during some extra silence before the confession?) and to name our specific longing before God and ask God for God’s fulfillment? So this Advent, may your soul be awakened: that you may watch with the expectancy and joy of children waiting for their playmates to arrive. May your soul be awakened that you may watch with the purpose of one who waits for water to boil. May your soul be awakened that you may watch with the patience and faithfulness of one who keeps watch with a love one who is near death. May you keep awake and keep watch for the presence of God in your life and in this world. For you were made to meet your maker.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

26th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 28C

26th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 28C November 13, 2016 I have a confession to make. And I'm well aware that this confession may make me seem un-American. But, I am not a baseball fan. There are several other sports that I watch or follow (sometimes tangentially), but baseball has never been one of them. I was on retreat last week when the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, and so I noted the elation among my friends who are long-time, long-suffering fans, but I didn’t pay too much attention to it. And then, I was introduced to a song I had never heard before. It is called All the Way, and it is written and sung by Eddie Vetter—the front-man for the band Pearl Jam. I was struck by this song because it is a love song from a Cubs fan, and it is a song full of hope and expectation and longing (written back in 2008) that has suddenly been fulfilled. The chorus goes: “Someday we’ll go all the way, yeah, someday we’ll go all the way.” And the song includes lines like “We are one with cubs, with the cubs we’re in love. We hold our heads high as the underdog…” And “In a world full of greed, I could never want more… someday we’ll go all the way, yeah, someday we’ll go all the way.” and “Here’s to the men, the legends we’ve known, teaching us faith and giving us hope… “Someday we’ll go all the way, yeah, someday we’ll go all the way.” [It’s funny, don’t you think, how after this crazy week we’ve had, after this crazy season, I keep being drawn to listen over and over again to a baseball love song. I just don't get it.] At first glance, our readings for this week seem to have little connection with love songs, other than the fact that the Bible is the love song of God for God’s people. But upon closer look, perhaps we may see things differently. Luke’s gospel has been written after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Take a moment and imagine the most chaotic, destructive act happening in your lifetime—September 11th on steroids. The central focus of your faith, your worship has been destroyed by an occupying country. That is the community that Luke is writing to. The very ground under their feet feels unstable; nowhere feels safe. There is stress and fighting in the community. And Luke’s Jesus tells them not to put their hope, their faith in institutions, because they will crumble. Luke’s Jesus tells them that really bad things are still going to happen before the end times and they shouldn’t make preparations. They should endure faithfully and Jesus promises them that even if they are executed (which is a distinct possibility for them), that God will ensure that not a hair on any of their heads will be harmed. Then there is the reading from Isaiah. This reading is from the third part of Isaiah and the chronology is important here. In the first part of Isaiah (aka “Angry Isaiah), the children of Israel have forsaken God and as a result they have been taken into exile in Babylon. The second part of Isaiah happens when they are in exile and it is more hopeful. The worst has happened, but God is still with them. The third part of Isaiah seems to be more realistic. The people have returned from exile back to Jerusalem, and it is in ruins. There is no government. The temple has been destroyed and is in ruins, and the people are left with a whole lot of work to do to rebuild everything, including their fractured community. This portion of Isaiah, which is also sometimes called “Isaiah’s prophesy” sings the love song reminding the people that is God who does the work of creating and re-creating and it paints a vision of hope for how God will work to recreate their fractured community and home. And then there is 2nd Thessalonians. This reading is often quoted out of its context to berate people who are being fed without working, but that is not at all what is going on here. The writer of 2nd Thessalonians is addressing a very divided community who has been expecting Jesus’s upcoming and immediate return and who has become frustrated in that expectation (and maybe even fallen under some persecution from the authorities of the day). As a result of their division, some in the Christian community there have continued to faithfully endure and do the work of the beloved community while others have grown idle and are stirring up trouble with gossip. The writer of the letter entreats the community to continue enduring in faithfulness and encourages them to “not be weary in doing what is right.” So where is the love song for us in these readings this morning, after a crazy, divisive election season and a week that has resulted in half of our nation rejoicing and half in mourning? The love song for us is the reminder not to put our hope in institutions because they will crumble. We are not to put our hope in the Church or in the Nation. We are not to put our hope in the bishop or a conflict consultant or even this building and its beloved community. We are not to put our hope in the president or the president-elect, in our military or our justice system or our electoral college. The love song for us is a reminder that God is the one in whom we put our hope, and God promises always to be faithful, to care what happens to each and every one of us, so that not a hair on our heads shall be harmed as long as we remain faithful. God promises that God’s values are not our values and that God creates and re-creates according to God’s purposes not our own. But we are also reminded that we can’t just sit around and leave it all to God (because when we do that, we generally get up to no good). Instead, we are called to “not grow weary in doing what is right” which can be summed up in loving God and loving our neighbor. (I think we can all relate to the difficulty of this work here recently.) Just recently, I listened to a remarkable interview of Jack Leroy Tueller, a decorated World War II veteran. And in this interview Tueller tells of an experience that he had during his service in WW2 that can inspire and challenge us, if we let it. He says, "This is two weeks after D-Day. It was dark, raining, muddy. And I’m stressed so I get my trumpet out. And the commander said, 'Jack, don’t play tonight because there’s one sniper left.' I thought to myself that German sniper is as scared and lonely as I am. So I thought, I’ll play his love song." And just this little act of grace, this message of love played out across the expanse of darkness is so wonderful. If the story ends here, it is still a beautiful love song of human kindness. But it doesn’t end there. The military police approach Tueller the next morning and tell him they have a German prisoner on the beach who keeps asking in broken English, "Who played that trumpet last night?" Truller continues: "I grabbed my trumpet and went down to the beach. There was a 19-year-old German, scared and lonesome. He was dressed like a French peasant to cloak his role as a sniper. And, crying, he said, 'I couldn't fire because I thought of my fiancĂ©. I thought of my mother and father,' and he says, 'My role is finished.' Jack Trueller concludes: “And I stuck out my hand and I shook the hand of the enemy. He was no enemy; he was scared and lonely like me." “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.” May God give us the courage to see each other in and through the vision of God and to play for each other a love-song across the dark divide.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

