On Cuisine and Community…

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mac-and-cheese

Photo credit:  whoneedsacape.com/2016/10/italian-mac-cheese/

This weekend, I made a family recipe from my husband’s grandfather.  Though Grandpa Gray is no longer with us, somehow, making this recipe for the first time in a long while flooded me with all kinds of memories.  You see, Italian Mac was the family’s favorite dish – the ultimate comfort food.  One year, I finally asked for the recipe and stayed with Grandpa Gray in the kitchen while he made it.  Now, as I look at the words of the recipe, I can hear his beautiful voice in the words.  As I crush the herbs as he instructed, I can imagine his worn hands doing the same thing.  As our house fills with the aromas of Italian Mac and garlic bread, I can remember the smell of his house.  As I sip the red wine that the recipe suggests I pair with the meal, I can recall the comforting sound of his laughter.

Food has a special power.  Whenever I have been on mission trips, food has created intimate connection.  In Honduras, we all took turns helping the women of the village cook for our team.  After ten minutes of attempting to grind corn, we were all laughing at how much stronger the women were than the men who were lifting bricks to build the church.  On my second visit to Costa Rica, I wanted to learn how to make the beans and rice we ate regularly.  The women were surprised that I was willing to get up early with them and learn.  After that morning, our relationship shifted.  In Myanmar, giggles and laughter ensued as we tried new foods and our hosts appreciated our boldness.

The same is true of the Eucharist.  I have been in churches that use grape juice and a small cube of pasty, crunchy “bread.”  I remember the splendor of the sweet Hawaiian bread used at another church.  I remember the first time I had real wine at communion, and the way that it burned down my throat, lighting a new fire in me.  Whether baked bread, bland wafers, or store-purchased pita bread, each texture and flavor imprints in my mind the church, the community, the spiritual place where I was at the time.  Even this weekend, at my goddaughter’s baptism, my own daughter commented on the “yucky” communion bread they had.  I would have just said it was dense, but that dense texture will linger in my mind as my reminder of our celebration.

Holy Eucharist is the comfort food of Church.  That is why I love being a part of a sacramental church that has Eucharist every Sunday.  But the Church offers other comfort foods as well.  The pancakes we eat every Shrove Tuesday remind me of years of fellowship and laughter – with communities all over the East Coast.  The Brunswick Stew of the Fall Festival at Hickory Neck will always remind me of warmth and community.  There are those dishes at every potluck that you search for, knowing the comfort it will bring.  And of course, there is the Sunday morning coffee – a staple of hospitality and grace.  If you have been missing a sense of community and comfort, I hope you will make your way to Church this week and join us in the feast that not only comforts us, but also strengthens us for the journey.  God has given us great work to do – but God has also given us the sustenance we need for the road ahead.

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Photo credit:  stthomasnorwalk.com/religious-ed/sacraments/Eucharist

On hitting our stride…

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family-service-1This weekend, our Vestry gathered for a retreat.  Only a few things were on the agenda:  getting to know each other better (nothing like filling out some Lent Madness brackets to help you get to know someone!), defining who we are as a community, and looking forward to where we are going.  The weekend was a wonderful combination of laughter, reflection, quiet, conversation, dreaming, and planning.  I am reminded once again how blessed we are by the diverse, talented group of leaders who are helping guide our parish into its next phase of life.

One of the things we did on our retreat was to watch a video about Hickory Neck from 2004.  As a relative newcomer to Hickory Neck, it was fascinating to see so many familiar faces (don’t worry – you all still look fabulous!), to hear what was energizing the community back then, and to see what the goals and dreams were.  The video was produced to prepare Hickory Neck for a capital campaign which would support the construction of our New Chapel.  Despite the intent to raise funds, you still could hear clearly what Hickory Neck was about, and where it was going.

What I loved about watching the video was seeing how much things have changed, and how some things have not changed at all.  We are still a community of hope, joy, and belonging.  We still love to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, we are still journeying toward deeper relationship with God and our neighbor, and we still want to be beacon of light to our neighbors in need.  And yet, since the video was created, the economy has changed, technology has changed, and demographics have changed.  Our work now is listening to the new ways God is calling us to be faithful disciples to a world in need of redemption.

