Sunday, December 24, 2017
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…)
Thursday, December 21, 2017
4th Sunday of Advent Year B December 24, 2017 When I was in college, we had to do a project in a religious studies class where we sought out and interviewed a leader in a religious tradition that was very different from our own. I reached out to the Greek Orthodox priest in town, a man named Father Paul Christie, who graciously allowed me to interview him. I only remember a couple of things that we talked about in that interview many years ago, but one of the things I remember is Mary. I asked him, “How does your tradition view Mary?” And he answered, “We believe that Mary is the best that humanity had to offer God.” Another Episcopal priest once wrote that scripture is the Love story of God for God’s people: it shows how God has pursued us, wooed us, mourned us, and pursued us again. Over and over in scripture, all God wants is for us to say “yes” to God. Yes, we will be your people. Yes, we will not forsake you for other gods or other idols that we will worship. Yes, we will treat each other how you want us to treat each other. Yes, we will care for the poor and the neglected among us. Yes we will take care of your creation. Yes, we will open our hearts to you and offer our very lives to be in relationship with you and service to you. And finally, Mary does this. She says “yes” to God. And her yes makes all the difference in the world. Her “yes” opens the way for God to become flesh and dwell among us. Her “yes” opens the way to the lifting up of the lowly, the scattering of the proud, the filling of the hungry with good things. Her “yes” has opened the way for the remembrance of the Lord’s mercy and the fulfillment of God’s promise to God’s people. Truly she is the best that humanity has to offer, and yet, her yes is not beyond our reach. How might you be called to say “yes” to God on this holy day, in this holy season?
Saturday, December 16, 2017
Advent 3B December 17, 2017 My husband likes to tell a story on himself. You may have even heard him tell it. As newlyweds, we moved to Mississippi from seminary in New York, and we started working in our first church together. As people tried to get to know us, they would ask David about his parents. He was often confused by this initially, and he would tell them his parents’ names, and then stop talking. His conversation partners would look at him confusedly as well, and the conversation would come to a screeching halt. Finally, I pulled him aside after witnessing one of these awkward conversations, and I said to him, “When they ask you “who are you parents?’ tell them you aren’t from here, but you married a girl from Canton. Then, when they ask, tell them about my parents.” So the next time the question came around, he tried it, and it worked like a dream. Because, and I suspect this is similar here in Savannah, folks weren’t really interested in the names of his parents. Instead, they were seeking to find out from him, “Who are you, and how might we be connected?” “Who are you?” is the question that John the Baptist gets in today’s gospel. And like David, he doesn’t really answer it well, either. He starts off by answering the question by telling them who he is not: “Are you the Messiah?” “No!” “Well, are you Elijah? “No!” “Ok, then, are you a prophet?” “No!” Then they say to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said. John quotes scripture to explain who he is—that he is the one who is called to proclaim the coming of the Messiah. He is the one who testifies to the light, who points people toward Jesus, and helps them prepare for Jesus’s coming. In the reading from Isaiah today, I can’t help but hear the scriptural reference for Jesus’s own understanding of who he is, and the question that he answers in his early ministry in Nazareth, before it is even asked. (When he returns home to Nazareth in Luke’s gospel, he is handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and he chooses to read a portion from today’s reading to answer the question who he is: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor…” Just as I was able to help David articulate an answer to the question “Who are you?” that would help him connect with his inquisitors, scripture can help us answer the question “who are you?” in a way that can help us connect to those around us to whom we may be called to point to the light, in a fashion similar to John the Baptist. I once heard a story about a portion of the letter to the Thessalonians for today. New Testament scholar and Bishop NT Wright talks about how he received a card at his ordination so many years ago with the line from 1 Thessalonians written on it: “The one who calls you is faithful.” This understanding has been key in my priesthood, especially in seasons when I have wandered in the wilderness and survived (and even flourished) solely by the grace of God. So, my invitation to you this week is to consider what scripture you would use if someone were to ask you the question “Who are you?” as it relates to your Christian journey? There is an abundance of scripture, and the task may seem overwhelming, so if you need a place to start, I suggest you start with the readings for today, see if any one of those speaks to your heart in a compelling way. As you embark on this journey of discerning what scripture speaks to you and helps you answer the question: “who are you?” may you rest in the assurance of the love of the God who created you, who knit you together in your mother’s womb, and who knows you infinitely better than you can ask or imagine. “For the one who calls you is faithful.”
Blue Christmas meditation December 16, 2017 When we moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2009, the senior warden of the church gave me a tour of the Coast. As we drove down Beach Blvd or Highway 90 which runs along the Gulf of Mexico, it was a rather barren landscape. Whole swaths or property were vacant or worse-- still had the remnants of buildings decimated by Hurricane Katrina. A few structures had been rebuilt at that point, but not many. And the senior warden, a life-long resident of Gulfport, talked to me about how he would sometimes get lost in Gulfport right after Katrina because all the street signs and most of the familiar landmarks were gone. It was a sad sight, and a sad story, as I prepared to begin my new life there among those people who were rebuilding their lives, their homes, their landscape, and their very world. But, then I noticed something else. The oak trees. They have oak trees much like we do here, with the lovely Spanish moss hanging off. Oaks that are a testament to strength, longevity, grace, and beauty. But there was something different about their oak trees. They were beaten and scarred. Some of them had weathered the storm surge and the beating of debris from Katrina and were still standing, albeit battered. Others, the senior warden told me, had fallen in the storm and couldn’t be saved. (Some of those had been left as a stump that a local artist made beautiful sculptures out of, but others were just gone) But still other oak trees, he said, had fallen on their sides with their massive roots exposed. And he and other people had gathered with their heavy machinery right after the storm, and they pushed those massive oak trees back upright, putting their roots back into the ground, and they prayed for the best. And many of those oak trees were thriving as we drove past and he pointed them out. Many of you are here at this service because you have lost someone or something, some important part of your life, and you are not feeling the joy of this holiday season. You may be here because your inner landscape feels like a wilderness, or you feel that you have become lost in your familiar life, where all the road signs and landmarks are gone or destroyed. It is where you are today, but it may not be where you will remain. And I am here to tell you today, that you are an oak of righteousness, that will be restored by God or by one of God’s messengers. It may not happen today, and it may not happen tomorrow. But you are not, nor will you be lost. God has not forgotten you. The reading from 1 Thessalonians today, which we didn’t read in the service tonight, has a line in it that I offer to you this night, to carry forward with you into the darkness like a light. “The one who calls you is faithful.” It is the heart of the gospel, and it this truth that will bear fruit in your life, if you will let it, in ways that you might never expect. Whatever it is that you are mourning, whatever it is that brings you here this night, may you imagine yourself like one of those mighty oak trees felled by Katrina, lying on its side. Now imagine God pushing you back upright to be living but changed, beaten but not broken, with your roots sunk firmly in the soil of God’s creation. Know that you are cherished by God, and that you will not be lost. For the one who calls you is faithful. Amen.
