On Living into the Dream…

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Photo credit: https://www.cccnz.nz/intergenerational-ministry_cfm/

I served in a parish once whose strategic initiative was to grow the church.  At a leadership retreat, when the facilitator asked us about our intention to grow, a key leader said, “Well we want to grow.  But not too much.”  His words were a shock to my system.  Something I had seen as a common goal that everyone supported and for which I was working suddenly seemed to be in question.  I was left doubting how we could possibly move forward if we were not together in our sense of direction.

When I came to Hickory Neck, I was regaled with stories of this parish’s love for children.  The stories of children sitting in the window wells in the Historic Chapel (before there was a New Chapel), and toddlers crawling under the pews only to be captured and passed back overhead to mom and dad slowly became my stories.  As I learned about our surrounding community, which draws both young families and recent retirees, our collective identity and purpose became clear.  We are a multigenerational church whose entire sense of purpose is bringing together the generations to experience, glorify, and serve God in community.

So, you can imagine my shock recently when I was told that one of our families was made to feel as if they were not welcome at Hickory Neck because their children were too loud.  My dismay was two-fold.  First, I am deeply sympathetic to our families with young children.  That they have their children dressed and in church by the time worship starts is a feat so laudable they should receive gold stars at church.  Despite a desire to bring one’s family to church, I promise you, getting there and staying there is no small feat.  It can be stressful enough to make you wonder why you do it at all.

But second, I could not reconcile something so contradictory to our core values and sense of purpose.  As a church that values hospitality and living fully into its multigenerational identity, we know those things are inherently messy.  But every squeal, cry, and wiggle are the sounds of life for the church.  Every child who is loved in our space comes to know the love of Christ, every parent who is encouraged in our space comes to experience God’s grace, and every surrogate grandma, grandpa, auntie, or uncle who experiences the “noise” of church has the opportunity to know the Holy Spirit.

Claiming an identity is the easy part.  Living that identity is the hard part.  We will all have days where we fail miserably and succeed fabulously.  Just this Sunday, the same day as the other incident, a visitor intimated to me, “You know, I can tell your church really supports young families.  When my children were that age, I found most churches were not welcoming.  Honestly, it made it hard to go to church.”  This week, I encourage us to live into the reality we have claimed and that, most days, others experience.  It will not be easy.  It will be loud, messy, and some days frustrating.  But it will also be heart-warming, sacred, and beautiful.  This is the Christian witness into which we are called.  But we can only achieve it together:  young and old, loud and quiet, energized and exhausted.    

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Sermon – Luke 23.33-43, CKS, YC, November 20, 2022

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If the foyer of our house is a painting of the crucifixion by an artist from Tanzania.  The painting is hauntingly beautiful, with deep reds, purples, and blacks.  For some reason this week, our younger daughter noticed the painting and asked who the other two men on crosses were.  “Why are there three crosses?  Wasn’t just Jesus on a cross?” she asked.  I offered a short explanation, including why people were crucified in Jesus’ time.  Her rage was immediate.  “That’s not fair!  We should crucify those people who crucified others!”

I confess her reaction was not what I expected and led to a rather pedantic conversation about The Golden Rule.  But the more I thought about her reaction, the more I though she was simply reflecting those base feelings we all have.  In her mind, justice is retribution:  a consequence equal to the offense.  Her reaction is why twenty-seven states still have the death penalty.  In fact, there are whole political science courses on the concept of what constitutes justice. 

That’s why today’s feast day, Christ the King Sunday, is tricky.  The people of Jesus’ day had notions of what a king should be – in particular, what the messianic king should be.  The messianic king was to be about justice – righting the wrongs of a people who have been subjugated by the Romans, establishing power, authority, and control, and running out anyone opposed to the rule of the Lord.  Suddenly why Jesus is on a cross is more obvious – the Messiah whose “triumphal entry into Jerusalem,” instead involves riding into town on a lowly donkey, who seems more focused on healing people than on establishing a new political order, who questions the authority and motives of the religious leaders.  This is why a mocking sign, “King of the Jews” hangs over his head, this is why religious leaders and soldiers are taunting him, this is why a thief condemned to the same fate, hanging in agony, channels his anger toward Jesus.

And yet, here we are, reading this text of seemingly failed leadership while simultaneously celebrating the crucified Christ as the king.  We modern Americans know what successful leadership looks like.  We have spent the last two weeks anxiously awaiting who will control the House and Senate in Congress.  Presidential hopefuls are revealing themselves.  Political pundits have been explaining the consequences of split leadership, and what we can anticipate in the next two years.  Given the chaos of the times, a traditional messianic king might be kind of nice.