23rd Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 25C

23rd Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 25C October 23, 2016 Once upon a time, a bishop is traveling with some pilgrims on a fishing boat from one place to another. He overhears the fishermen talking about a nearby island where three old hermits live a Spartan existence focused on seeking "salvation for their souls." The bishop is curious about these hermits and wants to go see them, but the captain attempts to dissuade him by saying "the old men are not worth your pains. I have heard say that they are foolish old fellows, who understand nothing, and never speak a word." But the bishop insists, and the Captain steers the ship toward the island and the bishop subsequently sets off in a rowboat to visit where he is met ashore by the three hermits. The bishop informs the hermits that he has heard of them and of their seeking salvation. He inquires how they are seeking salvation and serving God, but the hermits say they do not know how, only that they pray, simply: "Three are ye, three are we, have mercy upon us." The bishop tells them that they still have much to learn about the faith, and so he begins to teach them about the major church doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation. And he also insists that they must learn how to properly pray. He tells them that he will teach them "not a way of my own, but the way in which God in the Holy Scriptures has commanded all men to pray to Him" and he attempts to teach them the Lord's Prayer, but the simple hermits blunder and cannot remember the words—which compels the bishop to repeat the lesson late into the night. After many hours of frustration with their ignorance, the Bishop is finally satisfied that they had memorized the prayer, and he departs from the island leaving the hermits with the firm instruction to pray as he has taught them. The bishop then returns by the rowboat to the fisherman's vessel anchored offshore to continue his voyage. But after he climbs on board, the bishop notices that their vessel is being followed—at first thinking a boat was behind them but soon realizing that the three hermits had been running across the surface of the water "as though it were dry land." The hermits catch up to the vessel as the captain stops the boat, and inform the bishop: "We have forgotten your teaching, servant of God. As long as we kept repeating it we remembered, but when we stopped saying it for a time, a word dropped out, and now it has all gone to pieces. We can remember nothing of it. Teach us again." The bishop is humbled and replies to the hermits: "Your own prayer will reach the Lord, men of God. It is not for me to teach you. Pray for us sinners." After which the hermits turn around and walk back to their island. This parable (of the 3 Hermits by Leo Tolstoy) is much like our gospel reading for today. Luke sets the stage for us in saying that Jesus identifies two key problems with his listeners which result in his telling of this particular parable: they trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt. So he tells them the story of the two men praying in the temple. One does everything that he is supposed to do and considers himself righteous for it while looking down on his neighbor. The other man is a cheat and a crook, who makes his living by taking advantage of his own countrymen in a foreign-occupied country. He makes no confession, only standing before God saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Jesus concludes the parable by saying that “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” In this parable, Jesus is saying that knowing ourselves, knowing who we are, admitting our short-comings, admitting or sins is more important than being “good” or righteous. And in order to know ourselves, we must spend at least a little time being self-reflective, asking questions that help us to know ourselves better and understand the world around us differently. That is the true work of a person of faith, and how we continue to be transformed into the image and likeness of Christ. When we come across someone that we instantly dislike, self-reflection and knowing ourselves means asking the question, “What is it about this person that I see that reminds me of a part of myself that I don’t like?” And then intentionally trying to offer a kinder look both at the other person and at that part of ourselves we don’t like. I heard a poet speak this week in a podcast and I was struck when she said that the harsh voice of judgement and criticism that we use on people outside ourselves is usually the same voice that we use on ourselves. But faithful self-reflection invites us to examine our own hearts with a kinder lens, coming from a place of curiosity rather than fear. And when we do that, our kindness is often transferred to those outside ourselves who we otherwise might judge and condemn. Today we kick off our annual giving campaign. Our theme for this year is “We are St. Columb’s” and over the next few weeks, you will be hearing stories from our members of how each of them has been transformed through their life here at St. Columb’s. I encourage you, over the coming weeks, to reflect in your own life, on at least one moment when you have been transformed, become more self-aware, become more like Christ or seen someone differently, because of your life here at St. Columb’s. And then another aspect of self-reflection that I invite you to during this season is to examine how you spend your money. Just a few chapters earlier in Luke’s gospel, Jesus says to his disciples “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” One way of being self-reflective about “where your heart is” is to examine how you spend your money. If you look at your online bank account, your bank statement, or your check book, what do those things say about how you spend your money and therefore where you heart is? After you examine that, does the reality align with where you hope your heart is? If not, then why not? And where does your giving to St. Columb’s fit into all of that? Is your giving to God through St. Columb’s representative of the gratitude that you feel for the way that you have been transformed by your involvement here? In closing, I want to remind each and every one of you that each of us belongs to God. Every person God has made is cherished by God. We don’t have to do anything different or be anything different for God to love us, and God loves our neighbors just as much as God loves us. May we have the courage to examine our own hearts and to allow God to transform us to be found more and more in the image and likeness of Christ—who God has created us to be.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

21st Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 23C

21st Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 23C October 9, 2016 We have a spiritual practice in our family that we just started in the last year. We call it “the three things.” I started doing it with our children after I heard an interview with the singer/songwriter Carrie Newcomer on the program On Being, and she shared it as being one of her own spiritual practices. At night time, when the children are settled in their beds and preparing for sleep, I ask them to tell me three things that they are grateful for on that particular day. They are usually some of the most mundane things of their everyday lives, but as Newcomer says, the voicing of these things for which we are grateful sends us off to sleep from a place of wholeness and thanksgiving. And the curious thing is that it is only seldom that the children struggle to think of three things and only three things. Usually, the recitation of the things for which they are thankful snowballs until it is like one of those cartoon snowballs rolling down a mountain and getting bigger and bigger on its way down. It’s often hard to limit ourselves to only three. And they usually ask me what my three things are, and we discover that often they remind me of something of which I am grateful which I have forgotten over the course of the day and vice versa. It has become an integral part of our nighttime routine, and I think it is because it is about acknowledging the sacred in the midst of the ordinary and giving thanks for it. In our gospel reading for today, we see a story that is unique to Luke’s gospel, where Jesus is walking through an in-between place (between Galilee and Samaria) and he encounters 10 lepers who call out to him “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Lepers in that culture were segregated from society because of the contagion of their disease, and so they are essential folks who have been shunned by society who are walking around with horrible disfigurement and parts of their bodies which can no longer feel anything. And Jesus heals them all, no questions asked, telling them to go and show themselves to the priests, which would then allow them to be reintegrated into society. And the writer of Luke tells us that on their way to the priests, they are made well. And upon realizing this miraculous healing, one leper turns back, praises God, returns to Jesus and falls at his feet and thanks him. Jesus observes that only the Samaritan has returned to give praise to God (even though the other 9 are doing exactly as he instructed them to do), and then he gives the Samaritan former-leper a second blessing saying, “Get up and go on your way. Your faith has made you well.” This passage in Luke’s gospel follows right on the heels of last week’s passage about faith, which follows right on the heels of Jesus teaching his disciples about the challenges of discipleship. And its placement is not accidental. Luke is reminding his listeners and us that praising God and expressing gratitude is an important component of discipleship. And it’s also no accident that the word that our reading translates as “has made you well” (when Jesus tells the leper to go his faith has made him well) can also be translated as “saves”. So Jesus is also saying to the leper: Go in peace, your faith, your praise of God and your act of thanksgiving, your recognition of the way God has healed you and acted in your life has saved you. 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.” So how do we feel gratitude when we are in the midst of trials and tribulations? How do we express gratitude to God and each other if we are struggling, if we just don’t feel grateful? This gospel reading reminds us that even in the middle of nowhere, even in the in-between times, God shows up, and God heals us if we ask for it. It also reminds us that gratitude is so much more than a feeling. It is a key practice of discipleship. Just like how we practice faith (by showing up and being who God is calling us to be) even if we don’t feel like our faith is enough (or particularly faithful), we can practice gratitude by paying attention to the ways God is working in our lives and in our world, we can look for and name the ways that the most holy moments show up in the midst of the most ordinary, and then we can name that and give thanks. That is practicing gratitude. That, my friends, is discipleship. Our church has had some struggles lately. I wonder how we might all be changed, healed, if we were just a little more attentive to practicing gratitude? What would this church be like, if, every time we walk through these doors, every single one of us took a minute and named three things for which we were grateful here in our common life? What would our lives be like if the last thing we did every day was to practice gratitude by naming three things, encounters, people, moments, ideas…for which we are grateful this day? I’d like to challenge us all to take on these practices of gratitude in this in between time in the life of our church. In this practice of discipleship, might our practicing of gratitude, our outward praise to God for the good things of our life make our inner lives more healthy? It really couldn’t hurt….

Saturday, September 10, 2016

17th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 19C

17th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 19C September 11, 2016 When I was a child, I remember receiving a very strong message or teaching. I don’t remember if it was from my parents, my school, our culture, or maybe even Sesame Street. But that teaching was this. If you ever get lost, try to find a policeman, and he or she will be your friend and will help you find your parents. Fast forward many years, to young adulthood, as I was living in New York City for my first year of seminary on September 11, 2001. I watched as a whole city, a whole country suddenly found ourselves lost after the attack on the World Trade Center, and I also watched as that childhood lesson was lived out. I watched as all the first responders in New York and the surrounding areas made incredible sacrifices to their own lives and their safety to fulfill that vocation, that calling. To help find those who were lost. It is the calling and the vocation of our first responders here in this community—to find and help those who are lost. And it is why we honor and thank them this day. Our gospel reading for today also talks about being lost. Today’s reading is 2 out of a series of three parables that Jesus tells in Luke’s chapter 15. Luke starts off by setting the scene saying that “the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus.” As a result of this, the Scribes and Pharisees, the religious insiders, begin grumbling… “What kind of person is this Jesus of Nazareth who’s willing to consort with such a disreputable bunch?…” When Jesus hears them complaining about him giving so much of his time and attention to folks who are clearly notorious sinners, he tells them (the Scribes and Pharisees, the righteous and faithful of his day) the two parables that we heard today and then upon their heels, he tells the parable of the prodigal son, which we don’t get to hear today. “Which one of you…” Jesus says, wouldn’t go after a lost sheep or search for a lost coin to the extent that the shepherd and the woman in the parables do? And do you know what the answer is? The answer is none of us would do that (except for maybe you first responders among us) because it doesn’t make any sense. Who takes all that time and energy to find one lost coin and then throws a party and spends more money that what was lost to celebrate? Who in their right mind goes off and leaves 99 sheep who are all together in one place to go off and find one lost sheep? Nobody! Jesus tells us and the Pharisees and Scribes this parable because he knows that we don’t get it, and that is the point. He is telling us that God’s economy is clearly not our economy. He is telling us that God does not discriminate between who is righteous and who is lost (like we like to do). He is telling us that even when we think we are the faithful, the righteous, deep down, every single one of is lost and in need of God’s seeking out and finding us and restoring us to relationship with God and each other, over and over and over again. And that’s good news. But the problem comes when we, like the Scribes and the Pharisees, grumble and complain about who God chooses to invite to God’s party. Because, you see, in this old Episcopal church, we believe that the work of God is to restore all people to loving relationship with God and that the work of the church is to help facilitate in this. So that means, when God restores one of us to relationship, God rejoices; God celebrates. And it is God’s deep hope and delight that all of us come to that party and celebrate too. The deep joy in heaven or the Kingdom of God is that everyone and everything will one day be restored. There’s a line from a movie that we like to quote in our family. It’s from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and it is from when Jones, who has gotten separated from his scout troop because he has wandered off on his own and made a discovery and is being chased by the bad guys, returns to where the horses are to find that no one else is there. He says puzzled, “Everybody’s lost but me!” It’s funny because he’s the one who has run off to have all these misadventures, but it is also true isn’t it? Deep down, we each think “well, everbody’s lost but me.” But that is not what Jesus is saying here today. He is saying that for God, we are all equally valued and loved and sought after. For God, we are all lost until we are all fully restored together to the body of Christ through the reconciling work of God that we are called to share in. It can’t really be a party until we all rejoice that we have all been found together—even the ones we think shouldn’t be here, shouldn’t be getting all that attention, even the ones who treat us horribly, who break our hearts, who make us look bad, who we don’t choose to associate with. It can’t really be the kind of party that God wants until we all rejoice that we have been found together. So today, we are thankful for the God who does not give up on any of us, ever. We are thankful for the God who will go to ridiculous lengths to find each and every one of us, over and over again. We are thankful for God’s servants, the first responders, who do the work of finding and restoring the lost in our community. And we are thankful to be all in this together. Amen.