Saturday, December 9, 2017
Advent 2B 2017 December 10, 2017 Have you ever had an experience where it felt like the entire landscape of your life was changed in one moment? It could happen through loss—the death of a loved one—a spouse, a parent, a child; the loss of a job, a home, status, a large amount of money, a marriage, or another type of relationship. It can also happen in a moment when God gives you an epiphany—a manifestation of God’s presence, an understanding that people or the world work differently than you thought, or that you have been called to live your life in a different way, called to go in a different direction. Have you ever had an experience when it felt like the entire landscape of your life was changed in one moment? What once was smooth going has become rocky, arduous. What once was a verdant valley has become a barren wilderness. What once was an easy way through a flat landscape has become a treacherous climb up the highest of mountains. This can happen to us as individuals, but it can also happen to us as a people, as a culture. We’ve seen it in the Church (that’s church with a capitol C) over the last couple of decades—a realization that the landscape of the church has changed and must continue to change to continue to fulfill its calling as God’s ministers of reconciliation in a way that is relevant to a quickly changing culture. We’ve seen it happening in our culture—there is a definite sense that the landscape is changing daily, under our very feet, that all the old, familiar cultural landmarks are being transformed in unrecognizable and frightening ways. Have you ever felt that the entire landscape of your life, your world has changed in one moment? Well, you are not alone in that. The Children of Israel have this same experience when they are taken into captivity in Babylon. They are made the slaves of a foreign government who worshiped a foreign god, and all that was most precious to them—that which sets them apart as Yahweh’s chosen people—is destroyed—their homeland, their government, their families, and even their temple, the center of their worship and their holiest of holy places. Their voices cry out in the wilderness of their new lives, and God hears them and promises to respond. “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins. A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’” God promises to rearrange the landscape. And although it will certainly look differently than it did before, and it will be re-arranged through most unexpected agents, God does fulfill this promise for Israel. God does fulfill this promise for us. Have you ever felt that the entire landscape of your life, your world has changed in one moment? Isaiah 40 is the love song that God sings for you in the midst of your broken-heart, in the wilderness of your changed landscape. It is the work of the church to sing this love-song to all those who are broken-hearted, (and there are so many of them, here in the pews with us and also outside of these walls). It is our work to offer God’s promise that God will restore all things and to keep watch with them as they wait in longing for the fulfillment of that promise. In closing, I want to share with you a blessing written by poet, artist and UM elder Jan Richardson. Prepare A Blessing for Advent Strange how one word will so hollow you out. But this word has been in the wilderness for months. Years. This word is what remained after everything else was worn away by sand and stone. It is what withstood the glaring of sun by day, the weeping loneliness of the moon at night. Now it comes to you racing out of the wild, eyes blazing and waving its arms, its voice ragged with desert but piercing and loud as it speaks itself again and again: Prepare, prepare. It may feel like the word is leveling you, emptying you as it asks you to give up what you have known. It is impolite and hardly tame, but when it falls upon your lips you will wonder at the sweetness, like honey that finds its way into the hunger you had not known was there. —Jan Richardson from Circle of Grace i i. http://adventdoor.com/2015/11/29/advent-2-a-blessing-for-preparing/
Sunday, December 3, 2017
Advent 1B December 3, 2017 One of the preaching blog posts that I follow started off with this line this week: “I sometimes think Norman Rockwell is one of the most dangerous artists of the past century.” Well, of course, I was intrigued and had to read more. The writer, a Lutheran pastor and former preaching professor named David Lose continues: “I know that may initially sound a bit absurd, as Rockwell’s overly cheerful, even sentimental style led many to dismiss him as a serious artist and, indeed, often to refer to him instead as a mere illustrator. Moreover, I say this as one who enjoys Rockwell’s endearing style and portrait of what feels like a bygone era. Yet it is precisely Rockwell’s sentimentality that poses certain hazards, particularly when it is viewed not as sentimental but as ideal. Think of it this way: how many of us look at Rockwell’s famous painting of a family gathered around a holiday table (presumably Thanksgiving), all smiles and about to dig into a turkey, and somehow wonder why our family experiences don’t quite measure up. No arguing in this picture. No debate over recent politics. No one sulking because a favorite dish has been omitted or because there are no gluten-free options at grandma’s table. Instead, familial bliss. Perfection. Little wonder our experiences don’t measure up.”i Lose goes on to talk about how Norman Rockwell is not really our problem. Our problem is that we as humans often spend so much time focusing on the ideal that we lose sight of the gifts of our own realities. Think about how often you have measured your life, your family, your job, this church up to some sort of ideal: if only I had the ideal job, the ideal home, the ideal children and holidays and vacations, the ideal church. We all do this, and it can be a true impediment for us for a deeper relationship with God and happier, more fulfilled life. Today is the first Sunday of Advent. It begins not just a new season but also a new year in our church calendar. I love Advent because in the midst of the clamor of commercialism swirling around us, it invites us to slow down, to wait, to reflect, to keep watch. Advent is the perfect time for us to seek to strip away all of our ideals that we cling to, and to see our lives, our jobs, our families, our church, with new eyes. But how do we do this? In our epistle reading for today, Paul is writing to the Christian community in Corinth. And he begins (in his customary way) by giving thanks: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind-- just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you-- so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Sounds a bit idealized, doesn’t it? But, wait! Listen to what Paul is really saying here! He is giving thanks on their behalf for the grace of God that has been given to them through Christ Jesus. He’s not giving thanks for them for anything that they have done. He is giving thanks for them because they have received God’s gifts and can show forth Christ’s glory. And, here’s what else we need to remember about 1st Corinthians. Later on in this same letter, Paul really lets the Corinthians have it because they have been up to all sorts of shenanigans—there’s all sorts of conflict in the church, and Paul give them the equivalent of a good chewing out. There is no doubt that he sees them clearly. That he loves them, and he knows that they can do better than they have been. But, he starts with gratitude on their behalf to God for the grace that God has given them through Jesus Christ. And that is where we need to start, too, if we want to use this Advent season to see things with new eyes. My children and I have a spiritual practice that we started a couple of years ago. We call it “the three things.” As I am putting them to bed each night, I ask them to name for me three things that they have been grateful for on that particular day. The results are always lovely and surprising for me, and they are usually things that surprised them during the day and that they had very little control over—things that were, for them, pure gifts from God. In this way, we are all able to see the day that is just behind us with new eyes, with new appreciation, and we drift off to sleep assured of God’s presence and God’s good gifts and grace in our lives. Today is the completion of our annual giving campaign, the day that we turn in our pledge cards for the year out of a sense of gratefulness for the gifts that God has given St. Thomas, the grace God has given us through Jesus Christ, and for the gifts that God gives us in our lives and through the people and ministries of this place. It is my hope that we can live and work together out of this place of gratitude over the coming year, as we seek to see this old church with new eyes. Your invitation for this week (and really all of Advent) is to think about what part of your life you have most held to an idealized version (your job, your health, your family, your home, your church…). Practice daily recounting the three things—what three things you are grateful for in that area of your life on that given day. Give thanks to God for those good gifts, and invite God to help you see that part of your life with new eyes. i. http://www.davidlose.net/2017/11/advent-1-b-a-present-tense-advent/
Sunday, November 26, 2017
The Last Sunday after Pentecost-Christ the King Sunday November 26, 2017 This past week, I learned that a good friend of mine had died very suddenly. His death was unexpected, as he was fairly young and in the prime of his life, and his death was both shocking and profoundly tragic for his family and his friends. I’ve really been wrestling with it, how to come to grips with it in my faith, especially in this week that has been so been so fiercely devoted to the practice of giving thanks. So I have been thankful this week to have the epistle reading from the letter to the Ephesians to wrestle with and to have the opportunity to reflect on this in the context of this faith community here. The letter to the Ephesians was thought to have been written by Paul, but it probably wasn’t. But it does contain elements similar to Paul’s letters. Many of Paul’s letters start with a thanksgiving for those to whom he is writing. The letter to the Ephesians is striking because the whole letter is really devoted to thanksgiving, but the thanksgiving of the writer isn’t focused so much on the community in Ephesus. Rather the writer’s thanksgiving is focused on God. Ephesians is really an extended hymn of praise to God. I was also struck by a particular line from this particular reading. “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you…” So that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you… Exactly how does God enlighten the eyes of our hearts and what exactly is the hope to which he has called us? The writer of Ephesians suggests that the eyes of our hearts are enlightened as we come to know God more deeply, more fully. And the hope to which he has called us is to live our lives participating in the assurance that all things will be gathered back to Christ as a result of God using God’s power for the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Today, on week 3 of our Celebrate St. Thomas: Growing in Faith Together campaign, I am mindful of how you have talked about why you love St. Thomas, who has made a difference in your faith life here, and now today, what is your greatest dream for St. Thomas? Another way of saying this might be what is your hope for St. Thomas? In and through this campaign, I have seen in you your joy, your resilience, your stubborn clinging to hope, your love for each other, and an especial cherishing of children—both the ones who are here now and the ones who have grown up here. My brothers and sisters, these are unique gifts given to our particular community from God. And they are what makes us a resurrection community; a community of hope. My hope for St. Thomas is that we can grow more deeply into our identity as a resurrection community—those who seek out and find Christ in the littlest, the least, the lost, and the broken-hearted; those who cling stubbornly to our hope in the resurrection—that even though things seem fractured and broken and divided-- that all things will eventually be brought together in and through the resurrected Christ and that we will work to do our part in that as well. We have so much to offer people who may have lost sight of their hope, their joy. And it all starts with an invitation to come and see, with a hand extended in kindness, in a deeper looking- to see and encounter Christ who dwells in someone else. So your questions to consider this week are 1. How might you invite God to enlighten the eyes of your heart? 