But here’s how we know why we prefer Jesus’ version of kingship.  In the midst of this chaos are those two men my daughter saw in that painting.  According to tradition, the one on the right, who defends Jesus, is named Dismas; the one on the left, who insults Jesus, is named Gestas.[i]  Both men are likely political criminals, since crucifixion was reserved for the most extreme political crimes.  And since they are both on a cross, we can imagine that both their political dreams did not come to fruition.  And so Gestas, bitter and angry mocks Jesus.  He’s often called the “bad” or “unrepentant thief,” so we have our cues about how to judge his behavior.  But who among us, especially when our dreams or political hopes have been dashed, is not bitter?

Meanwhile, Dismas is equally defeated.  He does not presume to plead his case to Jesus – he has surrendered his dream.  He asks the only thing left to ask, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”[ii]  His plea is a defeated, vulnerable plea.  But here’s where the beauty of Jesus’ version of kingship comes in.  Jesus, as scholar Debie Thomas says, “tolerates the terrible tension between despair and hope, absorbing both into his heart…”  Jesus offers, “a hope so paradoxical, [the hope] transforms our suffering and changes our lives.”  “Today,” he says to Dismas, “You will be with me in Paradise.”[iii]

Today we celebrate the king who remembers us, who hangs “in the gap between our hope and despair…who carries our dreams to the grave and beyond.”[iv]  No matter what is happening in our political lives, Christ the King Sunday invites us to follow this third way of Jesus.  We will not always feel like victors.  In fact, our defeats may be the only thing that help us see the way out of the world’s suffering.  The way is not on gallant horse, flag in hand, proclaiming victory.  Ours is the quiet victory of a man who hangs in the midst of hurts and declares a new way of the cross.  Our invitation is to follow that kind of king.  Because today – today – we can realize the kingdom with Christ our King.  Amen.


[i] Debie Thomas, Into the Mess & Other Jesus Stories:  Reflections on the Life of Christ (Eugene, OR:  Cascade Books, 2022), 184.

[ii] Luke 23.42

[iii] Thomas, 184-185.

[iv] Thomas, 186.

Sermon – Luke 6.20-31, AS, YC, November 6, 2022

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Holy Scripture can be a real downer sometimes!  Maybe that sounds petulant, defeatist, or even a little like someone who just wants a saccharine-y Savior, but when I read passages like Luke’s gospel today, I get more than a little discouraged.  In Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, we hear Luke’s version of Jesus’ beatitudes.  They start off encouragingly enough.  Who wouldn’t want blessings for the poor, hungry, weeping, and persecuted?  But then come the woes.  Woe to the rich, those who are full, the laughing, the respected.  Woe to us, really.  I don’t know about you, but I had breakfast this morning, I was able to pay my bills this month (including my pledge), I certainly have received compliments on my work before, and you all know I have laughed recently – my laugh is the one marker that can help you find me in any room!  According to scripture, I am in a lot of woe! 

Of course, sometimes All Saints Day can feel like a day of woe anyway.  From early in the Church’s history, saints were those “persons of heroic sanctity, whose deeds were recalled with gratitude by later generations.”[i]  All Saints Day now is one of the seven principal feast days in the Episcopal Church, and the only one that can be transferred to a Sunday.  All Saints Day is also one of the prescribed days for baptism.[ii]  In other words, we value the life and witness of extremely pious, holy people so much we want the newly baptized to understand that sainthood is the goal. 

The good news is the original Greek may help us find our way out of deflation and into encouragement.  Because of the ways the “Blessed are…”s are paired with the “Woe to”s, we might interpret “woe” to mean “cursed.”  Cursed are those who are rich, have full bellies, are laughing, or are respected.  But that is not exactly what woe means.  According to scholar, Matt Skinner, “In this context, ‘woe’ functions as a sharp contrast to ‘blessed,’ yet the Greek word ouai does not mean ‘cursed’ or ‘unhappy.’  Certainly not ‘damned.’  Like the English word “yikes,” woe is more of an attention-getter and emotion-setter than a clear characterization or pronouncement.  Jesus therefore promises relief to some groups, to those people who suffer in this life.  To others, to folks who find existence rather enjoyable or easy, he cries, ‘Look out!’”[iii]

Another scholar echoes Skinner’s argument, reminding us that Jesus is not so much concerned that people are wealthy, well-fed, have pleasure, or enjoy respect; Jesus is very concerned with how those wealthy, well-fed, pleased, respected people treat the poor.  Amy-Jill Levine reminds us that the disciples are not destitute.  Four of them own boats and one of them is a tax collector.  And the majority of the minor figures in Luke’s gospel are not poor either:  “the ruler Jairus and his wife; the centurion with the sick child, Mary and Martha the householders, the various Pharisees as well as sinners and tax collectors with whom Jesus banquets, Zaccheus the chief tax collector…”[iv]  The existence of resources, blessings, and pleasure are not sinful in and of themselves.  The “woe” or the “yikes” is simply a reminder that what we do with those resources, blessings, and pleasure matters – a lot. 