Funeral Homily for Archie H. King

Archie King Funeral homily September 9, 2016 There are two things that Archie King tried to convince me to promise to do for him after he died. As I have been taking Archie home communion over the course of the last 20 months or so, Archie took great delight in the fact that the order of service for the home communion that he would always get looked very disreputable. It was dog-eared and kind of sad looking, and I think his favorite part was the fact that there are these big splotches of spilled communion wine all over it. He made me promise that I would never get rid of it because, he said that that was “his” order of service, and it delighted him so. (As you can see, it is kind of the reprobate of home communion service leaflets….) The other thing that Archie tried to convince me to do for him after he died was to replace the wine in the chalice for the Eucharist at his funeral with McAllen 18 year old scotch (for which we both share an affinity). I feel certain that I speak for all of us in saying how grateful I am that I got to know Archie. I appreciate his intelligent conversation, his humor, his stories. I appreciate his engagement with lofty ideas, whether it be politics, religion, the economy, the current state of public education. I appreciate that he embodies one of the tenants of discipleship: that we are called to learn constantly—whether he was learning about a new idea or about the person who was sitting in front him, Archie was lit up with a curiosity about life and people that he never lost. So today we gather to give thanks for this wonderful husband, father and grandfather, (and step-father and step-grandfather); this life-long educator, counselor, friend, mentor, and companion. We mourn his loss among us. (Man, am I going to miss those conversations, and the couple of times he would convince me to “try this new kind of whiskey he had found” in the middle of the afternoon before communion with a twinkle in his eye- like he was getting away with something.) We are grateful that he is no longer suffering. We remember that death is not the end but a change; that through Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, God has proven that God’s love is stronger than anything, even death. And we hold fast to the hope that we will be reunited with Archie and all those we love who have gone before, all those whose lights have shown for us, inspired and encouraged us, and helped light our way. We hold fast to the hope that we will once again feast (and drink scotch) with Archie and all the rest of God’s saints at God’s heavenly banquet. But in the meantime, we say, “Well, done, good and faithful servant, commend him to God’s care, and raise our imaginary glasses of 18 year old McAllen and say, “To Archie.” Amen.

Funeral Homily for Archie H. King

Archie King Funeral homily September 9, 2016 There are two things that Archie King tried to convince me to promise to do for him after he died. As I have been taking Archie home communion over the course of the last 20 months or so, Archie took great delight in the fact that the order of service for the home communion that he would always get looked very disreputable. It was dog-eared and kind of sad looking, and I think his favorite part was the fact that there are these big splotches of spilled communion wine all over it. He made me promise that I would never get rid of it because, he said that that was “his” order of service, and it delighted him so. (As you can see, it is kind of the reprobate of home communion service leaflets….) The other thing that Archie tried to convince me to do for him after he died was to replace the wine in the chalice for the Eucharist at his funeral with McAllen 18 year old scotch (for which we both share an affinity). I feel certain that I speak for all of us in saying how grateful I am that I got to know Archie. I appreciate his intelligent conversation, his humor, his stories. I appreciate his engagement with lofty ideas, whether it be politics, religion, the economy, the current state of public education. I appreciate that he embodies one of the tenants of discipleship: that we are called to learn constantly—whether he was learning about a new idea or about the person who was sitting in front him, Archie was lit up with a curiosity about life and people that he never lost. So today we gather to give thanks for this wonderful husband, father and grandfather, (and step-father and step-grandfather); this life-long educator, counselor, friend, mentor, and companion. We mourn his loss among us. (Man, am I going to miss those conversations, and the couple of times he would convince me to “try this new kind of whiskey he had found” in the middle of the afternoon before communion with a twinkle in his eye- like he was getting away with something.) We are grateful that he is no longer suffering. We remember that death is not the end but a change; that through Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, God has proven that God’s love is stronger than anything, even death. And we hold fast to the hope that we will be reunited with Archie and all those we love who have gone before, all those whose lights have shown for us, inspired and encouraged us, and helped light our way. We hold fast to the hope that we will once again feast (and drink scotch) with Archie and all the rest of God’s saints at God’s heavenly banquet. But in the meantime, we say, “Well, done, good and faithful servant, commend him to God’s care, and raise our imaginary glasses of 18 year old McAllen and say, “To Archie.” Amen.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

15th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 17C

15th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 17C August 28, 2016 A letter to Zora Senitko upon the occasion of your baptism. Dear Zora, Today is the day of your baptism, a day when some would say that we “remember who you already are.” We gather today to baptize you into the body of Christ; and we gather today for your parents and godparents, and all of us really, to acknowledge that you are already called and named, claimed by God as God’s beloved. In your baptism today, your parents and godparents are accepting that belovedness on your behalf, and they are promising to raise you in a way that helps you learn how to live more fully into that. So even though you probably won’t remember much of this day when you are older, there are some things that I hope you will continue to remember over the course of your long, faithful life as a follower of Jesus. May you remember that following Jesus is, most of the time, neither easy or comfortable. As Jesus calls us to grow more and more fully into our status as the beloved of God, he calls us to change and grow to become more like Jesus. He calls us to hold more loosely those parts of our self that we cling to—things like status, wealth, power—and to cling more tightly to our reliance on God. May you remember that as God’s beloved, that means that you are no better and you are no worse than anyone else. Jesus reminds us not to think so highly of ourselves that we grasp for the highest place at the table, but we also shouldn’t be held back by thinking that we are somehow less than others. When we recognize that each of us is God’s beloved, then that affects how we treat people, even those who are dramatically different from us, those we are afraid of, those we might otherwise look down on. May you remember that we become like what we worship. Whether it is other people, money, the latest gadgets, our calendars, we become like what we worship. As followers of Jesus, our worship should always be centered on God. That means daily prayer. Weekly worship. Learning constantly about God and other people. Serving joyfully. And Giving generously. May you remember that following Jesus, being a full member of the Body of Christ in this community and in the Church means offering radical hospitality. We are those who represent the one who has proven that God’s love is stronger than anything—even death. And so our main purpose as the Church, the body of Christ, is welcoming others into that new life and celebrating there presence here and in looking for others to spread that good news to as well. May you remember that what we celebrate every single week here in the eucharist is that Jesus is throwing a party, and all of us are invited. And yet none of us are really worthy of being invited. We do not earn our invitation or our place here. We are here because each of us is beloved and cherished by God because of who God is, not who we are. So when we look up and down the altar rail at one another, we marvel at this and we celebrate it. We are all here together because Jesus has invited us to be here. And it is our call to welcome all who he has invited. May you remember, sweet Zora, that there is never anything that you can do to get yourself uninvited to this party. You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and you are marked as Christ’s own forever. May you grow more fully and surely in this knowledge, all the days of your life. Your sister in Christ, Melanie+