2. What is the hope to which God is calling you? 3. How are you being called to live out that hope both within this church and beyond the walls of this church? After my friend died this week, I kept thinking of a quote, which I thought was from scripture but it turns out it isn’t. It’s actually a quote based on the words of Henri Frederic Amiel (1821-1881) who was a poet and philosopher, and it has been woven into a blessing or a benediction. I think it sums up beautifully the life of my friend and the hope to which God calls all of us: Life is short, And we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who make the journey with us. So… be swift to love, and make haste to be kind. And the blessing of God, who made us, who loves us, and who travels with us be with you now and forever. i i. https://www.episcopalcafe.com/be_swift_to_love/
Saturday, November 18, 2017
24th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 28A November 19, 2017 Back when I worked at the Stewpot Soup kitchen just prior to going to seminary, we had an annual event of handing out food for Thanksgiving dinners for people who were not able to provide it on their own. They would sign up ahead of time, so we would know how much food we needed to have on hand, and it was not uncommon for us to have over 100 families signed up. The lady who was over all the food services at Stewpot, a lady named Nancy Dennis, would usually start ringing her hands a week or so before the give out day, and she would go to the Executive Director (who was an Episcopal priest named Luther Ott), and she’d say to him, “Luther, we’re not going to have enough turkeys to give one to every family. There’s just no way. We’re going to have to do something different.” And Luther would say to her, “Now, Nancy, just wait. God gives us what God knows that we need in God’s time.” And Nancy would go away, still anxiously wondering what we were going to do. I watched this play out, year after year, in the three years, I worked at Stewpot. And it even became so regular that Luther began referring to it as “Nancy’s turkey dance.” And the amazing thing that happened year after year after year, is that usually just a couple of days before Thanksgiving, and unexpected pick-up truck or even 18 wheeler would pull into Stewpot’s driveway just in the nick of time delivering the number of turkeys that we needed. God gives us what God knows that we need in God’s time. In our parable for today, Jesus says that the Kingdom of heaven is like a man who prepares to go on a journey by giving his slaves varying degrees of wealth. To one slave, he gives 5 talents, to another he gives 3 talents, and to the third slave he gives one talent. Now remember that one talent is the equivalent of 15 years worth of wages for the average day laborer. So just take a moment and let the sheer abundance of what the man has given the slaves sink in. The first two take the money and multiply it accordingly, while the third takes his and buries his in the ground. When confronted by the man, the slave confesses: “I was afraid, so I went and hid it in the ground.” How much of our lives do we spend doing that? Doing the turkey dance? Being afraid that we are going to lose something valuable, so instead of using it, we hide it away where it is “safe.” (I can count on one hand the number of times I have used my “fine china” in the 13 years we have been married.) I think that, perhaps, there may be a better way to approach this conundrum. A few years ago, I read a blog post by Parker Palmer, who is a Quaker educator and writer. Palmer writes about a time of discernment in his life; around the time when he was 75, he began recognizing that he couldn’t do everything that he used to do and he couldn’t do things as fast as he used to. So he formulated a question that he wanted help in discernment with: “What do I want to let go of and what do I want to hang onto?” Palmer took this question to a Quaker Clearness Committee, whose role is to help an individual in listening and discernment by asking questions. And when Palmer came out of that committee meeting, he had a new realization. It was that he had been asking the wrong question. Instead of asking: ““What do I want to let go of and what do I want to hang onto?” he should be asking: ““What do I want to let go of and what do I want to give myself to?” He explains the difference saying, “I now see that ‘hanging on’ is a fearful, needy, and clinging way to be in the world. But looking for what I want to give myself to transforms everything. It’s taking me to a place where I find energy, abundance, trust, and new life.”i My invitation to you this week is this. Take some time listening to your life. Identify what are the areas in which you find yourself anxious or afraid? Remind yourself of the refrain from Nancy’s turkey dance: God gives you what God knows that you need in God’s time. And then consider: “What in your life, in your faith, do you want to let go of, and what do you want to give yourself to?” https://onbeing.org/blog/the-choice-of-hanging-on-or-giving-to/7029/
Sunday, November 12, 2017
23rd Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 27A November 12, 2017 A couple of years ago, I was driving down the road and listening to a new cd from one of my favorite artists (yes, I still occasionally buy cd’s). Her name is Carrie Newcomer. Newcomer is both a poet and a musician and her music and lyrics on this cd had moved me to tears numerous different times as she spoke poetically and sublimely about different aspects of the spiritual life and human experience. As I was driving, the cd flipped over to the last track on the cd, and I was caught by surprise. It was a totally different style of song than all the rest on the cd, more like an old-time ditty that was almost campy. And the title was Please, don’t put me on hold!” Thank you for calling The lines are all busy Cause there are too many people like you Calling for answers and wanting them quickly Press zero for main menu English press 1 Spanish press 2 You’re 11th in line ‘til we can get to you I’m trying to be nice, not pushy or bold, just Please….don’t put me on hold! If we can’t help you, then don’t blame us We’re recording this call so you don’t cuss I’m trying to be nice, this is getting old Please….don’t put me on hold! She runs into a series of problems: wrong transfer, employee on vacation, what’s your pin….I didn’t hear that so, let’s try it again. I’m searching my wallet I’m tearing it apart Please…don’t make me restart She’s getting more and more agitated and engaging with the Hard Rock muzak that is playing… Finally a real person says, Can I help you out? I say…if you were in this room I’d kiss you on the mouth! You cough and say This is Customer service I backpedal and try to state my purpose I’m trying to be nice, not creepy or bold, just Please, don’t put me on hold! (x3)i At the end of a cd full of sublime songs, Newcomer pokes fun at all of us—waiting is hard, and we don’t do it well in our culture these days. (I don’t have to tell you about all the places we have to wait and how we grow impatient….you can probably name multiple experiences from just this past week…) Once, when I was in a season of waiting and discernment in my own life, my spiritual director shared with me the following quote: “Above all, trust in the slow work of God.”ii It’s an important reminder as we look at this challenging parable for today. The parable speaks to the reality that a. we don’t like to wait—we seem to be getting worse at it the more technologically advanced that we get and b sometimes we have to wait—because God’s timing is not our timing. But where the parable is helpful is that it teaches us how to wait. Note that at the beginning of the parable, the bridesmaids are all the same: they’re all carrying lamps, the all fall asleep waiting for the bridegroom who is delayed. The difference among them is that some of them are prepared to wait, bringing extra oil, and the others are not, and so they miss the party. So how might this parable speak to us? How do we prepare ourselves to wait—during those times when we must above all, trust in the slow work of God? (or even in those times like in Newcomer’s song, we find ourselves “on hold trying to get a solution for our problem.” Do you remember those 5 practices of discipleship that I spoke to you about my first Sunday here? 1. Pray daily 2. Worship weekly 3. Serve joyfully 4. Learn constantly 5. Give generously Those are the ways that we prepare to wait. By practicing discipleship in those tangible ways all the time. One of the women at the Wednesday healing service who I talked to about this parable suggested, “What if we prayed during the times that we had to wait? We could pray for the person we were on hold with, pray for the doctor whose waiting room we were sitting in and prayed for the people waiting with us….” Over the next four weeks you are going to be hearing stories of transformation from your fellow parishioners-stories about how the people in their lives and the members of this parish have shaped and formed them as disciples of Jesus and have given generously and made a positive effect on these individual lives. I hope that these will inspire you to think about some of the questions they are answering for themselves and to reflect on how the mission and ministry of the people of St. Thomas and other communities you have been a part of have nurtured and helped you as you grow in your following of Jesus—what all of us baptized have been called to. And this week, I invite you to examine how you wait. And when you find yourself in a time or even a season of waiting, to choose one of the 5 practices of discipleship to engage with to help you “above all, trust in the slow work of God.” i. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19qpcHv56vQ ii. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ excerpted from Hearts on Fire