This is an exciting time for Hickory Neck.  These last ten months, we have been alternately jogging, sprinting, and trying to match each other’s pace.  As we wrap up this first year together, we are hitting a rhythmic stride together.  We have learned a lot more about each other, figured out how to adjust for each other’s gifts and talents, and are now getting ready to take off.  It’s an exciting time and the fun is just beginning.  If you haven’t met Hickory Neck yet, I would encourage you to come on over and check us out.  You won’t be disappointed!  And if you have been around a bit, I think you are going to be pleased to be a part of this next phase of life and ministry together.  God has great things in store!

Sermon – Isaiah 58.1-12, EP5, YA, February 5, 2017

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In about three and half weeks we will gather in the Historic Chapel for Ash Wednesday services.  In the liturgy for Ash Wednesday, the priest invites us into the “observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”  I don’t know about you, but this invitation always makes me a little nervous.  The truth is, I am terrible at fasting.  I have often blamed the issue on low blood-sugar.  But really, I just hate the way not eating makes me feel.  I get cranky, I cannot focus on work, and I just want to crawl into bed.  And what makes fasting worse is that we get scriptural passages that warn us about grimacing while fasting – that we should go so far as to put oil on our faces so that we look shiny and happy during our fasting.

Knowing my utter sense of failure at my inability to engage in the most holy of spiritual practices, I confess that I was secretly pleased to read our text from Isaiah today.  The people of Israel have become quite good at fasting and pious worship.  We are told that day after day the Israelites come to God in worship, delighting to know more about God, and fasting like righteous followers of God.  They even bow down and lie in sackcloth and ashes.  They are the epitome of penitential Lenten worshippers.  Except for one small, teeny, tiny problem.  Despite their devotional fasting and their fervent prayers, God is angry with the Israelites.  You see, while the Israelites are piously engaging in reverent, penitential worship, their hired hands are working under their oppressive orders.  While they have been perfecting reverential bows, there are hungry, homeless, naked, impoverished peoples just outside their doors.  Oblivious, the Israelites complain to God, “Why do we fast, but you do not see?  Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”  God’s response is a brutal question:  Why are you here?

In polite Episcopal circles, we do not often ask that question:  Why are you here?  We might ask a visitor a much softer version of that question, “What brings you to Hickory Neck?”  But we almost never ask a regular or long-time church member, “Why are you here?”  I think part of why we do not ask someone else that question is because we are afraid someone will ask us that question.  We are afraid to be asked that question because the question feels like a trick.  If I say I am here because I want peace or comfort, does that make me a passive, self-serving Christian?  If I say I am here because I enjoy the community, does that mean my church is more like a country club than a church?  If I admit that I do not know why I am in church this morning other than a strange longing somewhere deep inside me, does that mean that my worship is superficial or doomed for ambiguity?

The scary part about our anxiety around that question, “Why are you here today,” is that God has a very clear response before we or the Israelites can even answer the question.  God says that if we do not come to worship to be changed, we are doing something wrong.  As one scholar argues, Isaiah’s words today tell us that, “Worship without justice has no value in the eyes of God.”[i]   For Isaiah, a gap has formed between the faithful’s seeking God and God’s ways and their actual way of life.  What Isaiah wants the people to know is that fasting, prayer, and worship are all well and good, but without some connection to the other 167 hours of their week, their worship, their fasting, their relationship with God is hollow.  Now, God is not telling us that worship is inherently bad or self-serving.  As another scholar points out, “worship is the most important thing we do together.  It is the place that forms us into the people of God.  It is the place where we inhale God’s love and grace, so that,” and here comes the important part, “so that we can be sent forth to exhale God’s love and grace in a broken world in need of redemption.”[ii]

One of the things that attracted me to Hickory Neck was the wide variety in styles of worship.  On any given Sunday, I can pray the Prayer of Humble Access in the midst of a quiet Rite I liturgy; I can belt out a praise song that is so familiar I don’t need to look at the words; I can chant the Eucharistic Prayer while the Choral Scholars respond with beautiful, precise, haunting harmonies; or I can sing a version of the Lord’s Prayer that my seven-year old daughter has learned by memory.  I love the variety of expressions of worship here, and love our unique gift that is rare in most parishes.  But variety can be dangerous.  Variety means bringing together people who don’t necessarily revel in the differences.  There will be people who only come to our early service because they find music to be a distraction.  There will be people who only come to the late service because anything other than traditional Anglican music interferes with their worship.  And there will be people who only like the middle service because they can let their hair down and be themselves.  Slowly, what is meant to be the gift of variety becomes a competition for the best – the most holy, most reverent, most relatable, most “of God.”  But what all that comparison leads to is not deeper relationship with God.  That comparison leads us to focus on the worship as an end unto itself, instead of as a means “right relationship.”[iii]