Saturday, August 13, 2016

13th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 13C

13th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 13C August 14, 2016 Just a couple of months ago, I had a rather strange experience that involved my children and a pop song we were listening to on the radio. We were driving somewhere and out of the blue the two of them started singing along with the chorus of this song that I didn’t even know they knew. The chorus goes “If we could turn back time/to the good old days/ when the mammas sang us to sleep/ but now we’re stressed out.” It was pretty funny. As I listened, I discovered that the entire song (which is titled “Stressed Out”) is about how the singer/group (21 pilots) is harkening back to childhood when they were carefree and innocent and above all, not stressed out. At that time, they could play pretend with money but now, in their stressful, adult lives, they have go to work. Another refrain is “wake up you need to make money!”. I was amused and intrigued that my children were singing about this sort of idealized vision of childhood in the song, when even now, they know the realities of their own stresses, both big and small. It’s also interesting to me that, on this day that we celebrate back to school and the blessing of the students, teachers, and administrators, our lectionary readings are all about stress and expectations. (Not really the way I would have planned it, but perhaps there is something for us there, after all.) We all know that we have expectations for the academic year. We get a fresh start, and we are optimistic about how we will navigate through the challenges and the stresses. And we know, even with these bright, shiny, new beginnings, eventually, we are going to encounter stress. In the reading from Isaiah, we see the frustration of the owner of the vineyard (who represents God); we see the result of expectations that are unmet time and time again in this relationship. We see the stress placed on the relationship between God and God’s people because of the people’s bad choices and their unwillingness to live into God’s love song. In the Hebrews reading, we see the Christian community there who are under stress getting a pep-talk from the writer. “Don’t give up!” he is saying. “Hang in there! Look at all these folks who have come before you who have had tough times but who have kept the faith. Run with patience the race that is set before you, and let us shed the weight of sin that clings to us so that we can persevere in faith.” And then there is the gospel: where Jesus himself is clearly stressed (he even says as much) as he sets his face to Jerusalem and moves toward his crucifixion—the baptism by fire. He is frustrated because his expectations are not being lived into by the people who he is teaching and those who are following him. And he tries to realign peoples’ expectations of him not as a bringer of peace but as a bringer of conflict and discord. So where is the good news for us in all of this? First, there is a sort of freedom that can be found when we acknowledge in a particular moment that we are stressed. It doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, we don’t deal with it; project our stress onto other people. Squash it down. Try to ignore it. Jesus doesn’t do any of this in our reading for today. He names it, and he lets it fuel his mission, rather than distract him from it. The stress seems to become a part of the fire of his baptism, burning off where he is wrestling between the will of God and his own will for survival. Second, it is important to realize that stress happens both when expectations are unnamed and unmet and when expectations are named and not met. This is true for all relationships: romantic, familial, work, church… There’s a saying in A.A. that gets to this. “An expectation is a down payment on a resentment.” Both Jesus and the writer of Isaiah are naming their unmet expectations for God’s people in the hopes that the people will change and grow to meet those expectations. (I recently had a conversation with someone who told me that they no longer had any expectations for someone in their life, and I thought that was one of the saddest things I had ever heard because it meant that there was no hope there, either. I think we’ve got to be able to have realistic expectations and hope, but that’s a sermon for another day.) Third, bad things happen to us and to people that we love, things that cannot be controlled by us; and that is stressful. There are things that we feel we cannot escape from, and that is stressful (and not at all what our expectations for our life look like). Illness, loss, aging, transitions…In some ways all of these things are little deaths that happen over and over again in our lives. So much of our stress stems from how we think things used to be and wish they still were or from how we think things should be. But my friends, here is the good news of the gospel in all of this. And, strangely enough, it is found in our burial liturgy. It is that “Death is not the end but a change.” No matter what stresses we find ourselves in; no matter what inescapable situation we feel imprisoned in, Jesus goes ahead of us, in and through the fire of baptism and change and transition and transformation, and he invites us to join him on the other side. If we can remember and hold fast to that, (that “death is not the end but a change”) then those daily stresses and unmet expectations just seem a little less consequential and a little more manageable. This past week, I heard a true story about phenomenal grace under pressure, about faith and patience in the face of extreme persecution and stress. It’s a story that aired on This American Life about a group of Girl Guides (the rest of the world’s form of our Girl Scouts) and their leaders who were taken prisoner in a Japanese concentration camp right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The leaders and the girls were at a school for the children of American and British missionaries and workers in China, and the children were taken, without their parents to the concentration camp. But here is what is remarkable about this story. They never stopped acting like Girl Guides. The leaders promoted cheerfulness and service to the girls for the entire four years they were captive. They had competitions (based on the thing they needed for their survival) that served as their merit badges, and they continued to sing throughout the whole four years the Girl Guide songs, songs of faith and optimism and hope. One girl remembers how they would frequently sing the song: “Day is done. Gone the sun from the sea, from the hills, from the sky. All is well, safely rest. God is nigh.” The leaders were not foolish. One is recorded as having written about her hope that when they were finally to be taken outside of the camp to be killed, she hoped she went first so she wouldn’t have to watch it. Yet, they knew that death is not the end, but a change. And in the midst of incredibly stressful circumstances, those leaders chose to have hope, to do what they could to protect those children, and to be faithful in their calling. The narrator of the piece says it well: “There probably aren't many places on earth where you have less reason to be cheerful than a concentration camp. But it turns out, in a place like that, being able to be cheerful, to have a positive outlook, it's not dopey or silly. It's how you survive. How you tell the story matters.” May God give us the courage and the faith to live our stories faithfully and well, no matter what happens. Amen.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

8th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 10C

8th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 10C July 10, 2016 In her book-length study of Jesus's parables (Short Stories by Jesus, 2014), Amy-Jill Levine, a Jewish scholar who studies and writes about Jesus, suggests that religion is meant "to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable." She goes on to argue that we would do well to think of the parables of Jesus as doing this afflicting. "Therefore, if we hear a parable and think, 'I really like that' or, worse, fail to take any challenge, we are not listening well enough." I’ve been wrestling with that this week. It’s difficult to hear this comfortable parable and feel challenged or afflicted. Then, a few days ago, a news story came across my Facebook newsfeed. It’s a story that is set near Jerusalem about a Palestinian doctor named Dr. Ali Shroukh. Dr. Shroukh, who is 45, was traveling with his brother to Jerusalem to join in Ramadan prayers, when he came across a horrible accident on the side of the road. Another Palestinian greeted him and told him that there was an injured girl in his car. Dr. Shrouk and his brother stopped to see how they could help, and he began to treat the injured girl. Soon, the medics arrived on the scene, and a Palestinian medic warned Dr. Shroukh that he needed to leave. He explained to Dr. Shroukh that the car had crashed after a Palestinian gunman fired on it, killing the driver, Rabbi Michael Mark, 46, a father of 10. His wife was critically injured, and one of the two children in the car, a teenage girl, was seriously wounded. The family was on its way to Jerusalem to visit Rabbi Mark’s mother. Dr. Shroukh had stopped to help a family of Jewish settlers who had been the target of a terrorist attack by a fellow Palestinian. But Dr. Shroukh would not leave until he was certain that the girl he had treated was being properly cared for by the medics. This modern day version of Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan helps us begin to understand a little of the discomfort that his original listeners might have experienced. It tells the story of long-time enemies, and how one overcame prejudice to help a person in need, regardless of nationality. If we are to be truly afflicted by this parable, then we must ask ourselves, who do I consider to be my enemy? Of whom am I most afraid? And then imagine that we are passing that person or group injured on the side of the road. Or even more afflicting is to imagine that we ourselves are injured and that one we consider to be our enemy is the one who stops to offer us kindness and aid. Amy-Jill Levine writes of this, “To hear this parable in contemporary terms, we should think of ourselves as the person in the ditch, and then ask, ‘Is there anyone, from any group, about whom we’d rather die than acknowledge, ‘She offered help’ or ‘He showed compassion’? More is there any group whose members might rather die than help us? If so, then we know how to find the modern equivalent for the Samaritan.” What does it look like for us, in our everyday lives, to show mercy or kindness to one we consider our enemy? It means really and truly seeing them in their weakness and vulnerability, drawing close to them, and then acting with compassion toward them. What does it look like for us, in our every day lives, to receive mercy or kindness from our enemy? It means allowing them to get close enough to us in a time of vulnerability so that they may offer compassion. I think it is safe to say that we have all been shocked and aggrieved by the events of this week—the killings of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and the 5 police officers in Dallas. We are afflicted with the truth of this parable even more, but it is not an easy or comfortable truth. We certainly are invited to reimagine who is our neighbor, to offer all people mercy (or kindness—as one translation puts it—literally making the stranger our kin, or our family). But there is a part of being a good neighbor that requires a certain degree of inward focus, a certain degree of self-awareness. And here is where it truly gets afflicting, my friends. Several years ago, while I still worked at Stewpot, we had a staff training day. The staff there was very racially diverse and we had a sort of camaraderie that is often formed when people are working “in the trenches” together. I will never forget this particular exercise, which had us all line up across the middle of the room together. The facilitator told us that she was going to ask us some questions, and if we agreed, we took a step forward and if we disagreed, we took a step back. The goal was to try to get to the front of the room. She started with the questions, and I was thrilled as I got to move steadily, step by step, toward the front of the room (y’all know how I like to win!). But then the facilitator made those of us out in front stop and turn around, and I realized with horror what was happening. The questions that I had never even thought twice about which were sending me to the front of the room in blissful naivete, were sending my black friends and colleagues, step by step to the back of the room. Questions such as: if you have never had to think twice about calling the police; if you have never had someone look at you in a suspicious way in a store; if your parents did not have to work two jobs and/or nights or weekends to support you; if your parents and grandparents could live in any part of town that they wanted. And I will never forget the look on my friends faces. It was not surprise or shock or horror. It was resignation. My friends, we cannot truly be a good neighbor unless we truly see the other and truly see ourselves in relationship to them. We cannot truly be a good neighbor when we go about our lives oblivious to the power structure that undergirds our entire society. We cannot be a good neighbor if we cannot stop being defensive and admit that it’s not always about how hard a person works or what they earn for themselves, but that we live in a world where our skin color affords us a privilege that others do not experience. Just today, an African-American woman named Natasha Howell shared a personal experience on her Facebook page and it has gone viral. She wrote, “So this morning, I went into a convenience store to get a protein bar. As I walked through the door, I noticed that there were two white police officers…talking to the clerk…about the shootings that have gone on in the past few days. They all looked at me and fell silent. I went about my business to get what I was looking for, and as I turned back up the aisle to pay, the older officer was standing at the top of the aisle watching me. As I got closer he asked me, “How are you doing?” I replied, “OK, and you?” He looked at me with a strange look and asked me, ‘How are you really doing?” I looked at him and said, ‘I’m tired!’ His reply was ‘me too’. Then he said I guess it’s not easy being either of us right now, is it.’ I said ‘no it’s not.’ Then he hugged me and I cried. I had never seen that man before in my life. I have no idea why he was moved to talk to me. What I do know is that he and I shared a moment this morning, that was absolutely beautiful. No judgements, no justifications, just two people sharing a moment. #foundamomentofclarity. Being a good neighbor means knowing who we are, and being open to see the other and be vulnerable in that encounter. This week, if we are truly going to be afflicted or transformed by this oh, so familiar story, then we must go and do likewise.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