 I am not sure any of us will ever be called saints in our day.  That is why I love so much how we honor all those faithful departed who have gone before on All Saints Day.  As we tie ribbons or type out names of mothers, brothers, lovers, children, and friends who have gone before, we honor not that they were saints, but perhaps that they were saint-like in their trying.  For all their foibles, the moments where they lacked compassion, where they got caught up in their selfishness, they also taught us how to love abundantly, how to care for others with empathy, and how to find moments of selflessness. 

Jesus’ woes are not meant to send us home with the mantra, “Woe is me!”  Jesus’ woes are meant to be our yikes!  Yikes, look at all the abundance in our lives.  Yikes, look at all the moments of pure joy and laughter.  Yikes, look at the ways others look up to us (even if they cannot verbalize their respect).  When we find ourselves in this life cocooned in goodness, the life of faith, the life of the saints, is to share our abundance, to use our abundance for good, to be agents of abundance in the world.  We will not always succeed.  But, yikes!  Our invitation today is to be saint-like in our trying.  Amen.


[i] Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (New York:  Church Publishing, 2010), 664.

[ii] Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (New York:  Church Publishing, 2010), 662.

[iii] Matt Skinner, “Commentary on Luke 6:20-31,” November 3, 2019, as found at https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/all-saints-day-2/commentary-on-luke-620-31-4 on November 5, 2022.

[iv] Amy-Jill Levine and Ben Witherington, III, The Gospel of Luke:  New Cambridge Bible Commentary (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2018), 177.

On Ghosts, Goblins, and Community…

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Photo Credit: https://windows10spotlight.com/images/cd4207053ac7aaa6212c99ef8a230cfb

Sometimes, when parenting children, you tend to operate in a haze.  In trying to harmonize work, family life, and everything else, you can become partially present in the parenting moment.  Halloween can be one of those instances.  In the rush of everyday responsibilities, you need to decorate the house, sweep off the driveway, purchase and prep candy for distribution, ensure your kids have all the costume parts they need (sometimes mending, gluing, pinning them at the last minute, or figuring out how to do their makeup), oh, and find that trick-or-treat bag they want from last year.  There is coordinating with other parents so your kid can walk with their friends, the needed photos, and the constant reminders to say “trick or treat!” and “thank you!” 

Fortunately, the Holy Spirit is always at work, giving us moments of the sacred in even the most hectic secular experiences.  This Monday, I was in that Halloween haze myself, trying to send off my older child, praying she made good choices, and accompanying my younger child, soaking up the chance to enjoy the night with her.  As we made our way from house to house, the sacred was slowly revealed.  I noticed as parents walked with their children, they connected more meaningfully than in our quick hellos at the bus stop and coordinating texts for playdates.  As homeowners emerged from their homes, I watched older adults light up with the chance to interact with children, I saw parents of older children wistfully watch the littles as their older children were too far past this precious time, and I noticed singletons relishing a chance for social interaction.  I was in the midst of community at its finest:  strangers extending hospitality, cross-generation lovingkindness, and deeply felt smiles. 

I know Halloween has pagan roots, and the Church, as it always does, worked to Christianize the day of All Hollows Eve.  We even have some neighbors who do not participate in the ritual of trick-or-treating out of Christian protest.  But when you strip away all the scary characters, fear-inducing movies, and sacrilegious legends, what remains is one of the best of examples of genuine Christian community.  Somehow, political differences fade, generational biases are set aside, and interpersonal anxieties ease, and what remains is an activity that allows for humble, gracious, affirming hospitality and care.

I wonder how we might foster those same sorts of conditions in our Church communities.  My church’s mission is focused on intergenerational ministry.  Sundays often demonstrate those values as intergenerational ministry blooms.  But the experience of trick-or-treating this year has me wondering what more we can do to create space where strangers can enjoy loving, affirming moments of intimacy and care with neighbors.  My prayer is the Holy Spirit works through our busy hazes to reveals those opportunities for all of us.