Sunday, November 5, 2017
The Sunday after All Saints’ Day Year A November 5, 2017 A letter to Hedges King upon the occasion of his baptism. Matthew 5:1-12 Dear Hedges, Today is a special day for three reasons. First, it is the day of your baptism, when your parents and godparents will accept for you that you are God’s beloved child, where you will be baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and become a part of his body in this world and the next. Second, it is a day when we will renew our own baptismal promises and when we will remember these truths for ourselves once again. And third it is the Sunday after All Saints’ Day when we remember all the Saints who have come before us who continue to surround us and uphold us as fellow members of the body of Christ, who support us on our life-long journeys of following Jesus. Someone once wrote about the Saints that “the Saints were men and women who understood the challenge of living the gospel in the context of their own place and time. They are remembered because they lived it with imagination and devotion. They used what they had been given to live their lives into the freedom of the kingdom.”i “Living the challenge of the gospel with imagination and devotion” is truly the call of the Christian life that you begin this day, Hedges. And you begin it here with us because it will not be easy. And you will need us. And we will need you. So how do we live the challenge of the gospel with imagination and devotion? We hold fast to certain truths. That death is not the end, but a change, and it is not to be feared. That Jesus’s death and resurrection has proven, once and for all, that God’s love is stronger than anything we can and will encounter in this life, even death. That God’s kingdom is real and present, transformative and active. That how we live our lives matters because we are the body of Christ in this world. That we need each other to remember and to be the body of Christ, the church in the world in every moment of every day. That God’s blessing are often found in places where we would never think to see or to look: in poverty, mourning, meekness, in a hunger and thirst for righteousness, in mercy, in peacemaking, and in persecution. That we, together, as the body of Christ, the church, can create and imagine a kingdom, here and now, where exercising mercy transforms violence, where the children of God are known by the way we make peace, and we can imagine and create a place where every member of the body of Christ can respond to others from a place of belonging and from the assurance of their belovedness. But this work, this life, is not easy. Which is why we do it together. Following the way of Jesus can be difficult and demanding and lonely, and we need each other desperately. We need each other to understand things which don’t make sense to us at the time and to see things that we can’t see on our own. We need each other to offer comfort when we mourn, to offer solace when we are heartbroken, to offer kindness when we are weary beyond measure, to offer mercy when we have gone astray. We will do this for you and your family, Hedges, and you will do it for us. That is a part of the promises that we all make this day. Because that’s how we do all this, Hedges, this living the challenge of Jesus’s good news with imagination and devotion. We do it together, and we do it by helping each other remember, over and over again that you are God’s beloved, marked as Christ’s own forever. We will help you remember when you are afraid. We will help you remember when you are angry. We will help you remember when you are joyful. We will help you remember when you feel you have lost your way. And you will do this for us. Because that is what it means to be the body of Christ in this world. I am so glad that you have joined us. God loves you, and I love you too. Your sister in Christ, Melanie+ i. Br. Robert L'Esperance in “Brother, Give us a Word” for November 1, 2017 from the Society of St. John the Evangelist www.ssje.org
Sunday, October 29, 2017
21st Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 25A October 29, 2017 This week, at bedtime, MM and I were talking about math. She’s really good at math and as we were discussing that she said to me, “You know, I guess math is really about learning the rules, learning the formulas, and then using that to do the work.” She made it sound so simple, so appealing. If only life were that simple. If only we could solve our problems by knowing the rules, the formula, and then applying it to solve. I can’t help but wonder if that isn’t what the lawyer is after in his questioning of Jesus: “Teacher, which commandment of the law is the greatest?” And then Jesus gives him the formula—the Shema’ that is at the heart of the Jewish faith: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” If I can only follow one rule, which rule should I follow? Surely it can’t be that simple? Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. I want to tell you two stories that both have to do with love. The first is told by Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski “On Love.” The Rabbi starts by telling a story told by another rabbi: “Love is a word that, in our culture, has almost lost its meaning. There’s a very interesting story....a rabbi came across a young man who was clearly enjoying a dish of fish that he was eating. And the rabbi said, ‘young man why are you eating that fish?’ He says, ‘because I love fish.’ ‘Oh, You love the fish. That’s why you took it out of the water, killed it and boiled it.’ He said ‘don’t tell me you love the fish. You love yourself, and because the fish tastes good to you, therefore, you took it out of the water and killed it and boiled it.’ So much of what is love, is ‘fish love.’ A young couple falls in love, what does that mean. It means he saw in this young woman someone who he felt could fulfill all his physical and emotional needs (and vice versa). Each one was looking out for their own needs. It’s not love for the other. The other person becomes a vehicle for my gratification. Too much of what is called love is ‘fish love’. An external love is not a love of what I’m gonna get but what I’m gonna give. …People make a serious mistake in thinking that you give to those whom you love. The real answer is you love those to whom you give. And the point is if I give something to you, I’ve invested myself in you. And since self-love is a given, everybody loves themselves, now that part of me is now in you, there is part of me in you that I love. So true love is a love of giving not of receiving.” Back before I went to seminary, when I was working downtown at Stewpot, I was heavily influenced by my time spent in the daily chapel service at there, just before the noon meal. This service was open to anyone (but not required), so it was not uncommon for the congregation to be made up of other Stewpot employees like me, members of the homeless community who were coming to eat their one, sure meal of the day, elderly folk who couldn’t survive on their Social Security and came to eat a free meal to help stretch that money a little farther every month, adults with mental disabilities who lived in the area personal care homes and who were really looking for a safe community, and different members from Jackson-area churches who came to help serve the meal on that particular day—folks from law offices downtown, work-at-home moms who wanted to offer their time while their kids were at school, newly retired folks who were wrestling with finding new meaning and purpose in their lives. That chapel service was the most diverse community I have ever been a part of, truly a cross-section of humanity. And the chapel convener, a man named Don London, had an exercise that he liked to do during chapel (at least once a quarter). He would start chapel by quoting John 3:16 (the King James version): “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And he would say it again: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And then he would say, “How many ‘whosoevers’ do I have in here today?” And the regulars, who knew the drill, would raise their hands quickly. But it would take the volunteers a little bit longer to figure it out. I’d see them look around the room, and tentatively raise their own hands, claiming their status as a “whosoever” too, until a hand from every person in the room was raised. And then Don would say, “This is what you need to remember, as you get ready to go out into the world. God loves you, and I love you too. God loves you, and I love you too. Now. Turn around. Shake your neighbor’s hand. Look him or her in the eye, and say it to them. ‘God loves you, and I love you too’.” And then he would wait for us to do it. And pretty soon, it would take on a life of itself. People were not content to just tell it to their immediate neighbors in that chapel, they wanted to say it to every person in that room: “God loves you, and I love you too.” And what I learned from Don and those people in that chapel is that it feels really good to look someone in the eye and to say to them, God loves you and I love you too. That is a love that isn’t “fish love.” It is a true love, giving of yourself to another because you are giving them your respect and recognizing the dignity of our common humanity, that each one of us is the beloved of God. So, your invitation today is to try this at the Peace, in this safe place. Instead of saying “Peace” to your neighbor today, take his or her hand, look that person in the eye and say, “God loves you, and I love you too.” And then think about that this week. Imagine how it would feel to say that to every person you come into contact with. God loves you. And I love you too. Amen. Rabbi Tweski's story can be watched here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMcHtSjtNBY
Saturday, October 21, 2017