In order to get to the point of fasting or worship, God tells the Israelites to redefine fasting.  Instead of abstaining from food or drink, the fast God desires, “is outreach to those in need, which involves not only feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and caring for one’s own, but also addressing the attitudes and structures responsible for injustices.”[iv]  In the Episcopal Church, we have codified this redefinition of fasting in our dismissal.  We take all of our prayers, all of learning, all of our confessions, and all of our feasting and we say, “Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.”  In other words, we give ourselves the beauty of worship, and then remind ourselves of the point of that worship – right relationship with God and our neighbor.  I have often thought the church needs the words of the dismissal painted above the Narthex door, so that as each of us departs this space, we can jump up and slap the words – much life a sports team entering the arena who slaps a slogan or the team name.  Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

Now some of you may be thinking about this radical redefinition of fasting and this question of why we are here in worship, and be wondering, “Can’t I just give up some food and call it a day?!?  Can’t I just sit in worship and not worry about why I am here?!?”  You may know well that righting relationships with God and neighbor is a lot harder than a day’s worth of sacrificing food or just showing up on Sunday.  But before you get too anxious, listen again to Isaiah’s words about what happens when we enter the kind of fast God prefers, “The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.  Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.”  God’s work is never too difficult – exhaling God’s love and grace in a broken world in need of redemption is as easy as breathing in the love and grace we inhale every Sunday.  The promise of God’s blessing is waiting – we just need to breathe.  Amen.

[i] Carol J. Dempsey, “Theological Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. A, Vol. 1 (Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 314.

[ii] Andrew Foster Connors, “Pastoral Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. A, Vol. 1 (Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 316.

[iii] Dempsey, 316.

[iv] Dempsey, 316.

On Staying at the Table…

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Yesterday morning, I heard a statistic that said 57% of Americans supported Trump’s current immigration ban.  The number surprised me because I had watched all weekend as people poured into airports and joined protests against the Executive Order.  Perhaps one could argue that the press loves to cover controversy and made the hype feel bigger than the numbers.  Regardless, watching the passionate, immediate, and spontaneous emergence of protests, I was surprised to hear such support in opposition to the protestors’ visceral response.  As I thought about that contradiction, I realized that there must be some part of the supporters’ position that I do not understand.

I have been thinking a lot this past week about how we are going to move through this tense time as a country.  One of the constant refrains I have been hearing is about how we need to listen – really listen – to each other and engage in meaningful conversation with the “other.”  I have appreciated articles like this one, that present a point of view without comment, which is one form of really listening.  But I have not been sure how I would go about engaging in these conversations myself.  But, as God often does, I have found it happening in spite of me.

Last week, Hickory Neck joined another Episcopal Church to host an emergency winter shelter week.  I volunteered for an evening shift.  During dinner, I found that the conversation between guests and volunteers slipped into a conversation about politics.  My initial instinct was to shut the conversation down – worrying I might step on some toes.  But I took a deep breath and tried to do what I kept hearing about – listen.  The points of view varied widely among our homeless guests and our parishioners.  Some points of view were extreme – on both sides!  And some of the things we shared I worried would cause alienation between my parishioners and I.  But we all stayed at the table.

That’s one of the things I have always loved about the Episcopal Church – we stay at the table.  Every week we bring our opposing views, our sinful hearts, and poor hearing to the table, and kneel side-by-side, remember whose we are, and go out into the world renewed and made whole.  Our table fellowship at dinner that night was not a Eucharistic meal.  But the results were quite similar.  As my volunteer shift ended, we shook hands, we looked each other in the eye, and we nodded in mutual respect.  Our conversation did not change the world.  But hopefully it changed each of us just a little.  And that may be the most we can hope for – small changes, made possible by staying at the table.  On Sundays, the church shows us how.  Our job is to create table opportunities as often as we can throughout the week.

life-changing-table

Photo credit:  www.boundless.org/life-changing-power-of-table/

On Roots and Relationships…

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ficus_roots_tree

Photo credit:  www.arborcentre.co.uk/tree-root-subsidence-damage.html

I recently started a new yoga class.  Over the years I have learned that every yoga teacher has their own language and philosophy about the practice.  I had a teacher who used to tell us that when we are feeling discomfort, we shouldn’t label it as “pain” but “awareness.”  We had tons of fun talking about how much awareness I was having as I labored with my first child.  I had another teacher who was also a priest.  Instead of saying that he honored the “light” in each of us, he would say, “I honor the Christ in each of you.”  Anytime a teacher talks about honoring the light in me now, my brain automatically translates it to “Christ.”