Sermon – 2 Thessalonians 1.1-4, 11-12, P26, YC, October 30, 2022

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I spent the last week at Princeton Theological Seminary, concluding an Executive Leadership certificate program called Iron Sharpening Iron.  For the past two years, the clergy participants and I have journeyed together, all facing the unique challenges of this liminal time for the Church, but also all hopeful that God is doing a new thing in the Church.  In the spirit of camaraderie that has developed over that time, we found ourselves asking each other this week, “So, how are you really doing?  How is your church?”  This is the kind of setting where clergy feel comfortable enough to let down their guard and share life with an honesty that we might not in other settings.  And I confess to you, every time that question was asked of me, and I took a moment to really think about the question, the answer was the same, “Things are actually really good.”  In truth, I think I was just as surprised by my answer as every other clergy person was.  I had no reason in that space to posture or try to make myself or our ministry look good, especially since most of the participants were not even Episcopalians.  I just knew when pondering how we are really doing, at the core of all that has happened in the last two to three years, we at Hickory Neck are doing really well.

I suppose I could have talked about how many of our longtime parishioners and many of our new members are online participants exclusively.  I suppose I could have talked about how many ministries are having shortages of volunteers, causing us to rethink what is possible because we cannot sustain the volunteer leadership.  Or I suppose I could have talked about how we stepped out on faith by hiring two part-time clergy associates this year, knowing that our financial giving would need to grow to support the programmatic needs of our growing church.  But those are realities I do not see as challenges; instead, I see them as opportunities to be the Church in new and creative ways as invited by the Holy Spirit.  Certainly, I want our in-person attendance in worship to grow – but I want our online ministry to grow and thrive concurrently.  Certainly, I would love some of our ministries to return to how we experienced them pre-pandemic – but I also see sacred invitations into new forms of ministry that may mean letting go of other forms.  Certainly, I want to be fiscally judicious within our budget – but I also want to create enough space in our budget to grow ministries that matter and make an impact both inside these walls and outside these walls. 

Perhaps what I mean is I look at Hickory Neck the same way that Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy look at their church in Thessalonians.  The writer of second Thessalonians, which some debate could be Paul or someone within the Pauline community, is writing to a community of believers facing persecution and afflictions.  The text is not clear what those persecutions and afflictions are, but we know the church of the Thessalonians is suffering.  In those days, persecutions and afflictions were often seen as signs of the end times, likely leading to a great deal of fear and anxiety.[i]  And so, we hear this letter meant to commend, encourage, and thank the community, and help them interpret meaning in the midst of suffering.  But the writer does not have to struggle too much to find that encouragement because what the writer has seen about this church is that they have developed an uncommon unity and love for one another.[ii]  And that gift of unity and love is a gift to be celebrated and honored.  That gift is something for which to give thanks.

And that is what we are doing today on this In-Gathering Sunday.  We are giving thanks for the ways in which Hickory Neck has experienced uncommon unity and love for one another, especially as we emerge from what has been a tumultuous couple of years in our community and the world.  We are giving thanks for the ways in which God has sustained us through afflictions and persecutions.  We are giving thanks for the bountiful abundance in our lives, when the world around us would want us to see scarcity, and we are returning that abundance in the form of our time, talent, and treasure.  And, so, friends, as we give thanks, I read to you our letter from second Thessalonians, paraphrased for today:

To the church of Hickory Neck:  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  I must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of everyone of you for one another is increasing.  Therefore, I myself boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring…To this end, I always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of God’s call and will fulfil by God’s power every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.


[i] Guy D. Nave, Jr. “Exegetical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 4 (Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 257.

[ii] Robert E. Dunham, “Homiletical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 4 (Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 257.

On the Power of Yes…

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Photo credit: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/darwins-subterranean-world/201809/the-power-yes

The last couple of weeks, I have been hit by unexpected asks.  While away on a work-related trip, I got an urgent text from one of my daughters needing help on a homework assignment.  While I was not required to be somewhere else, I certainly had other work plans for that hour that I would need to forego.  Just this past Monday, our unofficial laundry day, my other daughter asked if we could play games after dinner.  I assure you I had a mound of laundry that needed switching out, meaning I would not finish laundry that night.  Meanwhile, a long-time friend is in town and would like to renew his wedding vows at my church this Sunday.  This Sunday already feels like an “overbooked” Sunday with picking up Fall Festival wares, welcoming a new staff member, and hosting a notable guest preacher. 