20th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 24A October 22, 2017 Last week, I spoke to you about your image of God and used as my refrain for the sermon a line that I read a while back: “We become like the God we adore.” I invited you over the past week to investigate what your image of God is and how that might affect you both positively and negatively. This week, I want us to continue to think about the image of God, as it relates to our readings for this week and as it relates to our lives. But first, I want you to take a bible out of your pew (when’s the last time you heard an Episcopal priest say THAT???). Turn to Genesis chapter 1 verse 26. This is the first creation story, when God brings order out of chaos over the course of 7 days. And when God goes to create humans, God says, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…” My friends, if that doesn’t take your breath away, I don’t know what will. You were made in the image and likeness of God! Fast-forward to our gospel reading for today. We are reaching a tense crescendo in Matthew’s gospel. Over the past few weeks, we have watched Jesus enter Jerusalem triumphantly, turn over the tables of the money-changers in the temple and driven them out, and tell a series of increasingly more challenging parables with the Pharisees in his audience. So at this point in Matthew, the Pharisees are fed up and decide to plot to entrap Jesus. They form a conspiracy with the Herodians, who they normally don’t have anything to do with and concoct a plan for how they are going to back Jesus into a corner with the hope that the crowds will turn against him or he will say something heretical. And so they ask Jesus about paying the Imperial tax—the tax that the people of Israel had to pay to Rome that actually funded the Roman occupation of Israel. They couldn’t have picked a more contentious issue to try to trap Jesus with. But Jesus avoids the trap completely and turns the tables on them. He asks them, “Whose likeness is this, and what title?” And if they are paying attention then Jesus’ question can serve to point his listeners back to Genesis because it is the same word: ikon—image or likeness. Jesus turns the tables on those who would trap him by pointing back to the fact that humankind has been made in the image of God and by pointing to the fact that as a part of that, we are all called to acts of stewardship. Now. I suspect that some of you may be confused. Many of you, when you hear the word “stewardship” think of what the former stewardship officer of the Episcopal church, the late Terry Parsons, used to refer to as “the fall beg-athon.” But that is not what I mean when I say the word stewardship. (You will hear us refer to that season in the church year in the coming weeks as the Annual Fall commitment campaign which will start on November 12th and end on December 3rd and is named: Celebrate St. Thomas, Growing In Faith Together. But more on that in the coming weeks.) When I say the word stewardship, my understanding of that word is much bigger than a few weeks in the church year when we ask people to turn in pledge cards (although that is certainly one aspect of stewardship). Parsons’ had a very effective definition of the word stewardship that gets to the heart of this: “Stewardship is all that I do with all that I have after I say ‘I believe.’” “Stewardship is all that I do with all that I have after I say ‘I believe.’” If we believe that all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, then how we live our lives, whether we are living out our potential as the image of God, how we interact with the world around us, how we spend our money, how we spend our time, how we care for creation, how we treat other people---all of that is stewardship and every bit of it is an opportunity to either live into our creation in the image and likeness of God or not. So this week, your invitation is two-fold. First, find some way to remind yourself --whether you jot it on a post-it note, or write it on your bathroom mirror with a dry-erase marker--find some way to remind yourself: I am made in the image and likeness of God. Second, choose one area of your life—it can be when you spend money, when you spend your time, when you encounter strangers or when you encounter your family, it can be how you eat or drink or how you exercise—choose one area of your life and all throughout the week, ask yourself if what you are doing fulfills you in your having been created in the image and likeness of God or if it diminishes it. In closing, let us pray the collect for the Right Use of God's Gifts (BCP p 827). Almighty God, whose loving hand hath given us all that we possess: Grant us grace that we may honor thee with our substance, and, remembering the account which we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of thy bounty, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Saturday, October 14, 2017
19th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 23A October 15, 2017 “We become like the God we adore.” I read this line many years ago in a book titled Good Goats: Healing our image of God. “We become like the God we adore.” We see this writ large in our Old Testament reading for today. The Children of Israel have become restless because Moses has been away for too long conversing with God and receiving the 10 Commandments. (A new translation that is closer and truer to the original Hebrew says it this way: “Now when the people saw that Moshe was shamefully-late in coming down from the mountain…”) So the people rise against Aaron and challenge him to “make us a god who will go before us.” Because Moses has been absent from them for so long, the people begin to grow anxious and clamor for a god that they can see, who is physically present with them in Moses’ absence. Aaron acquiesces and makes them a golden calf or a young bull—modeled on a Canaanite symbol of fertility. And then they begin to revel before their newly minted fertility god. “We become like the God we adore.” Paul reminds the troubled community in Phillipi of this truth in this portion of the letter where he is addressing a conflict that he has learned about between two women--Euodia and Syntyche. He urges them to “be of the same mind in the Lord,” and then he reminds the whole community of the virtues of Christ that we are all called to model and share: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” “We become like the God we adore.” And in the gospel reading for today, we have another violent parable from Matthew’s stern Jesus. Many scholars are tempted to read the parable as an allegory with the king being God and Jesus being the bridegroom, but others are not so sure about this interpretation. What if Jesus is actually aligning himself more with the man at the wedding feast who is thrown out because he does not have the proper wedding garment? Well, that throws the whole parable into a totally different perspective. Then the violent king becomes aligned with those in Jesus’ day who are aligning themselves with the institutions of power. The Jewish New Testament scholar Amy Jill-Levine says that the parables of Jesus are meant to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. If this is true and it is true that “we become like the God we adore” then what does this parable say about who we believe God to be? I want to share with you and extract from the book 'Good Goats - Healing our image of God by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn & Matthew Linn. In this extract, Dennis is writing: I am half German. Although I don't want to stereo-type all Germans, like many of my ancestors I was born a self-righteous German. ... I saw all the mistakes and errors in every one but myself. For years I tried every kind of healing prayer in order to be rid of my self-righteousness. Although these prayers healed me of many things, my self-righteousness did not change. I often wondered why, when I prayed so hard, God did not heal me. Then one day, I noticed that my self-righteousness had nearly disappeared. Why, I asked, after so many years of struggle, was there suddenly and almost automatically such a wonderful change in my life? I changed when my image of God changed. Most of us recognize that we become like our parents whom from early on we adore, even with all their faults. We may not realize that we also become like the God we adore. Unfortunately, the God I grew up adoring was German. My God was a self-righteous German who sat on his (at that time my God was all male) judgment throne. Being a self-righteous German, my God could see all the mistakes and errors in everyone else. If my self-righteous God did not like what he saw in others, he could even separate himself from them by sending them into hell. And if my God could be a self-righteous German, then no matter how many healing prayers I prayed, I would probably never change. I became like the God I adored. In every aspect of our lives, we become like the God we adore. One day Hilda came to me crying because her son had tried to commit suicide for the fourth time. She told me that he was involved in prostitution, drug dealing and murder. She ended her list of her son's "big sins" with, "What bothers me most is that my son says he wants nothing to do with God. What will happen to my son if he commits suicide without repenting and wanting nothing to do with God?" Since at the time my image of God was like Good Old Uncle George, I thought, "God will probably send your son to hell." But I didn't want to tell Hilda that. I was glad that my many years of theological training had taught me what to do when I don't know how to answer a difficult theological question: ask the other person, "What do you think?" "Well," Hilda responded, "I think that when you die, you appear before the judgment seat of God. If you have lived a good life, God will send you to heaven. If you have lived a bad life, God will send you to hell." Sadly, she concluded, "Since my son has lived such a bad life, if he were to die without repenting, God would certainly send him to hell." Although I tended to agree with her, I didn't want to say, "Right on, Hilda! Your son would probably be sent to hell." I was again grateful for my theological training which taught me a second strategy: when you don't know how to solve a theological problem, then let God solve it. So I said to Hilda, "Close your eyes. Imagine that you are sitting next to the judgment seat of God. Imagine also that your son has died with all these serious sins and without repenting. He has just arrived at the judgment seat of God. Squeeze my hand when you can imagine that" A few minutes later Hilda squeezed my hand. She described to me the entire judgment scene. Then I asked her, "Hilda, how does your son feel?" Hilda answered, "My son feels so lonely and empty." I asked Hilda what she would like to do. She said, "I want to throw my arms around my son." She lifted her arms and began to cry as she imagined herself holding her son tightly. Finally, when she had stopped crying, I asked her to look into God's eyes and watch what God wanted to do. God stepped down from the throne, and just as Hilda did, embraced Hilda's son. And the three of them, Hilda, her son and God, cried together and held one another. God Loves Us at Least As Much As the Person Who Loves Us the Most. I was stunned What Hilda taught me in those few minutes is the bottom line of healthy Christian spirituality: God loves us at least as much as the person who loves us the most. God loves us at least as much as Hilda loves her son or at least as much as [my family] love me.” “We become like the God we adore.” This week, I invite you to think about who you think God is, what you think God is like, and to ask yourself if there aspects of yourself you find you long to see change, that are part of the 'image of God' you live with and adore? (The excerpt and the part of the question come from http://www.course.soulspark.org.uk/Soul_Spark_Course/Session_4_files/4-Healing%20our%20image%20of%20God.pdf)
Thursday, October 5, 2017