This new teacher has added another phrase to my list of favorites – an image, actually.  Like many other teachers, when we practice “tree” pose she has us imagine our legs as having roots that extend deeply into the earth, grounding us.  But she added another element to that image.  As we stood there – young, old, black, white, small, and large – she asked us to imagine our roots intermingling with one another’s roots.  She went on to explain how we are stronger with our interwoven roots than we are on our own.  I immediately regarded the people in that room differently – wondering what their stories were, what brought them to that room, and what about our differences and similarities might make us stronger – what might make our community stronger.

I left that room feeling a sense of embrace and comradery.  I felt the power of all the students in the class carrying me through the day.  But in the weeks since then, and especially in light of our current political climate, I have found myself wondering what it might mean that my roots are interwoven with those who are not like me at all.  What if my roots are tied in with those who disagree with me, who marginalize those I support, and who seem to be working against what I stand for?

The realization reminded me of Jesus’ parable of the weeds (Matthew 13.24-30).  A man sows good seed in his field, but in the night, an enemy sows weeds among the good seed.  The man’s workers want to know if they should pull the weeds, but the farmer knows pulling the weeds will destroy the wheat.  So they must wait until the harvest time to separate the good from the evil.  Now, before you go too far, thinking you know who are the wheat and the weeds, two things.  First, it is God who makes those judgments in the parable.  But second, the wheat cannot survive without the weeds among it.  You might imagine the wheat tolerates the weeds, but I wonder if the weeds make the wheat better – challenge the wheat to be wise, discerning, and strong.  And perhaps the wheat encourages the weeds to do likewise.  I think my yogi’s description of intertwining roots applies.  We are stronger tied together than trying to remove ourselves or ignore the roots around us.  My prayer for us this week is that we start looking at the diversity of our intertwined roots and work toward engagement, discernment, and relationship – instead of hacking away at roots that might be our own.

Sermon – Matthew 4.12-23, Isaiah 9.1-4, Psalm 27.1, EP3, YA, January 22, 2017

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Our family loves maps.  Of course, Scott and I grew up in a time when paper maps were the only kind of maps.  Since I moved around a lot and he traveled a lot, we both learned to pour over maps.  As a couple, we had road atlases for every major city in which we lived.  Looking over maps helps us understand where we are going, how different areas connect, and what the big picture is.

What you do not get from maps are the stories behind the lines.  When I lived and worked in Durham, NC, working among the hungry and poor, I soon learned more about the roads I had seen on the map.  You see, a highway cuts through Durham and was put there many years ago.  Before the highway came, there was a thriving African American community, with many small businesses.  The highway cut through the neighborhoods and businesses, dividing people from one another socially, displacing longtime community leaders, and devastating many small businesses.  The highway was essentially like tossing a small bomb into the neighborhood – without ever letting the neighborhood rebuild.  But you do not learn that kind of information from the thick blue line that conveniently cuts through town and gets you from point A to point B much faster.

Our gospel lesson today tries to give us that same kind of insight.  What sounds like a basic cartography lesson quickly becomes a socio-political lesson.  Matthew tells us, “When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.  He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali…”  Most of us hear all those town and territory names and tune out.  We keep racing forward, looking for the action in the story.  Now the map lovers among us might pull out one of those bibles with a map and pinpoint Galilee, Nazareth, and Capernaum.  We probably won’t find the territories of Zebulun and Naphtali on the same map, but we figure we at least have a mental picture of the setting.

In this case, skimming means we miss Matthew’s subtlety.  You see, we could certainly find Galilee, Nazareth, and Capernaum on a map relative to Jesus’ day.  But the reason we don’t see the territories of Zebulun and Naphtali is because that is the land of Abraham’s sons – over 700 years prior to the time Jesus lived.  The land of Zebulun and Naphtali represent a land that was once promised land, but for centuries has been a land of unfulfilled promise.[i]  The Assyrians were the first to conquer the land.  But they were followed by Babylon, the Persians, the Greeks, and eventually the Romans.  That kind of perpetual occupation and oppression does something to your psyche.  Generations upon generations have lived under the shadow of a dream deferred.  They have lived in darkness.