I tend to be a planner who gets in my head how things are going to go.  Unexpected asks often mean foregoing a plan, shifting expectations, and at a base level, saying no to something else in order to say yes to the ask.  And if I am really being honest, my gut reaction is often to say “no.”  No is easier.  No does not complicate your life, does not require you to do any work, and does not mean having to problem-solve.  There are countless parenting studies that say the best method of parenting is to find as many yeses as you can.  The idea is not to become a parent-doormat, but to build up children’s self-esteem and confidence, improve emotional intelligence, and develop trust in the parent-child bond.  Yes-parenting is a response to research that says parents say no to children about 400 times a day!

I am not saying I have mastered yes-parenting, but I have begun to wonder about the power of yes.  That hour of homework-help last week meant a deeper connection with my daughter at the end of the call and a sense of accomplishment on my own part (trust me, parenting more often makes you feel like a failure than an accomplishment).  That hour of playing games brought back so many fond memories of playing games with my parents and even my children (before technology took hold!).  And those renewed wedding vows are going to make this Sunday one of the most exciting Sundays we have had in a while.  How can I say no to more joy?

I wonder what yeses you are being invited into this week.  Sometimes they are tiny yeses:  agreeing to take a picture for strangers with their cell phone.  Sometimes the yeses are inconvenient:  giving up on your planned activity to help with something else.  And sometimes the yeses are huge:  taking a new job, going on a date with someone new, trying a new activity to meet new friends.  God is constantly offering opportunities for us to say yes:  yeses that involve our time, talent, and treasure.  Our invitation this week is to start saying yes – maybe tiny yeses, but maybe some really big ones.  I cannot wait to hear about your yes adventures!

Sermon – Jeremiah 36.27-37.2, VTS Convocation Evensong, October 11, 2022

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This sermon was delivered to Virginia Theological Seminary on the occasion of our annual Convocation for alumni, faculty and staff, and seminarians.

Photo credit: The Rev. Matthew Tucker

I live in a pretty “purple” district in Southern Virginia.  My Congressman represents a different party than my own, but I make a point to stay on his mailing list as a way to remind him that he represents a politically diverse district.  Every month he sends out polls, and I dutifully respond to them.  But with every survey I find myself frustrated.  My Congressman either has never taken a class in crafting an unbiased survey or he is simply not interested in different opinions.  The questions are always phrased something like, “In your opinion, how bad of a job is our president doing:  terrible, really bad, pretty bad, or I’m not sure.”  Or without any nuance or explanation about the background of the issue, the poll will ask something like, “The Congress wants to pay illegal immigrants who knowingly broke the law hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Should we pay these illegal immigrant criminals, yes or no?”  Or, one of my favorites, “Which of these issues should be the priority of Congress?” (PS, none of the options listed talk about caring for the poor or our neighbor, and there definitely isn’t an “other” category).  But I dutifully take the surveys, hoping my voice is part of my representative’s decision making.

I have been pondering the ministry of Jeremiah and thinking his prophetic ministry is a bit like trying to engage my Congressman.  For those of us not taking Old Testament this semester, Jeremiah is prophesying in a time of political decline.  The northern kingdom, Israel fell to Assyria nearly a hundred years before, and Judah remains in a tenuous situation.  The Assyrians are still in control, but in the course of the book of Jeremiah, Babylon defeats Assyria and takes control of Judah.  There are rebellions against Babylon, in particular by King Jehoiakim who we hear about today, but they are eventually unsuccessful.[i]  Like any good prophet, Jeremiah is attempting to get the people and king to repent and return to the Lord.  And like all people of all time, the people refuse to listen to God.  King Jehoiakim is particularly egregious in this refusal.  In fact, just verses before our reading, the King has his attendant read Jeremiah’s prophetic scroll three or four columns at a time, then cuts those columns off the scroll and throws them in a fire.  King Jehoiakim is not alarmed by the prophecy, and certainly not repentant. 

But here’s the funny part.  In the verses we read today, the Lord tells Jeremiah to rewrite the entire scroll and add in a little final judgment.  Like me, sitting down with yet another poll from my Congressman, he sits down and does the same thing over again.  I have been of two minds about this passage.  On the one hand, and no offense toward the Lord’s prophetic practices and policies, but how many times are we to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results.  As if King Jehoiakim is going to receive the second scroll and say, “Oh, a second scroll?  Okay, I guess I won’t burn this one and will change my ways!”  If this pandemic has taught us anything this pandemic has taught us we cannot keep doing Church the way we always have and expect the Church to thrive (or in biblical terms, to repent and return to the Lord).  This pandemic has made us nimble, agile, creative, and versatile.  This pandemic made us stop thinking about hybrid ministries and digital relevance and demanded we start doing and being those things.  And God help us if our churches just want to “return to normal” after the pandemic – if we just want to write another scroll. 