7th Sunday after Pentecost- Proper 9C

7th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 9C July 3, 2016 I have spent a great number of hours this week on a project for the diocese. Through my work with the Commission on Ministry, I have been working with a small group to revise and overhaul the discernment policies of the diocese. So we’ve been working with the process that the local churches and the whole diocese uses when an individual wants to discern or test a call to ordained ministry. This document spends a great deal of time and energy explaining that for Anglicans, (that means us!), individuals don’t just hear a call on their own, head off to seminary and then get ordained. Rather, we do our discernment work in community. A group from the person’s local parish or mission is formed to help listen and discern, and then there are others in the process, the bishop, a diocesan committee, even mental health therapists, that also do this work of listening for call in an individual’s life. I think so much time and energy is spent in the document in explaining this work of discernment in community because it is foreign to us, even in the church. As Americans we value our independence; we value the fact that people can be self-made, not having to rely on their families or tribes in order to be successful. We value the fact that a person can decide what he or she wants to do and then go and do it. But our church is telling us that we hear call in Christian community, and our system is set up to honor and promote that. I’ve really been struggling this week with how and what to preach today, so I’m just going to lay my dilemma out there for you. All over the country folks are celebrating the 4th of July—our Independence Day. And yet, our readings for this Sunday give us a dramatically different picture. In fact, our readings for today seem to promote interdependence in the way of faith, in discipleship, and in the Christian life as opposed to independence. In the Old Testament reading, we see the very powerful Namaan trying to find a way to heal his own leprosy. But healing leprosy is something that is beyond his power. Finally, he takes counsel from one of the most powerless and dependent—his wife’s servant girl, and he heads to see the prophet Elisha. But when Elisha gives him the treatment, Namaan thinks it is all beneath him and prepares to go away angry and insulted, until some more powerless, dependent servants once again intervene and ask, “What’s it going to hurt to try it?” Namaan is healed, and he gets converted to following Yaweh in the lines just beyond today’s passage. In the reading from Galatians, Paul makes it very clear that the Christian community must rely on one another, offering hospitality and pastoral care to each other, “bearing one anothers’ burdens”. And in the gospel, we have the sending out of the 70 to spread the good news. Jesus commissions them, giving them very specific instructions. Go out in pairs. Don’t take anything extra with you. Stay with whomever offers you hospitality on your way; don’t move from place to place. If someone rejects you, don’t react in anger or force. Just move on. And spread the good news of the kingdom of God. This is a picture of discipleship that is very uncomfortable to us. It is a picture of vulnerability. It is a picture of non-retaliation against enemies. It is a picture of reliance upon the hospitality and generosity of strangers. It is a picture of interdependence and dependence. So you see my dilemma this week, and I’m afraid that I have more questions for you than answers. We value the freedom that we have as citizens of this country. But how do we faithfully practice independence, when Jesus clearly calls us to interdependence? How do we live out this tension between being a person of faith who is called to this interdependence when our country continues to grow more and more polarized and invulnerable to strangers and folks who hold “the opposing view”? How do we live and move within this society and culture that practically worships independence, while practicing the faithful discipleship that is rooted in vulnerability and interdependence?

Monday, June 13, 2016

Pentecost Year C

Pentecost Year C 2016 May 15, 2016 Today is the Feast Day of Pentecost. One of 7 major feasts in the life of the church, on this day we mark and remember the birth of the Christian church through the gift of the Holy Spirit. We see this in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles for today. The disciples are gathered in Jerusalem all together for the Jewish feast of Pentecost—a celebration of the giving of the Torah and a sort of homecoming when people all came back to Jerusalem. As they are gathered together, Acts tells us that suddenly there comes from heaven the sound like the rush of a violent wind which filled the entire house. And then divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages…” And thus the church was born. Pentecost is a day that is also especially appropriate for baptisms, and when we don’t have any baptisms (like today—it seems that everyone is saving up their baptisms for the bishop’s visit in a few weeks!), then we renew our baptismal covenant and are sprinkled with holy water to help us reconnect and remember. We reconnect with and remember the promises that we made (or were made for us) at our baptism, and we reconnect with and remember God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to us at our baptisms. But here’s the thing about Pentecost that I never realized until someone else showed me this. On Pentecost, we aren’t just celebrating the birth of the church in a once long-ago-event. On Pentecost we remember and celebrate the fact that Pentecost has happened over and over and over again throughout the life of the church! Think about all those stories in the Acts of the Apostles that we have heard this Easter season, when the apostles are converted (both Peter and Paul) through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Think of all the amazing things that they are able to do—miraculous healings, bringing Tabitha back from the dead, freedom from imprisonment, and all the people that they converted to following the gospel—all in fulfillment of Jesus’s promise that we hear today that through the gift of the Holy Spirit they will be able to do all that he has done and even greater things! But these Pentecosts are not limited to the stories in scripture. As we mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of St. Columb’s (which we will celebrate at the Bishop’s visit on June 5th when we also celebrate the Feast of St. Columba), think about all the Pentecosts that we at St. Columb’s have experienced. The times when the Holy Spirit has shown up and inspired us with new vision, creating and re-creating, empowering and emboldening us to go where we otherwise might not go; the inexplicable peace which often comes; and the passion and new life and new energy that the Spirit gives birth to. In 1941- when 9 women and 3 men from St. Andrew’s had a vision of an Episcopal church to be planted in the thriving neighborhood of West Jackson—that was Pentecost. In 1994, when that community had a vision of hope that they might be a thriving faith community once again and decided to move and bought 9 acres of land in Ridgeland—that was Pentecost. In 2009 with the building of the new nave and yet another vision of hope and vitality—that was Pentecost. And those are just the ones recorded in our history. There’s just no telling how many millions of Pentecosts this community and the individuals who belong to it have experienced since we were founded 75 years ago. And the Holy Spirit is not done with us yet! Now is a Pentecost time in the life of this church. The Holy Spirit is among us energizing us, inspiring us to creativity, strengthening the bonds of affection, and giving us courage and vision for the future. Your vestry has just made the decision to hire a brand new consultant to do a feasibility study for a new capital campaign. His name is JR Lander, and he is from Jackson. His parents worship at the Cathedral, and he is a seminary classmate of mine. JR has a great deal of experience in stewardship (which you will hear more about later), and he is brand new at capital campaign consulting, so he brings a new wind and a new creativity with him to this work with us. And even though we do have significant debt to pay off on this building, the feasibility study will also be investigating new options, new possibilities for mission and ministry that we might commit to together. My dear friends, do you feel the winds of the Holy Spirit blowing among us? Can you trust that the Holy Spirit is lighting a fire in our hearts to recreate, re-energize, and renew us? We have so much good news and hope and kindness to offer to a needy and hungry world! And together, we will. For Pentecost is now!