Long before Jesus, Isaiah prophesied that things would change.  We hear in Isaiah speaking that very promise today.  “There will be no gloom for those who were in anguish,” Isaiah says.  “In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness–on them light has shined.”  To this place – this place where grandparent after grandparent promised their grandchildren that we would know a brighter future – to this place of darkness, Jesus goes to start his ministry.  What seems like a superfluous geographical information is actually of singular importance in understanding what Jesus is about.  The particularity of his ministry matters.  Where he goes as God made manifest says something about the kind of kingdom that is inbreaking.  His location – a land of longstanding darkness – will become a land of great light.  His location will be the place where the people of God can actually pray the psalm we prayed today, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?  The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?”

This week has been a loaded week.  We started off by honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose passionate pleas for justice for all inspired a nation.  Dr. King understood how much location mattered.  His march from Selma to Montgomery meant something to the people who lived in Alabama at the time.  His references to freedom ringing from the mountains of New York, the Alleghenies of Pennsylvania, the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado, the curvaceous slopes of California highlighted how different regions of our country experienced racism.[ii]  He understood the value of geography when he gave his “I have a dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial – a president who presided at the time of the Civil War.  And his famous speech there inspired thousands of men and women to walk yesterday in the same location – because they knew that in order to talk about injustice, you go to the most famous place where speeches about injustice have been offered.  Even the inauguration this week in front of the Capitol Building in DC signified something – that no matter how we felt about this presidential election, the new president would do what every president has done – be sworn in just like all the others.  The location mattered.

I highlight all of this because I know many of us read these texts today and are feeling like we are in a place of darkness.  Some of us see our new President as bringing in a new era of light.  But others among us see the opposite – some of us here feel like we have welcomed in a new oppressor who will keep us in the darkness.  As I have prayed with you all this week – both in person, in conversation, and in my private prayers, I kept going back to the geographical lesson of Jesus and the beginning of his ministry.  If geography matters, what does that mean for us?  Where do we see the light dawning in our time?

No matter which candidate was yours last year, I keep remembering that no candidate would have been the bearer of the light.  Only Christ does that.  But that does not mean any of us are off the hook.  Democrats or Republicans, Southerners or Non-Southerners, Women or Men – God positions each of us in a particular geography with a particular mission to bring light to where God has planted us.  Whether you are thrilled or devastated by the state of our country’s leadership, God tells us today that our work is not done.[iii]

We often say about Hickory Neck that our mission is to keep burning our light on the hill.  This hill that we are planted on has a history too.  Over 200 years ago, the people who lived and witnessed to Jesus on this hill left.  They sided with the British and the British lost.  Talk about a devastated people!  But the light never went out.  Students came to this hill to learn and grow and play their part in this location’s narrative.  Soldiers and medics came to this hill to tend the sick, mend the wounded, and bury the dead during the Civil War.  When that war was over, students came back, to continue their learning and formation.  And, around 100 years ago, the people of God came back to this hill to start shining Christ’s light again.

Knowing that we have been planted on this hill in this time has given me hope.  No matter how divided we are as a country – no matter how divided we are within these very walls – God has asked us to be light on this hill.  That means that when our neighbors are freezing in the cold nights of winter, we are going to open our doors, cook some meals, pull some all-nighters, and witness Christ’s light and love.  That means when we start developing our vision for Hickory Neck, we are not looking for a vision for St. Swithins of anyplace, USA.[iv]  We are going to be looking at how we can make an impact on Toano, Upper James City County, Williamsburg, and Southern Virginia.  Whether we build that multigenerational day center or we find something else that matters to this particular geography, our location is part and parcel of our work to bring the light of Christ out into the world.

The darkness that many of us feel about our country is not likely to dissipate any time soon.  But that darkness does not eliminate our hope.  Our ancestors walked in the darkness for over seven centuries before the light of Christ came to them.  Our own country – from its treatment of native peoples to enslaved Africans – has been a land of darkness despite the many reminders of the light.  We can become overwhelmed in the vast story of history.  But our hope is in our geography – the current moment and place where God has placed us to beacons of hope and agents of change.  This space, with its many windows that pour in light, is meant to be a place that warms you by Christ’s light every week.  But this place is also a place that needs to shine its light off the hill – to be an agent for change, compassion, and care.   Our invitation this week is to drop our nets, and to take up our work being agents of light on this hill and beyond.  Amen.