But as I mentioned, I am of two minds on this passage.  On the other hand, despite what seems like poor strategy on the Lord’s part, God’s covenantal relationship with us has never really made sense.  The entire salvation narrative is about failure after failure on our part as the people of God to listen and respond to the Lord.  Promise after promise, covenant after covenant, even the sending of God’s Son has meant the Lord’s corporate strategy is a case study in what not to do to thrive in business.  But that’s what we love about the Lord, right?  God keeps writing another scroll, God keeps giving another chance, God keeps holding out hope and promise because God’s love is not meted out in a logical, economical way.  Despite all of the innovation which has been entirely life giving during this pandemic, in some ways, what we have offered to a hurting world is the same as what we have always offered:  a community of faith, redeemed by God’s grace, commissioned to love God, self, and neighbor.  Perhaps that is why I am of two minds about this text.  Although this pandemic has not changed who we are and what we offer a broken world, this pandemic has changed how we are.  Our core values as the Episcopal Church have not changed.  But throughout this pandemic we have learned that how we go about living into those core values certainly can, should, and hopefully has changed.  And, as the Genesis writer would say, “…it was very good.”

In this particular season of the Church, many of us are feeling a longing for rest, for relief from constant pivoting, for a sense of normalcy.  Many of us would like to sit down and just write the same scroll over again.  In Jeremiah’s day that second scroll meant suffering and exile, and there would be more than twenty years before the people of God would see God’s promise of restoration realized.[ii]  But I do not think that is the invitation from scripture today.  I do not think the Lord is inviting the Church to write another scroll or fill out another poll.  We have a whole Bible full of examples of how doing the same thing over and over does not lead to the fulfillment of the kingdom of God.  Instead, the invitation from scripture today is to see the patterns of the resistance to love, and find a new way to love.  God is not inviting us to change our “who” or our “what,” but to change our “how.”  Your “how” might be different from mine.  But Jeremiah shows us time and again that the same repeated “how” does not turn hearts.  Our work in this season is to listen to what new “hows” the Holy Spirit is showing us, and then be willing to be vulnerable enough to try them.  Because, Lord knows, we do not need another scroll.  Amen. 


[i] Josey Bridges Synder, “Jeremiah,” The CEB Women’s Bible, (Nashville:  Common English Bible, 2016), 953.

[ii] 953.

Sermon – Luke 17.11-19, P23, YC, October 9, 2022

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Every once in a while, when we are having a particularly whiny, complaining, cranky evening at the Andrews-Weckerly household, I will break out the old, “So, what are you grateful for today?” question.  I cannot claim that our family has mastered some Zen-like practice of gratitude.  In fact, we still have to regularly remind each other simply to say, “Thank you!”  And if I am being honest, my question about what we are grateful for is a question based out frustration not out of a sense of habituated thankfulness.

I think that is why today’s Gospel lesson from Luke makes me so uncomfortable today.  Jesus graciously heals ten lepers at once with barely a word or flourish.  One of them, a Samaritan to be clear, returns, praising God in a loud voice, prostrating himself at Jesus’ feet, and thanking Jesus.  But Jesus’ response is where my guilt resides. “Were not ten made clean?  But the other nine, where are they?  Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Jesus asks.  How many times have I been one of the nine?  How many times have I experienced blessing, only to focus on another ill in my life?  How many times have I been surrounded by bountiful abundance only to be able to talk about scarcity?

For Jesus, this is unfathomable.  For Jesus, faith and gratitude go hand in hand.  Scholar Kimberly Long describes the issue thus, “…to ‘have faith’ is to live it, and to live [faith] is to give thanks.  It is living a life of gratitude that constitutes living a life of faith…One might almost say, in fact, that ‘faith’ and ‘gratitude’ are two words for the same thing:  to practice gratitude is to practice faith.”[i]  Some of you may be thinking, “Oh, to be faithful I just have to be thankful?  That’s not so hard!”  But how many of us have started a gratitude journal only to get out of the habit?  How many of us have engaged in the Ignatian practice of closing the day with enumerating the blessings of the day, giving thanks to God, only to slip into watching one more episode of your favorite show or reading one more chapter of a book, only to slip off to sleep before remembering to give thanks?  How many of us have had New Year’s resolutions or Lenten disciplines about gratitude only to drop them after a few weeks?