4th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 6C

4th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 6C June 12, 2016 I was watching the season finale of a popular network tv medical drama this past week. And I was struck when the main character complained of another, more emotive character that she let all her feelings just come pouring out of her everywhere. When the two characters had an encounter later in the show, the less emotive one said to the other, “Just stuff your feelings down! Just stuff them down deep so they don’t come pouring out onto everyone!” At the time, I thought, “what a horrible and dysfunctional way to live—to stuff your feelings down so deep that no one really knows what you are feeling”. But I will confess that when I read the gospel reading for this Sunday, that was my initial reaction for the woman who washes Jesus’s feet. Good grief, woman! You are in the middle of the dinner party. I get that you are grateful to Jesus, but really, stuff your feelings down, stop making a spectacle and let’s get on with the meal! That also seems to be the reaction that others at the dinner party are having, including Jesus’s host—Simon the Pharisee who is one of the faithful religious folk to the day—not so different from us. And so Jesus asks Simon a question in the form of a parable. He talks about two different debtors, one of whom owes 500 and the other 50. Both find that their debts are forgiven, but the one who owed more is the more grateful one. Then Jesus brings it back to the current scenario with the enigmatic statement: “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Jesus, it seems, is not in favor of the “stuffing your feelings down” school of behavior. So what does this mean for us? Where is the good news in this? I suspect that there are some of us here today who identify with the woman. We have done something in your life that for which we carry a great deal of regret and maybe even shame; we know that this something separates us in relationship with God and with other people. In some way, we have had an encounter with Jesus, like this woman must have had prior to the dinner party, when Jesus looks at her, knows her, loves her, and assures her that her sins are forgiven. Then she is so grateful, she is overbrimming with love, and she shows up at the dinner party to offer her thanks to Jesus. (If you have not had this experience and you long for it, we have a sacrament called Reconciliation of a Penitent that can help you with this. Call me, and I’ll tell you more about it.) But others of us are more like Simon the Pharisee. Our sinfulness is not something that is always hanging over us, ever present with us. It affects our relationships with God and others, but we’re not really aware of it. We don’t think of ourselves as sinful people; we might think of others as sinful people, but not ourselves… For us, the debt that has been forgiven is the smaller one, and we are those who “having been forgiven little, we love little.” We are the ones at the dinner party who want the woman to quit making a spectacle and stuff her feelings down deep inside, so we can get on with our nice dinner. This past week, I said something that was uncharitable and judgmental about someone else in passing-just some small, nasty remark. My husband looked at me and said, “You don’t like very many people, do you?” I was struck, because that is not the way that I see myself. So I asked myself, “Huh, I wonder what is going on with me now?” As I began to delve deeper, I discovered that I had spent very little time in reflection or introspection over the last month, and I definitely needed to delve a little bit deeper in my own soul. This past week, Parker Palmer posted a poem that I had read before (and maybe even preached on), and one part in particular struck me anew. The poem is titled Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye, and it is a powerful and gritty reflection on how suffering can be transformed. In the last two stanzas, Nye speaks about how we know kindness after we have also known loss: Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow. You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth. Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore, only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread, only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say It is I you have been looking for, and then goes with you everywhere like a shadow or a friend. Perhaps what Nye and the gospel reading tells us this week is that for those of us who do “stuff our feelings down,” then perhaps we need to spend some time dipping down into that well, where our losses and our failures dwell. Gradually, draw them upward into the light and offer them to God and ask for redemption, for healing, for forgiveness. Then we will know the power of forgiveness in our own lives; we will become reacquainted with the love of God for each and everyone of us; and we will be able to offer kindness out of our own experiences. Does this make you uncomfortable? My dear ones, that is actually the good news, the love and forgiveness of God already at work in you. And that is where we begin.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Third Sunday of Easter Year C

Third Sunday of Easter Year C April 10, 2016 Do we really still believe in transformation, in conversion? Our stories from Acts and John for today are stories of transformation and conversion, but they almost seem like fairy tales in the light of current events—an acrimonious national political landscape, Christians arguing in this state over religious discrimination versus the rights of business owners, all sorts of negative national media attention and boycotts for our beloved state. I will confess that this week, it has been hard for me to believe in transformation, in conversion. In the reading from Acts, we see a pivotal moment in the life of the Christian church. Saul of Tarsus, who is responsible for leading the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, is “still breathing threats and murder” against the followers of the Way, and he sets out to go find more Christians in Damascus that he can bring to justice. But on the way to Damascus, something happens. Saul is knocked to the ground by a flash of blinding light and he hears the voice of the Resurrected Jesus asking Saul why he is persecuting Jesus. Saul never really answers the question, but he does what the Lord instructs and heads to Damascus where he blindly waits for three days. Now, I don’t know anybody who reads this lesson and identifies with Saul of Tarsus. He’s the bad guy of the story at this point, the one breathing threats and murder against our forefathers and mothers. We all would much rather identify with the persecuted followers of Jesus who are faithfully following the Way and doing what they are supposed to be doing. But, my dear friends, what we must remember today is that each of us, at one time or another in our lives, we have each been Saul. In fact, deep down in our hearts even now, each and every one of us is Saul! Each of us has been so convinced of our own righteous behavior that we have been unable to see what is right in front of us. Each of us has been so intent on “breathing threats and murder” against our opponents that we forget that they too are God’s children, our brothers and sisters. Each of us have zealously followed wrong paths blindly in a way that was injurious to those around us—driven by our ambition, our self-destructive habits, our selfish ways, our self-righteousness. Every one of us is Saul. But there is another conversion in this story. The Resurrected Jesus also appears to Annaias, a faithful disciple who is living in Damascus, and he tells Annaias to go seek out Saul and lay hands on him so he would regain his sight. But Annaias says to the Lord, “Look Lord, I know you may not know this, but I’ve heard about this Saul guy, and he’s a real jerk! I don’t really think that I should get tangled up with him—he’s really messed up a lot of our people already.” But Jesus tells him to go, that Saul will become an instrument for the Lord’s purposes. So Annaias is converted, and he goes and does what the Lord tells him, even though Saul is the enemy, even though he puts himself at great personal risk by going. So too, each one of us is Annaias, being converted to the way of the Lord despite our own judgements and pre-conceived notions, reaching out to our neighbors who are dangerous and threatening on the basis of sheer faith. Each and every one of us is Annaias. And then there’s Peter. Peter who in the midst of hope and confusion and shame (from his previous denial) at Jesus’s resurrection decides that he is going to go fishing to try to clear his head, and the other disciples go with him. But when Peter sees that the Lord is present, he jumps into the water and makes a mad dash toward him. And then he sits across the fire from Jesus, in a scene that is poignantly reminiscent of the story of the feeding of the five thousand with nothing but a few loaves and some fish, and Jesus offers him forgiveness, and purpose and belonging by a three-fold wiping of the slate from Peter’s previous denial by his invitation to a three-fold annunciation. Yes, Lord, I do love you, even though I forsake you before! Each one of us has been like Peter—longing for belonging and affirmation in a community, longing for forgiveness for our wrongs, and then receiving it all at the hands of Jesus while breaking bread and eating with him. Each and every one of us is Peter. What these almost fairy-tale like stories give us this week is a reminder that we are all in need of transformation, of conversion. They remind us that when we are open to the dream of God, then amazing things happen in lives and in our world. They remind us that with God all things are possible, and that God does not give up on any one of us—not Peter, not Annaias, not even Saul. This past week I read a poem and a true story posted by my mentor Parker Palmer on his Onbeing blog. The poem is Loaves and Fishes by David Whyte and it reads: Loaves and Fishes by David Whyte, from The House of Belonging This is not the age of information. This is NOT the age of information. Forget the news and the radio and the blurred screen. This is the time of loaves and fishes. People are hungry and one good word is bread for a thousand. After sharing this poem, Palmer writes about a recent experience he had in air travel. He boarded a 6 am flight that was delayed because the coffee service was also delayed. Eventually, the flight crew decided to go ahead and make the flight without the coffee, newspapers, or other food and beverages. As Parker sat at the front of the plane with the other “road warriors”—he notices that this already somewhat surly tribe began to get more and more disgruntled at the prospect of the early morning flight without their accustomed amenities. When the flight attendant came on the intercom, she gave her prepared spiel which was accompanied by much griping, eye rolling, and scorn from the road warriors, but then she did something unexpected. She said, “ ‘Now that I have your attention... I know you're upset about the coffee. Well, get over it! Start sharing stuff with your seatmates. That bag of five peanuts you got on your last flight and put in your pocket? Tear it open and pass them around! Got gum or mints? Share them! You can't read all the sections of your paper at once. Offer them to each other! Show off the pictures of kids and grandkids you have in your wallets!’" As she went on in that vein, people began laughing and doing what she had told them to do. A surly scene turned into summer camp!” An hour later, when Parker thanked her for her words, she “leaned down and whispered, ‘The loaves and fishes are not dead.’" Do we really still believe in transformation, in conversion? My dear ones, do not lose heart. "People are hungry / and one good word is bread / for a thousand."