[i] Karoline Lewis, “Mapping God’s Promises,” January 15, 2017, as found at http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4796 on January 18, 2017.

[ii] Lewis.

[iii] Fritz Wendt, “The Politics of Inauguration and Surrender—Matthew 4:12-23,” January 17, 2017, as found at http://www.politicaltheology.com/blog/the-politics-of-inauguration-and-surrender-matthew-412-23-fritz-wendt/ on January 18, 2017.

[iv] Lewis.

On Patience and Humanity…

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Our youngest recently graduated to a “big girl” bed, which means that she now officially refuses to stay in it for sleeping.  Since she discovered her new freedom, we have spent anywhere from twenty minutes to two hours trying to get her to sleep.  We have tried everything – a predictable routine of bath, book, rocking, and bed.  We have tried gently returning her to her room, with limited conversation.  We have tried insisting she put herself back to bed (this one almost never succeeds).  And of course, we have raised our voices many a time – not exactly the best remedy to get someone to go to sleep.  There have been tears (hers and ours), arguments, and desperation.  We keep reminding ourselves that this is a phase, but when you are in the thick of a phase, it can be hard to see straight.

I was bemoaning our situation this weekend, wondering why she doesn’t just go to sleep.  Clearly she is tired, and she feels better when she is rested.  But logic is not her strong suit right now.  In the midst of my frustration, it occurred to me that this must be a little taste of God’s relationship with us.  Surely God knows what is best for us, and would love for us to follow God’s will.  And yet, we are stubborn.  We want to do things our way, and we want to be in control.  Sometimes it occurs to us to go to God in prayer, seeking guidance.  But most of the time we are so fixed on what we want and what we think is best, we rarely look to God.  God gives us the gift of free will, and with that comes the mess of human decisions and actions.

Thinking about God’s infinite patience with my own stubbornness has made me wonder if I might take a deep breath and try to offer that same patience with my little one.  I often find that when I take that breath, imagining God’s lens of patience, I am able to see my child’s frustration, her longing for independence, and her confusion.  Seeing her humanity makes my heart much more generous.  Thinking about God’s infinite patience has also made me wonder to whom else I could extend a little more patience.  Perhaps it is the friend or family member who feels like a perpetual burden.  Perhaps it is a colleague or fellow volunteer who refuses our advice.  Or perhaps, and maybe even more frustrating lately, it is that elected official for whom we may or may not have voted.  If God can love us, honor our humanity, and abide with us, surely we might be able to share the same love, honor, and patience – even if it sometimes makes us crazy!  I promise to pray for you as you endeavor to follow God’s example – as long as you pray for me too!

gods-patience

Photo credit:  www.ottawacoc.org/sermons/393261-gods-patience/

Sermon – John 1.29-42, EP2, YA, January 15, 2017

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A little over a year ago, I got an email from the Search Committee at Hickory Neck, asking me to think about submitting my name for consideration as Rector.  They detailed how they obtained my name and several reasons why I should consider applying.  “Oh, and by the way,” they said, “the deadline is in one week.”  I remember experiencing a wave of emotions from that email.  But the first cogent thought I had next was, “Well, I better go and see what they are all about.”  I spent the next twenty-four hours pouring over the available information.  I could not really explain why, but I knew I wanted to know more.

That is how most of the discernment process went.  In various ways, Hickory Neck kept saying to me, “Come and see.”  And I kept saying, “Okay.”  When confidants would ask what I liked about Hickory Neck, I had a hard time explaining my experience.  All I could say was that something about Hickory Neck was very compelling to me.  With every email, phone call, interview, or visit – I wanted to know more, to see more, to connect more.  Each, “Come and see,” had a note of expectancy, hope, and promise.  And every time I came and saw, I wanted to experience more.

The first followers of Jesus are drawn to Jesus in a similar fashion.  In our gospel lesson today, John the Baptist keeps pointing to Jesus, trying to convince those around him that they have got to go check out this Jesus character.[i]  Three times John basically says, “Come and see this Jesus!”  Jesus himself engages others with a similar invitation.  He asks what the seekers are looking for, and when they answer, Jesus says, “Come and see.”  Jesus does not talk about himself at length, or even really answer the questions of John’s disciples.  He simply invites them to “Come and see.”  One of John’s disciples, Andrew, after going and seeing Jesus, turns and does the same thing – he grabs his brother, and says to him, “Come and see.”  He does not give an elaborate explanation.  He brings his brother to Jesus and shows him so that his brother can see too.