18th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 22A October 8, 2017 I’ve really wrestled with this violent parable on this particularly violent week. So I think the best thing for me to do with you today is to walk you through my wrestling with it as I pondered the question: “where is the good news for us in this gospel reading this week?” Full disclosure: some of my wrestlings have involved one very political statement made by another. I think you’ll see as I share my story with you of this week, that it’s important to my own wrestlings but in no way am I suggesting what you should think or believe on this complicated issue. (So try not to be anxious when you hear me start to talk about hot topics of the week.) I awoke on Monday morning, much like the rest of you, to hear the news about the mass shooting in Las Vegas. I read a couple of news reports that morning before coming to the office, and then I engaged with a couple of different things that are important to this conversation. First, I read a daily meditation written by my friend and fellow priest Carol Mead. (She sends these out daily under the heading of her blog Holy Ordinary and they are smart and thoughtful. The meditation for Monday was titled “In the shadows” and Carol writes about how a “recent article about an iconic image of Che Guevara lamented the loss of depth in seeing the man only through that one familiar image. The author wrote that the image encourages us to think of the human being without depth. He said it ‘provokes a sense of sadness’ and asked, ‘What is the consequence of this flattening emotion?’ Carol continues, “Much of our world today prefers that ‘flattening,’ a process of making everything binary: black and white; right and wrong; us and them. We fail to see the shadows that define real human beings; the nuances of doubt, fear, or joy. We find comfort and convenience in labels, because they save us the work and trouble of seeing the multiple dimensions of our fellow human beings.”i Not too long after I read Carol’s thoughtful meditation, I read a post by a college friend of mine on Facebook. Her post first thing Monday morning said “The NRA is a terrorist organization.” This made me deeply sad, and I wanted to comment on it and say to her, Dear Friend, I love you and I respect your opinion. And I also love my husband, who is a member of the NRA.” I wanted to tell her about how when the NRA would call us with some sort of poll or another, my husband would engage the caller in conversation and tell the caller why he had trouble with the way that certain questions were phrased and the way that the poll or the conversation was skewed. I wanted to tell her that my husband struggles with being a member of the NRA but that he feels that it is the best way for him to be a part of the conversation-from within the organization. I wanted to tell her about my friend Carol’s article about flattening, about how we do that sort of violence to each other all the time now and that it tearing the fabric of our communities and our common life just as certainly as other acts of horror and violence. But I didn’t. I just kept scrolling and going about my day. Then, on Wednesday, we celebrated the feast of St. Francis of Assisi at our weekly healing service. I read a meditation to that group that talked about how Francis opted out of the systems of his day, much like Jesus did.ii And that’s really what Jesus’s parable is about this week. It’s about all of us, about the systems that we find ourselves trapped in, about ridiculous, nonsensical violence; and about the dangers of simplistic, dualistic, flattened thinking. The good news that I found this week is that we are not trapped. We can opt out of the system—just like Francis, just like Jesus. And I don’t think it even needs to be such a dramatic sort of opting out of the system as they both practiced. It can start with one small step in our individual and family lives. Because there are so many ways that we all participate in systems of violence—ways that we do harm to ourselves and each other: the flattening out of each other that Carol wrote about—both individuals and groups; the glorification of busy-ness in our own lives and the lives of our children; the 24 hour news cycle that serves to raise our anxiety; our addictive culture around food, alcohol, and buying things. There are small ways we can opt out of participating in these things and others in our systems that do violence to ourselves and others, and in that we will find the freedom of Jesus, the freedom of Francis. So, your challenge this week is to look at your life and to choose one practice that you feel burdens your heart or does violence to your soul. Examine this practice, and imagine how God might be inviting you too live that differently. As a companion on this journey, I invite you to pray the prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. It is collect #62 in the BCP on page 833. Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen. i. The Rev. Carol Mead. Holy Ordinary post for October 2, 2017 titled In the shadows. ii. Sam Portaro’s meditation on Francis of Assisi (October 4) in his book Brightest and Best
Thursday, September 28, 2017
17th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 21A October 1, 2017 A monk joined a monastery and took a vow of silence. He was told that he’d be able to say two words to the abbot every 10 years. After the first 10 years the abbot called him in and asked, "Do you have anything to say?" The monk replied, "Food bad." After another 10 years the monk again had opportunity to voice his thoughts. He said, "Bed hard." Another 10 years went by and again he was called in before the abbot. When asked if he had anything to say, the monk responded, "I quit." The abbot replied, "It doesn't surprise me a bit. You've done nothing but complain ever since you got here." All around us, people are complaining. In our public discourse, on social media, in our neighborhoods, cities, families, and churches. People complain. Even in our readings for today, we seem to see an inordinate amount of complaining. In our Old Testament reading, the children of Israel are complaining (for the third time since they left Egypt) that there is not enough water to sustain them in the wilderness. They complain to Moses, and Moses complains to God, and God offers a solution, that God will provide water from the rock through Moses, so that the people may quench their thirst. And so God, once again, takes care of the children of Israel. (Although in this third account of their complaining, we get the sense that even Yahweh is growing weary of the griping….) In the gospel reading, the chief priests and the elders of the temple are complaining to Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things?” Note that just a little earlier in this same chapter, Jesus has entered Jerusalem and cleansed the temple—running out all the money changers, turning over tables and accusing the temple leadership of being a part of the corruption of the temple. So, they come and lodge a complaint against him the form of a question about his authority. Jesus answers them with a parable about two sons—one of whom complains when his father asks him to go work in the vineyard but then who goes and does it and the other who says he will go willingly but then never goes. When you look at all these instances of when people complain, really, they aren’t wrong to complain. Things aren’t going so well for them. The children of Israel are in the wilderness where they have been lead and they just might die of thirst out there without water. The temple elders and chief priests have had their temple thrown into chaos and their work there challenged. And then there’s us—things in our lives and our world around us can be pretty scary. But here’s the thing. Years ago I read a quote in something I was reading. I think it was something by Richard Rohr, but I haven’t been able to find it, so you’ll have to bear with my paraphrase of it. And let me just tell you, this concept changed the way that I saw myself and the world around me. The notion is that when people complain, it reveals a deep dissatisfaction within their own spiritual lives that is crying out to be tended to. When I complain, I reveal a deep dissatisfaction within my own spiritual life that is crying out to be tended to. When you complain, you reveal a deep dissatisfaction within your own spiritual life that is crying out to be tended to. If there is something going on in our lives, in our church, in our world, of which we find ourselves needing or wanting to complain—what if we stopped and paused, and instead, examine that moment, that inclination, as a possible moment for transformation. Because I think that the opposite of complaint is opening to transformation. Now, I know that transformation can be a scary word for all of us who aren’t crazy about change. But…the goal in the Christian life is and always will be transformation. “Let the same mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus,” we hear Paul say to the Philippians today. The goal of the Christian life is to be transformed--through our relationship with and following of Jesus—more and more into who we are created to be—into the image and likeness of God. But to be open to transformation, we have also be open to the causes or the sources of our complaints—our pain, our discomfort, our fear, our isolation, our loneliness, and our heartbreak. And if we are able to acknowledge that suffering rather than turning our focus outward immediately and complaining then we become more open to transformation—both our own and our hopeful working to being an agent of transformation in the world around us (in our family, our church, our neighborhood, our city, our nation, and our world). I read a story this week that is in Brene’ Brown’s new book Braving the Wilderness. It is actually a transcription from a video from Buddhist nun Pema Chodron’s “Lousy World” teaching that is grounded in an Indian Buddist Monk named Shantideva’s teaching. I’ll share it with you here. “This lousy world, these lousy people, this lousy government, this lousy everything…lousy weather…lousy blah, blah, blah. We’re [angry]. It’s too hot in here. It’s too cold. I don’t like the smell. The person in front is too tall and the person next to me is too fat. That person is wearing perfume and I’m allergic to it.. and just..ugh! It’s like being barefooted and walking across blazing-hot sand or across cut glass, or in a field with thorns. Your feet are bare and you say, ‘This is just too hard. It’s really hurting, it’s terrible, it’s too sharp, it’s too painful…it’s too hot.’ But you have a great idea! You’re just going to cover everywhere you go with leather. And then it won’t hurt your feet anymore. Spreading leather everywhere you go so you can cover the pain is like saying, ‘I’m going to get rid of her and get rid of him. I’m going to get the temperature right, and I’m going to ban perfume in the world, and then there will be nothing that bothers me anywhere. I am going to get rid of everything, including mosquitoes, that bothers me, anywhere in the world, and then I will be a very happy, content person.” [She pauses] We’re laughing, but it’s what we all do. That is how we approach things. We think, if we could just get rid of everything or cover it with leather, our pain would go away. Well, sure, because then it wouldn’t be cutting our feet anymore. It’s just logical, isn’t it? But it doesn’t make any sense, really. Shantideva said, ‘But if you simply wrap the leather around your feet.’ In other words, if you put on shoes then you could walk across the boiling sand and the cut glass and the thorns, and it wouldn’t bother you. So the analogy is, if you work with your mind, instead of trying to change everything on the outside, that’s how your temper will cool down.” Your invitation this week is this: pay attention this week to when your first inclination is to complain about something, and instead, examine the true source of your discomfort and invite God to reveal to you how that might be transformed. And if you’re feeling really brave, invite God to transform you, too.