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Day of Resurrection 2016

Easter Day 2016 I suspect that many of you have come here today with the secret hope of understanding or getting proof of the resurrection. Well, are you in luck! Because I am prepared to tell you the singular truth of this day, the most true thing about Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, why we celebrate today and every Sunday the Feast of the Lord’s resurrection. Are you ready to hear it? “Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit.” And that’s all I really need to say today. Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit. I guess I can go sit down now and we can continue on with our service. What’s that you say? You don’t know Latin? Oh, well in that case… “Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit” was a statement that was first coined by the philosopher Erasmus, but it was claimed and made popular by psychologist Carl Jung. He had it inscribed over the door of his home, and he had it inscribed on his tombstone. It means: Bidden or not bidden, God is present. (Or for those of you who were here for Good Friday, we might even say “Bidden or not bidden, God abides.) It is the deep truth of this day that shines in our gospel. In the darkness of a new day, In the shadows of the empty tomb, In the sad bewilderment of Mary, In the frantic running of his disciples, In the mysterious recognition when Jesus calls her by name, In the fulfillment of what could never even be hoped for: Bidden or not bidden, God is present. It is the deep truth that shines throughout God’s creation. In the gentleness of spring. In the rain and in the weeds. In the blossoms and in the pollen. Bidden or not bidden, God is present. It is the deep truth that shines in our world. In extraordinary acts of human kindness. In horrible acts of terror. In the loudness of politics. In the beauty of love which doesn’t count the cost. Bidden or not bidden, God is present. It is the deep truth that shines in our relationships. In our waking and in our sleeping. In our watching and our working. In our play and in our study. In our rejoicing and our mourning. Bidden or not bidden, God is present. It is the deep truth of all our meals. At the celebratory banquet. At the church potluck. At the intimate dinner. At the family dinner table. In the microwave meal for one. At the funeral meal and the last supper. At this table when we make thanksgiving. In that first bite of Easter’s first deviled egg. Bidden or not bidden, God is present. It is the deep truth that shines in our lives. In the scars from our failures. And in the joy of our triumphs. In our many loves and in our heartbreaks. In our gratitudes and in our sorrows. In our abiding and in our abandonment. In our life and in our death. Bidden or not bidden, God is present. So, when the echoing of the bells has ceased. When the Easter lilies have wilted and died. When our Alleluias become a little tired, a little less convicted. When you get frustrated with all the crazy political posts from your friends on Facebook or your elderly parent is failing or your kid has gotten into trouble at school again or you just can’t seem to catch up on that never-ending laundry, or your loneliness just seems to overwhelm you: May you remember the truth of this day. The truth of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. “Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit” Bidden or not bidden, God is present.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday 2016

Good Friday 2016 I recently read a theological book that stated that God truly abandoned Jesus on the cross on Good Friday. But because of that abandonment, God never truly abandons us. While this is a valid theological perspective, I respectfully disagree. Now, there are plenty others who abandon Jesus. Judas is the first, leaving the Last Supper to betray Jesus to the authorities who want him dead. Peter abandons him by deny him thrice. Pretty much all his disciples besides John and the women abandon him as he is being crucified. Certainly each and every one of us has abandoned Jesus at one time or another and for most of us, it is not even a life-or-death kind of situation. It is usually through apathy, laziness, self-conceit. But abandonment is not the only story that is being told this day. There is also the story of abiding. Abiding is the exact opposite of abandoning. It is accepting or bearing, dwelling with, remaining and continuing. The gospel of John, out of all the gospels, lifts up this notion of abiding. We see it in the well-known verses of John 15:4-7: “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Jesus shows us, today and always, that abiding is the very nature of God. And we are most fully God’s children, when we abide too. Perhaps this is part of why we gather here today. Because today, we choose not to abandon; we choose to abide—watching and remaining, bearing with and dwelling in pain, abiding even when it is “breathless and it’s empty”. In closing, I’ll share with you a Good Friday blessing by artist and United Methodist elder Jan Richardson. It is titled What Abides For Good Friday You will know this blessing by how it does not stay still, by the way it refuses to rest in one place. You will recognize it by how it takes first one form, then another: now running down the face of the mother who watches the breaking of the child she had borne, now in the stance of the woman who followed him here and will not leave him bereft. Now it twists in anguish on the mouth of the friend whom he loved; now it bares itself in the wound, the cry, the finishing and final breath. This blessing is not in any one of these alone. It is what binds them together. It is what dwells in the space between them, though it be torn and gaping. It is what abides in the tear the rending makes.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Lent 5C

Lent 5C March 13, 2016 This past week, I watched the series finale of the PBS show Downton Abbey. Like many people, one of my favorite characters in the show has been Maggie Smith’s character, the Dowager Countess of Downton; she is well known for her sharp tongue and her impressive one-liners! So it is no surprise that one of my favorite moments in the finale featured the Dowager Countess. The Dowager’s two servants, Spratt the butler and Denker her ladies maid, have had a long standing rivalry. In the final episode we learn that Spratt has taken a moonlighting job as an advice columnist for a ladies magazine. When Denker maliciously spills the beans to her ladyship in an attempt to get Spratt fired, the Dowager reacts with laughter and the suggestion that they consult Spratt in all areas of fashion and entertaining. When Spratt confronts Denker about this encounter he says to her, “You made a mistake, Ms. Denker, in your haste to be rid of me….Her ladyship never likes to be predictable.” In our readings for today, we see that God, much like the Dowager of Downtown, also never likes to be predictable. First we have the prophet’s words in Isaiah that are attributed to God even as the prophet is reminiscing about God’s saving acts in the parting of the Red Sea at Israel’s exodus from Egypt: “Do not remember the former things,/or consider the things of old./I am about to do a new thing;/now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” Then we have the gospel reading from John today, which is a scene full of the unepredictable. First, you need to know a bit of the context. Just one chapter before this in John’s gospel is the episode when Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. As a result of this, gossip is flying all around the countryside about who Jesus is and what he has done. As a result of that, the Jewish leaders decide that they are going to kill Jesus (and Lazarus too, for good measure!) because they are afraid that all the attention he is garnering is going to bring the Romans down upon all of them to wipe them all out. When Jesus gets wind of this plot, he takes his disciples and they go out to the middle of nowhere for a bit, but then, unexpectedly, they return to Bethany, the scene of Lazarus’s raising, where Lazarus, Martha, and Mary throw a party for Jesus just before the Passover. And this party takes an unpredictable turn, as Jesus is gathered with Lazarus, the source of all the hullaballoo, Martha, the consummate hostess who has also recently proclaimed her faith in Jesus as the Messiah, Mary, the quintessential disciple, and Judas, who John reminds us, will betray Jesus and is a thief, and ostensibly John, the beloved disciple who is narrating. It is a party that becomes a sort of funeral rite; Jesus, still very much alive, with his closest friends gathered around him is anointed for burial by Mary, who breaks open an expensive bottle of perfume over his feet and then wipes it with her hair. Well, that’s certainly one way to kill a party! Another unpredictable aspect of this scene is that it is Mary who does the anointing. All throughout history, women are not the ones who anoint. Men anoint other men—Samuel anoints Saul; male popes anoint emperors. The women anoint for burial. And then, Jesus, who is all about giving money to the poor, gets into an argument with Judas about the extravagance of Mary’s gift—most unexpected. And after this scene is concluded, Jesus and his disciples head directly to Jerusalem, where Jesus makes his triumphal entry (that we will celebrate next week on Palm Sunday). All throughout scripture, God acts unpredictably, using the people we would least expect to bring about God’s purposes and doing the things we would least expect to accomplish it. Moses—a murderer, leads the Israelites out of slavery. Jacob—a liar and a cheat becomes the founder of a nation. Abraham and Sarah—too old to have children—whose descendants number the stars. Mary—an average peasant girl who is brave enough to say yes. Paul—one of the highest, most pedigreed Jews who gives it all up to follow Jesus and proclaim the gospel. Which will culminate in two weeks when we see the expectation of death overturned by God’s unpredictable action of the resurrection—breaking into history, our stories and our lives. So today, as we live into this final week in Lent and prepare to follow the way of the cross through Holy Week, we might consider, what are the unexpected, unpredictable ways that God continues to act in our lives and in our world, even now? Let us look this week, beginning in the ordinary meal that we share today, for the predictably unpredictable God--who shows up where we least expect and who uses those we would least imagine. This week, may you be open to the unpredictable God, who continually surprises us with where God shows up, who God uses, and what God accomplishes!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Lent 3C