We do the same today through the vehicle of our Annual Meeting.  Now, for many people, the Annual Meeting is code for the boring business of church.  The same thing happens every year:  we elect Vestry members, look at the budget, and hear about the state of the church.  Some years we might actually be interested in the reports – certainly last year we were eager to hear news from our Search Committee.  But most years, the Annual Meeting is sounds about as exciting as the title.

Perhaps the problem is simply the title – perhaps we should call today our Annual Celebration or our annual Come-and-See Party.  Because that is what our Annual Meeting really is:  a chance for us to come together and see the good work that Jesus is doing in our midst.  In 2016 alone, Jesus set our hearts on fire.  There were the obvious things:  new leadership being installed and ordained; good friends and leaders being sent off to new adventures; hungry, cold neighbors using these walls for shelter and protection; children, youth, and adults finding new inspiration, learning, and joy in their journey; curious visitors becoming brothers and sisters in our growing community; monies, food, and supplies being raised and collected for our neighbors in need; homebound members being brought into our midst through our Eucharistic Visitors; new worship experiences that touched our hearts and sparked something fresh in us; social media giving us tools to invite, welcome, and connect with seekers in our community; witnesses that inspired us to live generously and dream new dreams; laughter, tears, and songs bouncing off these walls; and all manner of traffic on our grounds – from people with gardening tools, to people with casseroles and Brunswick stew, to people with beloved pets, to brides and babies in white gowns, to old friends in caskets, to blue grass musicians.  And all of those obvious things do not even touch the not so obvious things:  the faithful parishioners who gather weekly in prayer, meditation, and study; the quiet volunteers who send cards, make calls, and visit hospitals; the parishioners who watch small children so their parents can worship; the women who clean the silver, polish the brass, and arrange the flowers; the men who rearrange furniture, hang greens, and cook meals; the children who teach us, inspire us, and lead us in worship; the youth who lead us in song, who ask hard questions, and call us to authenticity; and the brave who keep bugging their neighbors to come and see Christ at Hickory Neck.

This past year has been a year of incredible, rich, life-giving ministry.  We see that renewed spirit in the wonderful growth in our ministry this year.  Much of what happens at our Annual Come-and-See Celebration will give us the opportunity to do just that – come and see the incredible work Jesus is doing in our community.  And the celebration of the good work of 2016 is inspiring work on our growing edges in 2017.  Today, parishioners will receive time and talent forms to prayerfully consider how Jesus is inviting us to give back to this life-giving parish.  As we look at our budget, we can celebrate how generous giving has helped us grow our staff – and how extended giving will allow us to do even more in 2017.  Seeing the many successes of our engagement in social media, we will be looking at even more ways that our online presence allows us to invite more people to come and see Christ at Hickory Neck.  Celebrating our work in feeding, clothing, and giving shelter to our neighbors will help us consider how we might encounter Christ in new and more meaningful ways with our neighbors in Upper James City County.  With the Holy Spirit blowing behind us, we are filled up with Christ’s light and ready to shine our lights even brighter from this holy hill.

But all that we see and hear today is not just for us.  Just like John the Baptist, and Andrew and Simon Peter, when we see all that Christ is and all that Christ is doing, we cannot keep the good news to ourselves.  We do not need some lengthy explanation or some canned evangelism speech.[ii]  We do not even need to worry about what baggage others might be carrying around about Church.  All we need to do is harness those three words, “Come and see.”  Those powerful words are all we need because the light of Christ is already aglow in our faces when we talk about Hickory Neck.  I know that when I was engaged in the discernment process with the Search Committee, with words failing me, I felt that same glow.  The people, the work, the passion, the life present here fills us up with such light that all we need to do is say, “Come and see,” and others will find their way to the same joy we have found in this community.

Like any Sunday, we come together today, especially on this Annual Meeting Sunday to celebrate all that has been, all that is, and all that is yet to come.  We gather together to celebrate both our successes and our growing edges.  We assemble today to remember what about Jesus draws us in, especially in the context of this community of faith, and then to do our parts to be Johns, Andrews, and Simons, pointing the way for others, and with a twinkle in our eyes, saying, “Come, and see!”

[i][i] Rodger Y. Nishioka, “Pastoral Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. A, Vol. 1 (Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 262.