But here is why gratitude and faith are so intimately connected.  Jesus says at the end of this passage today, “…your faith has made you well.”  Now if we understand faith and gratitude as being synonymous, then Jesus does not mean because the Samaritan believes something he is healed.  He means because the Samaritan has embodied gratitude he has been made well.  But Jesus is not simply referring to being healed of leprosy.  The Samaritan’s life of gratitude has made him whole – has made him “truly and deeply well.”[ii]  C.S. Lewis perhaps captured the relationship of gratitude and wholeness most clearly.  He said, “I noticed how the humblest and at the same time most balanced minds praised most:  while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised least.  Praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.”[iii] 

Of course, this should not be news to us.  Luke’s gospel is always featuring praising.  As one professor explains, “Praising/thanking/blessing/glorifying God is a recurring theme in [Luke’s] writings – from the shepherds in the fields (2.20), to Simeon and Anna at the presentation in the temple (2.28, 38), to witnesses of Jesus’ miracles (5.25, 7.16, 18.43, etc.), to the centurion at the foot of the cross (23.47), and to both Jews and Gentiles who witness the growth of the church in Acts (4.21, 11.18, 13.48, etc.).  It seems, therefore, that Luke recounts this story not to distinguish one leper from the others but to emphasize the proper response to any act of grace:  thanks and praise to God.”[iv]

Luckily for you, Hickory Neck actually grounds you in praise every Sunday.  When we celebrate the Eucharistic feast, the celebrant says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” and you respond, “It is right to give him thanks and praise.” [or in the case of Rite I, we say, It is meet and right so to do.]  And then the celebrant affirms your words, saying, “It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.”[v]  [“It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto thee, O Lord, holy Father, almighty, everlasting God.]   In fact, the entire Eucharist Prayer is also referred to as the “Great Thanksgiving.” Our whole purpose of gathering on Sundays is to enter into praise of God – and as Luke tells us, we do that to make our beings whole – to make our beings truly and deeply well. 

And because we know doing something out of habit can make us forget why we are doing what we are doing, this month we enter into what we call stewardship season – or perhaps what should be called gratitude season.  This month we will be talking about the bountiful goodness we all experience in this community – the ways in which Hickory Neck is a blessing to us, the ways in which Hickory Neck feeds and shapes our faith lives, and the ways in which Hickory Neck helps us be a blessing to others.  In this month of praise and thanksgiving, we will be talking about how to make our praise tangible:  how the gift of our time, the offering of our talents, and the presentation of our financial giving might be acts of praise and gratitude.  This community has been a place where most of us have experienced transformative healing and wholeness.  Our invitation is to follow the example of the Samaritan and let our acts of gratitude become reflections of how Hickory Neck is helping us be truly and deeply well.  Amen.    


[i] Kimberly Bracken Long, “Pastoral Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 4 (Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 166.

[ii] Long, 166.

[iii] As quoted by John M. Buchanan, “Homiletical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 4 (Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 165.

[iv] Oliver Larry Yarbrough, “Exegetical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 4 (Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 169.

[v] BCP, 361.

On the Ministry of Coffee…

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Photo credit: https://www.pexels.com/search/coffee%20cup/

In the Book of Common Prayer, the Catechism answers the question, “What is ministry?”  It defines ministry by orders:  lay, deacon, priest, and bishop.  For the laity, the Catechism says, “The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.” (BCP, 855)  Sometimes, we get caught up and think ministry is only when we are serving the poor or leading worship.  But, in fact, the Catechism reminds us that our ministry is to represent Christ and the Church, bearing witness to Jesus wherever we may be.

Several years ago, we welcomed a childcare center onto our property.  The relationship was a beautiful one of getting to know one another, of building relationships with strangers, and bearing witness to Christ’s love.  When the center moved to a neighboring town to accommodate more students, our Church knew we wanted to keep the relationship going.  And so, we have sent cards, supported teachers, and once a month, we bring coffee and snacks for what we call “Joe to Go.” 

For some, this may seem like an odd form of ministry.  If we are going to use our resources and time, shouldn’t we be helping those hurting the most?  Unfortunately, that question creates a false dichotomy.  We should be helping those who are hurting most.  And, as our Catechism says, we also should be bearing witness to Christ wherever we find ourselves.  For this ministry, that means seeing the everyday burdens of families – the nights without sleep, the struggles to work to support the cost of childcare, the strain of raising up children to be well-adjusted, loving members of society.  If we learned anything in the pandemic, it was that the struggles of parenting in today’s economy are real, and hard, and regularly unnoticed.

And so, we bear witness to Jesus’ love with every snack and cup of coffee.  We represent Jesus when we offer an encouraging word to a weary parent.  We are being the Church when we show lovingkindness wherever we may be.  This is what ministry is.  How are you bearing witness to Christ’s love today?  How have you experienced Christ’s love today through someone else’s ministry?  I can’t wait to hear your stories of coffees, shared stories, and encouraging words. 