Sunday, September 24, 2017
16th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 20A September 24, 2017 “It just isn’t fair!” How many times did I utter those words as a child? Often, it was when I was faced with something that one of my brothers got to do or have that I did not. And every time I would utter my complaint to my parents-- “It just isn’t fair!”--you know what my parents would respond? “Life isn’t fair.” Let me just tell you, there’s no more effective way to shut down that fairness conversation (I know, I’ve used it with my own kids before) because even as children we have witnessed and experienced the unfairness of life. We have two different stories today that give us similar glimpses of the nature of God and God’s kingdom and similar glimpses of the nature of our humanity. In both of these stories, the people complain to God (or the landowner), “It just isn’t fair!” and God’s response is even more shocking to us than the one that we parents usually employ. In the gospel parable for today and in the story from Exodus, we see the contrast between the generosity, the providence of God and the grumbling of God’s people in the face of that generosity. The Children of Israel have just been rescued from slavery in Egypt, and almost immediately, they begin complaining [say in an angry, whiny voice], “"If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger." “It’s not fair!” they complain. We could have just stayed in Egypt where we were miserable but at least we knew what to expect. But you know what? God doesn’t say to Moses, “Life isn’t fair; I saved them from slavery and now those whiners are on their own.” Instead God says to Moses, “OK, fine. I’ll give them two square meals a day, which is more than they were able to scrounge when they were slaves in Egypt being forced to make bricks without even straw. And you tell them that they shall have their fill of bread—an abundance of food in the wilderness. And in and through my generosity, you will know my glory.” In the parable, Jesus starts out by saying “the kingdom of God is like a landowner…” He then proceeds to tell the story of a group of day laborers (a really tenuous position in which to be in that world) who are unemployed and who become employed for the day by the landowner. As those laborers work, the landowner keeps going back and hiring other unemployed people to work in his vineyard, until he even finds some near the end of the day and invites them to come work. At the end of the work day, the landowner goes to pay the workers, and he pays everyone the same amount, the amount that he agreed to pay those who worked the entire day. Those workers who labored the entire day complain: “It isn’t fair that those who came late received the same amount that we did!” The landowner answers them, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” And Jesus closes the parable by saying for the third time in Matthew’s gospel, “And the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” Both groups—the children of Israel and the day laborers in the parable—all have so much to be grateful for. The children of Israel are saved by God once again; the day laborers have had meaningful work all day for which they have been paid an honest wage. And yet, they all are stuck in this mentality of fairness and entitlement—because that’s really what we mean when we say, “That’s not fair,” right? We are saying that we think we are entitled to something that we think we aren’t getting… They are so envious of God’s goodness to others that they are unable to be grateful for God’s goodness to them. And most of us can relate to that. Someone once wrote, “This parable lays before each and all of us a choice that is as clear as can be. When we look at our lives, do we count our blessings or our misfortunes? Do we pay attention to the areas of plenty in our lives or what we perceive we lack? Do we live by gratitude or envy? Do we look to others in solidarity and compassion or see them only as competition? The killer thing about this choice is that it really is a choice as unavoidable as it is simple—you just can’t be grateful and envious at the same time. So which is it going to be?” (David Lose workingpreacher.org2011) (Hand out index cards here) So here’s what we’re going to do today. We are going to make our choice for how we want to live this week. Do we choose to be grateful? Or do we choose to be envious or entitled? The ushers are going around, and I want each person to get two index cards. On the first index card, I want you to write something for which you are grateful, in your life or someone else’s. Now I want you to write on the second card some grudge or resentment that you hold in your heart, something that you believe that you lack, something of which you are envious, or something to which you feel that you are entitled that you have not received. Once you are finished, hold each card facedown in each hand. Notice how physically the two cards weigh the same, but spiritually one of the two cards is weighing you down, weighing your heart down with unhappiness and bitterness while the other fills your heart with joy and hope. Today you have a choice as to which of those two cards you will hold onto. We’re going to pass the collection plates now, as I finish the sermon, and you can choose which one of the two cards you keep to carry out of here with you for the rest of the week and which one you will let go of. The one you let go of, no one will see, but I encourage you to put the one you keep someplace so you can see it throughout the week. But you can’t keep both of them at the same time because you can’t really be envious or entitled and grateful at the same time. You have to choose how you’re going to be. Which will you choose to carry with you to God’s altar and out into the world with you today—envy and entitlement or gratitude?
Sunday, September 17, 2017
15th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 19A September 17, 2017 I’m just going to go ahead and lay it out there today. This parable in our gospel reading for today is especially challenging. I mean, in case you missed it, let me just read the end for you again: “And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” I don’t know about y’all, but I know I am in trouble. (Just this past week, my family and I were talking about how I still haven’t forgiven my brother for using his Mr. T stamp that he got in his Wendy’s Kid’s Meal and stamping it all over my beautiful bedspread 35 years ago!) So what’s going on here in this gospel? Peter and the disciples are clearly embroiled in some drama, so Peter comes to Jesus and asks him, “How many times do I have to forgive?” Peter thinks it should be 7 times, which is considered a perfect number, but Jesus says, nope that’s not enough how about 77 times (or some translations have this as seventy times 7). Either way, both of these are like infinity. And then Jesus tells the parable. But here’s what you need to know about the parable. The amount of wages that the slaves are indebted is really important here and would have immediately jumped out to Jesus’s listeners. The first slave who owes 10,000 talents… well that is the equivalent of 150,000 years worth of wages. It’s not something that slave could have paid back even in multiple lifetimes. But the second slave who owes the first slave 100 denarii—that is the equivalent of 1 day’s wage. So it is something that ostensibly could be paid back over time. It’s pretty ridiculous, then, what the first slave does—how he is forgiven this tremendous debt by the king and yet he cannot forgive this much smaller debt from his fellow slave. It’s ridiculous. So, what if Jesus is telling this ridiculous parable to show Peter, and us, that we are asking the wrong question? The questions shouldn’t be “How many times do I forgive?”. Instead, it should be “How do I forgive?” Because deep down in our hearts, we know that we are much more like that first slave, who has been forgiven so much but for whom it is so hard to forgive just a little bit. And let’s face it. It is so very hard to forgive. So maybe we aren’t asking the right question—not how many times do I have to forgive, but how on earth do I do it? Yesterday, I listened to a podcast as I was running. It’s the Onbeing podcast by American Public Media—where the host Krista Tippett interviews a whole variety of people about different things that mostly have to do with faith and our common humanity. The one I listened to yesterday was an interview between Krista and a Lakota (Native American) poet named Layli Long Soldier and the interview is titled “The Freedom of Real Apologies.”i Long Soldier had written an award winning book of poetry called Whereas, which is an emotional response to the 2009 Resolution passed by the US Government apologizing to the Native American people. As I listened to the conversation between these two women yesterday, I was struck by a couple of things. First, denial is the enemy of forgiveness-both in the giving and in the receiving of it. If we cannot admit that we have wounded someone or been wounded ourselves, then forgiveness cannot be offered or received. (That is part of what is so ridiculous about Jesus’s parable—that the first slave is in complete denial about how much he has been forgiven already when he refuses to forgive the other slave his relatively small debt.) Second, forgiveness happens because of and is completely woven through with grace. Long Soldier speaks about a time when her father apologized to her. She describes it as being the “the most effective and the most miraculous apology that [she]’d ever received in [her] life.” Here’s what she said about that encounter: “…When I was in my 20s, he came to visit one time and unexpectedly, he was sitting at breakfast with me and apologized for not being there. And I think there was something in the way he said it. He cried when he said it. And I could feel it, I could physically feel that he meant it. And really — and I can say this to this day — in that moment, all of it was gone. Like, all that stuff I’d been carrying around — it was gone. It was lifted. And I feel, in many ways, we started new from that point on. I really have not had the need to go back and rehash things with him and so on. We started from that place forward. We’ve known each other in a different way.” How do we forgive someone who has wounded us? First, we admit that we have been wounded. Then, we pray for God’s grace to forgive. I don’t think it is something that we can really do on our own. For most of us, are hearts are too hardened, too wounded. But God has already forgiven each one of us so very much, and God will grant us a portion of God’s grace to forgive one who has wronged us if we are open enough to ask for that. So, this week, I invite you to reflect on where you are on your journey to forgive one person who has wounded you. If you are ready to begin to forgive, then pray for that one person every day this week, and also pray daily that God will give you the grace to forgive. And then wait and trust that God will give you what you need in God’s time. i.https://onbeing.org/programs/layli-long-soldier-the-freedom-of-real-apologies-mar2017/
Thursday, August 31, 2017
13th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 17A September 3, 2017 I subscribe to a daily email meditation that is written by a Roman Catholic, Franciscan priest named Richard Rohr. This past week, I was reading the meditation for the day, and I was struck when I read the words that Rohr wrote. He wrote that he thinks that Christians have “not been taught how to live in hope.” Hmm, I wondered, is that really true? Christians have not been taught how to live in hope? In our reading from Romans today, Paul seems to be giving the early Christians in Rome a laundry list for discipleship: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all…” And while hope is certainly mentioned and is an important part of this lists for disciples, he doesn’t really give much instruction on how to do it. I mean, think about it for a second. Have you ever been taught how to live in hope? In our gospel reading for today, we see Matthew’s gospel focusing on Jesus’s teaching that is specifically for his disciples. We go from Peter’s triumphant confession of last week, when Jesus names him as the “rock” upon which Jesus will build his church, to Peter’s utter failure (of understanding, or nerve) this week when Jesus refuses to listen to him because he will not allow anything to come between himself and his understanding of his mission. We see, in this week’s gospel, the paradox of Peter going from being a “rock” to “a stumbling block.” But what on earth does all this have to do with how Christians learn how to hope? What Rohr is getting at, I think, is that learning to hope involves a cultivation and a strengthening of our ability to live with paradox. He talks about Noah’s ark, and the paradox of all the opposites that were contained therein: animals and people, wild and domestic, the crawling and the flying, the clean and the unclean, male and female. And God takes all those seeming opposites and locks them into the ark all together. Rohr writes, “God puts all the natural animosities together and holds them in one place. I used to think it was about balancing all the opposites within me [he continues], but slowly I have learned it is actually holding things in their seemingly un-reconciled state that widens and deepens the soul. We must allow things to be only partly resolved, without perfect closure or explanation…God’s gathering of contraries is, in fact, the very school of salvation, the school of love. That’s where growth happens: in honest community and committed relationships. Love is learned in the encounter with ‘otherness.’” Each of us, like Peter, is a mixture of light and dark; fear and faithfulness; kindness and unkindness; stumbling block and rock. The wideness of God’s mercy is that all of our paradoxes are contained and held together in God. We cultivate hope when we learn to live with those paradoxes in ourselves and in each other, and we cultivate hope when we learn to forgive reality for not turning out the way that we think it should. I’ve been thinking over the last couple of weeks about a man named Will Campbell. Campbell was a native Mississippian, a Southern Baptist preacher, a writer and a farmer in TN. I’ve been thinking about Will Campbell lately because he was someone who marched and worked with Dr. King in the Civil Rights movement, and later in life, he believed that God was calling him to minister to KKK members. I’ve always wondered how he was able to work with and relate to those polar opposites, and I’ve been pondering that lately in the light of current events. I think that the answer must be that Campbell recognized that we are, each and every one of us, a mix of paradoxes ourselves, and to follow Jesus faithfully in this paradox that is discipleship, we’ve got to learn to love and forgive each other. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” So, this week, I want you to think about what opposites exist in your own soul that you might rather not acknowledge? What opposites can you imagine might exist in the heart of one you might consider to be your enemy or your adversary? What aspect of your life do you need to offer to God to ask God to help you forgive your reality for not turning out the way that you thought it should? In closing, I’d like to share with you a short blessing by the Roman Catholic priest John O’Donohue from his book To Bless the Space Between Us. To Come Home to Yourself May all that is unforgiven in you Be released. May your fears yield Their deepest tranquilities. May alll that is unlived in you Blossom into a future Graced with love. Amen.