[ii] David Lose, “Epiphany 2A:  A Question, Invitation, and Promise,” January 9, 2017, as found at http://www.davidlose.net/2017/01/epiphany-2-a-a-question-invitation-and-promise/ on January 11, 2017.

Come and See!

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This past weekend, Williamsburg was hit with over a foot of snow.  Living in an area without many plows, and serving in a church without a Rectory on the campus, I knew that Sunday services at Hickory Neck would be nearly impossible.  Our parking lot did not get plowed until early Monday morning, and many of our parishioners live on rural roads.  With great disappointment, I cancelled all Sunday services.  But then my husband turned to me with a twinkle in his eye and said, “You should lead Morning Prayer on Facebook Live!”

That night I put together a video to tell people what we were going to do and where they should go to join me in worship.  And on Sunday morning, at 10:00 am, I went live.  By the time we had finished, there were over 60 views.  By the time we got to the end of the day, there were over 300 views.  By Tuesday night, there were over 700 views.  The positive feedback poured in – from our parishioners, from their neighbors, and from dozens of people who were snowed in all up and down the Atlantic coast.

As I have thought about the experience, I realized what a gift technology can be.  Isolated in homes, people were able to come together and pray the same prayers, hear the same readings, confess our sins, lift up our intercessions and thanksgivings, and give glory to God.  So often we talk about the challenge of the church is being tied to the walls of the physical building, not taking the Gospel out in the world.  Our experience on Facebook felt like a little way of getting ourselves out in the world, and sharing the beauty of worship in virtual community.

Of course, I don’t think church can always be expressed in virtual ways.  Being physically present with one another allows us to engage all our senses, to read the body language of someone who is suffering or experiencing joy, and to engage in the holy meal that brings us together despite our divisions.  But the experience certainly made me realize that we can supplement that communal physical experience with communal virtual experiences.  And once you show your neighbor that cool video from your church, then, like Jesus in our Gospel lesson this coming Sunday, you can say, “Come and see!”[i]

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Photo credit:  https://www.queertheology.com/john-1-29-42

 

[i] John 1.39.

On Sushi and Other Adventures…

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Photo credit:  www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/kitchen-hack-five-minute-maki-sushi-rolls.html

My husband and I have very different experiences of food.  I like to try new things and am constantly surprised but what things I discover and grow to love.  He is much less experimental and is easily turned off by new smells or flavors.  I love a variety of foods, and he is what I would call, “picky.”  Our differences have certainly made shared meals difficult.  I have learned to use meals with friends or colleagues as my time to play with food.  And I have also learned what common foods we like and can share on a weekly basis.

When we had children, I was desperate to instill in them a love of the varieties of food – not because I think my husband’s preferences are bad necessarily, but more because I want them to be willing to try new things.  That has meant introducing things to the kids at an early age, treating new foods like a fun experiment, and learning how to use “thank you, please” bites (a practice in which the child has to try at least one solid bite of a new food – every time it is served).  The experiment has taken time.  Things I introduced early did not go so well.  But over time, my oldest has become more and more interested in new tastes and textures.

This week, on a mommy-daughter date, I decided to try sushi again with my oldest.  She tried it once before (in a gracious, “thank you, please” bite), but I figured it had been a year or two and we could try again.  I got a sampling of sushi, and she bravely tried every kind.  She had miso soup for the first time, and proclaimed she loved it (I waited to tell her what the green stuff (seaweed) and white stuff (tofu) was until after she ate it first).  She also tried some noodles as a backup plan.   As we were wrapping up our fun lunch, my daughter said to me, “Mommy, I like trying new foods.”

I was thinking about her adventurous spirit and realized we could all use a little more willingness to try new things.  Your thing might not be food, but there might be other areas of life that you have been avoiding out of a sense of fear or trepidation.  Maybe it’s a new clothing style, a fun recreational activity, or a book.  Maybe it is a new form of prayer, an outreach opportunity, or a new style of worship or liturgical music.  As I look back at these first nine months at Hickory Neck, I realize we have both been doing a lot of experimenting – I have been trying new things and so has the parish.  Some of the changes we have loved, some have been a bit awkward, and some did not work at all.  But knowing that we are committed to the adventure has made the trying of things less intimidating – and I think more exciting!  We are probably not going to like everything we try, but a good, “thank you, please” bite won’t hurt.  Here’s to more adventures, Hickory Neck – with God, with one another, and with the world!