Sermon – Matthew 11.25-30, St. Francis Feast, YC, October 2, 2022

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Today we honor the life of St. Francis of Assisi.  Francis is one of the most popular and admired saints of all time.  Most of us know the highlights of his story:  born the son of a wealthy man in 1182; had a conversion experience and devoted his life to Lady Poverty; shaped monastic and lay devotion; was a friend to all God’s creatures – being known to have preached to the birds.

But the story I like most is the story about St. Francis and the Wolf.  According to legend, there was a wolf that was terrorizing the town of Gubbio, killing and eating animals and people.  The villagers tried to fight back, but they too died at the jaws of the wolf.  Francis had pity on the townspeople and went out to meet the wolf.  When Francis found the wolf, he made the sign of the cross, and said, “Come to me, Brother Wolf.  In the name of Christ, I order you not to hurt anyone.”  In response, the wolf calmly laid down at Francis’ feet.  Francis then went on to explain to the wolf how he was terrorizing the people and other animals – all who were made in the image of God.  The wolf and Francis then made a pact that the wolf would no longer harm the townspeople and the townspeople would no longer try to hurt the wolf.  The two traveled into town to explain the pact they had formed.  The people were amazed as Francis and the wolf walked side-by-side into town.  Francis made the people pledge to feed the wolf and the wolf pledge not to harm anyone else.  From that day on, the wolf went door to door for food.  The wolf hurt no one and no one hurt the wolf; even the dogs did not bark at the wolf.[i]

What I love about this story of St. Francis is that the story is about reconciliation and relationship.  At the beginning of the story the town and the wolf are at an impasse – the wolf is hungry and getting attacked; the people are afraid and are lashing out.  What Francis does for both parties is shock them out of the comfortable.  For the wolf, no one has addressed the wolf kindly – they have either shut the wolf out or actively tried to kill him.  For the people, the wolf has not asked for help – he has simply and violently taken what he needed and wanted.  Francis manages to shock the wolf first – not through violence or force, but with the power of love and blessing.  By giving a blessing in the name of God, Francis is then able to implore the wolf to reciprocate with love.  Francis also manages to shock the village – not with a violent victory, but with a humble display of forgiveness and trust.  By walking into town with a tamed wolf at his side, Francis is able to encourage the town embrace, forgive, and care for the wolf.  Francis’ actions remind both parties that unless their relationships are reconciled, unrest and division will be the norm. 

The funny thing about this story is that the story is pretty ridiculous.  I mean, how many of us go around talking to wild animals, blessing them with the sign of the cross, expecting anything other than being attacked?  We will never really know whether the story is true.  But like any good Biblical story, whether the story is true is hardly the point: the point is that the stories point toward “Truth” with a capital “T.”  What this story teaches is peace and reconciliation only happen through meeting others where they are.  We cannot expect great change unless we are willing to get down in the trenches – to go out and meet that destructive wolf face-to-face.  The other thing this story teaches is relationships are at the heart of peace work.  Only when the wolf and the town begin to get to know each other and begin to form a relationship with one another can they move forward. 

This is the way life is under Jesus Christ.  In our gospel lesson today, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Jesus’ words have layered meaning.  The first meaning we all catch is that Jesus offers us rest and refreshment.  Jesus encourages us to come to him, to cast our burdens and cares upon him, and to take rest, to take Sabbath in Christ.  Our souls will find peace in Christ Jesus.  The second meaning is that peace in Christ Jesus is not without work.  Jesus does not say come unto me and relax forever in happy retirement.  Jesus says we will still have to take on a yoke – the burden of disciple living.  Luckily, that burden of being Christ’s disciple will not be burdensome – it will be light.  Finally, not only will Jesus make the workload “light,” as in not heavy.  Jesus will also make us “light” – as in lights that shine into the darkness and refuse to allow the shadow to overwhelm.   We become the light when we work for reconciliation in our relationships with others. 

That is why we do a couple of special things today.  First, we ask for blessing on our animals – that God might help our relationship with our pet be one of blessing and light.  Second, we come to Jesus for Sabbath rest – that God might renew us on this Sabbath day, use the rest to fill us with light, and renew our commitment to be agents of reconciliation, gladly putting on Christ’s yoke.  Amen.


[i] Jack Wintz, “St. Francis and the Taming of the Wolf,” as found at https://www.franciscanmedia.org/franciscan-spirit-blog/st-francis-and-the-taming-of-the-wolf on September 30, 2022.