Thursday, August 24, 2017
12th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 16A August 27, 2017 When I was a little girl, my father would drive me to school every day on his way to work. We were often running late, but my dad developed playful rituals to help manage our worry about my being tardy, and these playful rituals were infused with magic and fun. He convinced my 6-7 year old self that I had the power to change the red light that would slow our progress to school by saying, “Light, Change!” And we were both delighted when it would work (often with cues from him for the timing). When we would finally arrive at school, as I would get out of the car, Dad would usually say to me, “Have a great day today, and pass it on!” I thought about this daily encouragement this week, as I found myself saying these same worlds to my children as they walked out the door one day on the way to school: “have a great day today, and pass it on!” At our best, this is what we, as parents, impart to our children: their belief in themselves that, no matter how little they may feel at times, they have the power to change the world! But many of us lose this confidence as we age (or perhaps we never had it to begin with). Think about it. When was the last time that you thought that you had the power to change the world? As we grow up, the world knocks us down and around, roughs us up a bit, and we may stop believing that we can create any kind of change for the good. But I am here to tell you today that you CAN change the world. In our reading from Exodus today, we get a glimpse of two ordinary women, Shifra and Pua’h. Up until this week, I had never given these women a second thought. But in our story for today, we see that these two women, these two midwives, make a choice to defy the decree of the Pharoah, and by their actions, they changed the world. Because they refused to kill the Hebrew boys when they were born, Moses was able to be born, and he was used as God’s instrument to free God’s people who had become enslaved in Egypt. Shifra and Pua’h, two ordinary women, changed the world. And then there is Peter. In our gospel for this week, we see Peter making his confession before Jesus and all the other disciples that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus calls Peter blessed and tells him and the others that this truth has been revealed to Peter by God, and he tells Peter that he will be the rock upon which Jesus will build his church. In this one moment, Peter sees clearly, and he proclaims boldly who he sees Jesus to be. His confession changes and will continue to change Peter and the world. I remember the first time I heard a person’s confession. Now I’m not talking about a confession of sin, like in our rite for the reconciliation of a penitent. I’m talking about who that person believes Jesus to be and why she follows Jesus. It was in my first parish, in the middle of a Wednesday night Lenten study. I don’t remember all the words that this woman used, but I remember her passion, and it just about brought me to my knees. And I remember that she did say that she chose to follow Jesus because she was a much better person when she was trying to follow Jesus’s teachings than she would be otherwise. Her confession of faith change me, and it helped me to understand that this old church is alive with the power of the Spirit (as one of our hymns puts it—the spirit’s power shakes the church of God) when we are serious in pursuing God as revealed through Jesus “the Messiah, son of the living God.” So, I have an assignment for you all this week. I challenge you to pay attention, to try to find at least one person whose world you can change by your attention or your kindness this week. (For you overachievers out there, like me, you can try this practice daily, if you’d like!) Find one person whose world you can change for the better by your kindness---the grocery store clerk who you actually look in the eye and smile at; the child to whom you offer kindness or forgiveness when you could offer frustration; the person who cut you off in traffic who you could give an angry honk to but choose silence and a forgiving wave instead; praying for the one who has harmed you instead of returning evil for evil….You will know when the opportunities present themselves, if you are looking for them, paying attention. One of my Facebook friends posted a quote this week from Mother Theresa that was an important reminder for me: “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” Friends, we are all a part of God’s family, and our work is loving the world, one family member at a time. So… “Have a great week, and pass it on!”
Thursday, August 17, 2017
11th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 15A August 20, 2017 I’ve been thinking a lot about belonging this week. The need to belong seems to me to be a basic human need, hardwired into us for our survival in the early years of our existence. Most of us have families in which we belong, communities responsible for our care and our nurture until we are able to take care of ourselves. But beyond this sort of evolutionary requirement, we as humans seem to seek out community in which to belong. Recent studies have shown that belonging is an essential component of our health, our happiness, our interest, and our motivation. Each and every one of us, whether we admit it or not, needs to belong. Our lectionary readings for today seem to be wrestling with this. Joseph, who is the apple of his father’s eye, is torn from his family in which he is secure in his belonging, sold as a slave in Egypt, where God works with him to create a new purpose--a new sort of belonging for him. When given the opportunity to punish his brothers for their horrible treatment of him, Joseph chooses forgiveness, and he invites them and his father into a new way of belonging with him in his new life of power and success in Egypt. In today’s portion from Paul’s letter to the Christian community in Rome, Paul is wrestling with whether or not the Jews, God’s chosen people, belong in God’s new kingdom that is being revealed through the person of Jesus Christ. Paul comes to the conclusion that God stubbornly holds on to all of God’s beloved people, writing that “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew…for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (We are reminded of God’s stubbornness in holding fast to each of us every time we have a baptism, and we see the newly baptized being “marked as Christ’s own forever”.) In the gospel reading for today, we see Jesus wrestling with this notion of belonging. He has a very definite understanding of what his mission is and who he is being sent to. When he is approached by the Canaanite woman, he does not mince words. He tells her that she and her people do not have a place in his mission. But the woman is not content with the response, and she stubbornly demands belonging—in the form of healing for her sick child—from Jesus, and he gives it to her, in a manner of speaking. So the good news is that each and every one of us belongs to God. We have been claimed as God’s beloved at our creation, and marked as Christ’s own forever at our baptism. This calling and claiming of each of us as God’s beloved is irrevocable. Nothing that we can do can or will ever change it. But for whatever reason, we don’t always feel like we belong. And much of the heartache in this world happens when we act out of a place of fear—where we don’t feel that we belong. And much heartache and hurt has happened in this world of late because many people do not feel that they belong in the church. (Now please note that I’m not talking about this church specifically. I’m talking about the church with a capital C—the Christian church in general.) People are slipping away from churches and many more people than ever before have no religious affiliation. (There are so many that people who study church demographics have coined a new word for these folks who have no church affiliation. They call them the “nones.”) I believe that you all want to grow and re-energize this church. And we are united together in that mission. But before we begin doing that work, we need to spend some time and some work in looking at how we create a culture of belonging in this place. And to do that, I need to hear from you (because I have only belonged here for such a very short time). So, here’s what we’re going to do. I have a few questions for you about your sense of belonging here. In a couple of minutes, I’m going to ask the ushers to pass these questions out to you. It is totally up to you whether or not you put your name on it; whether or not you even fill them out. Only I will actually see these, although I may share some of the most pertinent points with the vestry when we do our planning retreat—all anonymous. But I encourage you to spend some time reflecting on this, because in order to grow and re-energize, which we all want to do, we need to understand what our special gifts are in cultivating a spirit of belonging here and we also need to understand what our challenges are. Once you fill these out, you can mail them to me; scan and email them to me (my new email address is on the back of the bulletin), drop them in the collection plate, or drop them by the office. Here are the questions I want you to think about and respond to. 1. Do you feel welcome at this church? 2. What makes you feel welcome? 3. What has made you feel not welcome? 4. What do you most love about being here? 5. What's gets in your way?i I’ll give you some time to think, pray about and reflect on these before we move on in the service. i. These questions came from a blog post by David Lose: http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1598