The Third Sunday in Lent Year C February 28, 2016 I’ve been thinking a great deal about idolatry lately. It started last week, with several things coinciding. The first was our session #2 of the Crazy Christian series by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry that we are discussing on Sunday mornings in adult formation. In the session two video titled “It’s easy and It’s hard,” Curry continues his talk on following Jesus by telling the story of when the children of Israel create the Golden Calf in the wilderness, making an idol for themselves to worship when Moses has been away for too long communing with God and they become anxious in his absence. Curry says that “an idol is a god created in my image to serve my self-centered purpose—a quick fix, an easy solution instead of the hard, important work of following the way of God into the life of a new humanity. An idol is anything that substitutes for God and idolatry is what leads to social injustice because it’s the world built around me, not built and ordered the way God would dream and intend for it to be.” Then I went to hear a lecture at Millsaps about a group of 28 Methodist ministers who published a statement right after the riots at Ole Miss in the early 60’s that challenged the status quo of segregation in the United Methodist church. Of the 28 pastors, only 8 remained in Mississippi in ministry. My grandfather, N.A. Dickson, was one of those 8. The speaker, Joe Reiff, who has written a book on this Born of Conviction statement and the events that preceded and followed it in the white Methodist church in that time, said in his lecture that in that time and place, maintaining the white life-style (through separate but equal) became an idol for most people in that church. So I’ve been pondering how and what I make an idol in my own life. What sorts of ways and things do I use to create god in my own self-interested image to serve my own purpose? And I’ve been thinking about the ways that different groups—families, churches, the people of a state or a nation—also create and work to preserve their own idols. In our epistle reading for today, Paul is writing to the Corinthians about the challenges of engaging in the life of the culture around us and how that often can lead to idolatry. In chapters 8 Paul writes to address the Corinthian position that attendance at the local idol cults are not incompatible with being in Christ. Paul expresses concern for the whole community, and he writes about how this practice has created confusion and division in the life of the community. And he culminates in today’s passage where he harkens back to the story of the Israelites in the wilderness, how they are saved by God and brought through the Red Sea but they fall into the practice of idolatry. He reminds the Corinthians of the heart of the good news: “God is faithful” and concludes with a line that is left out of our reading for today: “Therefore, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols.” In my own ponderings and examinations this week, I have discovered that it is much easier for me to identify idols in culture or systems (such as church, state, or nation) than it is for me to identify idols in my own life. But what is important for us to remember is that we make idols when we are insecure, afraid, restless and searching for answers. Just like the children of Israel in the wilderness, who create their idol because Moses is gone and they become anxious, we make our idols to preserve a sense of control. We make our idols when we forget to remember the most important aspect of good news that Jesus came and revealed (and continues to reveal): that God is faithful. Part of the call to repentance this Lent could very well be examining all areas of our lives, looking in the dark corners where we have set up the idols that we worship in place of God, idols that we create and control, that do our own will and give us a false sense of security. What do those look like in your own life? Is it money or success? Is it academic achievement? Is it a solid 401k for retirement? Is it how your house compares to your neighbor’s or what kind of vacation you will take? Is it your children’s sporting events? Is it your college football team? Is it your family or circle of friends? Is it “the way we’ve always done things?” Do you make an idol of the past? Or how about future possibilities? Take some time this week and look into those dark corners of your lives where your idols dwell. Shine the light on them, and then lay them before the True and Living God who is revealed in Jesus Christ as a part of your Lenten repentance. “Therefore, my friends, flee from the worship of idols.” And rest in the assurance of the good news—that God is faithful.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Last Sunday after the Epiphany Year C

The Last Sunday after the Epiphany—Year C February 7, 2016 Once upon a time there was a pastor of a church. This pastor was meeting with a young couple who were newish members of the church, and the pastor was astonished as the couple told him about how important attending worship was to them. The talked to him about how, when one of their children was sick, they would get together on Sunday morning to do a quick spiritual assessment—each discussing the week that they had been through and the week to come, and then together they would decide “who needed church more.” “Church is what helps us make sense of our lives,” they explained, “it’s that pick-me-up that connects us with God and our calling and sends us back into the week.” The pastor went on to wonder what our churches would be like if everyone looked at attending weekly worship in the same spirit. What would our churches look like if at least half of our people had the same outlook? How about even one quarter? It’s an interesting story to think about this week in light of the gospel story of the Transfiguration as well as something to think about as we head into the season of Lent. How might our lives be transformed if we commit ourselves to weekly worship? The story of the Transfiguration is actually a story about worship. In it we see that Jesus’s prayer is what brings about his transfiguration, and we see how the disciples are absorbed into Jesus’s prayer to behold the glory of God in and through Jesus. This is why we worship. It is in the hope of beholding just a glimpse of the glory of God, to be fed and transformed and sent back into our dusty, tired lives just a little bit brighter and shinier. But most of us, the disciples included, become afraid when we see these glimpses of God’s glory, and we try to build structures to explain and contain it rather than giving ourselves over to it. If we are open to allowing ourselves to being transformed, then “worship can be the place where we hear God’s voice, focus on the nature of grace as we experience it in the cross, meet each other in prayer and song, and leave renewed for lives of meaning and purpose that come through service to neighbor.” So today, I want to offer you a challenge. Would you consider to take on as your Lenten discipline this year weekly attendance at worship if you aren’t already doing that? Are you willing to take that risk of showing up every week, of opening yourself to the possibility of being seeing a glimpse of God’s glory in this place and therefore being a little bit transfigured, transformed? And if you are aren’t willing, then ask yourself and answer truthfully, “Why not?” There are five spiritual practices that are the basic practices of Christian discipleship. 1. Pray daily. 2. Worship weekly. 3. Serve joyfully. 4. Learn constantly. And 5. Give generously. Each of these practices helps us to grow and to stretch in our following of Jesus and through practicing each of them, gradually over time we become transformed “like water over a rock.” If weekly worship is something that you are already doing, then perhaps you would consider focusing intentionally on another one of these practices as your Lenten discipline. (Repeat them). Because the point of discipleship, the point of worship, is actually transformation. In our vestry planning retreat this weekend, our vestry watched a video by Mary Parmer from the Diocese of Texas on her program Invite-Welcome-Connect for churches to live more fully into their mission of engaging in the transformative hospitality of the gospel of Jesus Christ. At the end of this video, Mary speaks specifically of transformation saying, “Transformation happens in our lives when we are able to see old things in new ways full of new possibilities. Jesus calls us to live transformed lives, and to see others in a new way, in the way of love. And we are transformed when we can adopt new behaviors, new attitudes. Imagine what our churches would be like if they were filled with people who had the ability to see others, who stop looking at others through the narrow lens of their own world. People who have been transformed by the grace of God….” On this Last Sunday after the Epiphany, as we head into the wilderness of Lent, may God shine God’s light upon you and upon this church, that we may be transformed in and through the glory of God’s love.