These are notes from my welcome and sermon of Sept. 5, 2021, at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in DC. I’ve included the Gospel reading for the day and the James text from the lessons. The service can be found on Facebook.
Good morning, family, it is good to be together, even digitally! David in Psalm 133 sings about “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life forevermore.” What does that oil on the head and beard stuff mean for us? I believe it reminds us that is a deep blessing for us when we gather and choose to love one another and be one family… it’s like feeling good, and looking good, it’s refreshing like a new day with dew on the ground… it’s where we find God’s blessings waiting for us, where we find life! So as we gather to worship and look into the scriptures and to love one another, may the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen. Let us worship our God!
Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
I am humbled and thrilled to be with you on this our first Sunday together and the end of this time of transition for me and for St. Timothy’s! The transition is done, but we most certainly are not! The transition is done, the search is done, and we have found each other, and we are far from done. I am thrilled and humbled to be joining you on the mission to follow Jesus by living in love, walking by faith and serving our community… these things are completely relevant and needed today: love, faith and service… living life, walking and moving forward, and seeking, making and expressing community.
I’m going to say it again, our transition is done, but we are not. And I hope you just scared your pets at home shouting amen! I capture such a spark of hope and promise in the Psalmist’s words which we used in opening our time together this morning, that by coming together, loving one another, unifying in our mission, in being kindred, we find God’s richest blessings, we find life. I feel that hope and that promise even when things can also feel a bit overwhelming, confusing, or just not quite like we expected. There’s so much to do, so much to learn of one another and so much to discover of our shared ministry together… it’s ok when things still feel a little wobbly and uncertain, because what we can count on is Jesus moving through it all, meeting us here and healing and us making whole.
The Gospel reading today is an interesting couple of short vignettes, a couple of short stories which vividly illustrate that times don’t always go as planned and can feel a bit uncertain and even derailed. Did you notice how the first story began? Jesus was trying to hide! He needed some time to recharge and just wanted to escape the people for a little while. We can relate to that can’t we? We can also probably relate to it not working at all. He’s found anyway, and then the story doesn’t really flow like we have come to expect these stories with Jesus to flow. We don’t expect Jesus to react as he does in this story, do we? I mean this is the Jesus who sat with the Samaritan woman at the well, who healed ten lepers and praised the one, a foreigner to Israel, who returned to give him thanks. This is the Jesus who opens the Good News to the Gentile non-Jewish world! But in this story he challenges the outsider’s right to his attention. What?
And it goes on… in the second story, after healing a man’s deafness and speech impediment saying “be opened”, Jesus turns and orders them all to keep it quiet. But what happens? That’s right, the scriptures say that, “the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.” The best laid plans can get a bit wobbly, even for Jesus.
If anything, these two stories show us how the best laid plans can go in ways least expected, but always there is Jesus making things whole. When the path is long, when the path is hard, and when the path may not yet be known, always there is Jesus making things whole, healing the woman’s child, curing the man’s ailments, and I believe moving forward with us as we live in love, walk in faith and serve our community. I can’t tell you that I know exactly why Jesus chose to challenge this woman’s faith, why he challenged her right to make a request, but we can’t miss the fact that Jesus is there healing and making the child whole. This story also appears in Matthew’s Gospel in which Jesus really highlights her not being Jewish, but also openly praises her faith. And in the second story we have Jesus healing and hushing, which he does a lot in the Gospels. We may assume that he does it to be able to move about more freely, and that makes sense. But the thing we know for sure is that he is in the middle of the action, as usual, making someone whole. We have much ahead of us, a lot to do, and building on the faithful legacy of this parish family, we will see Jesus moving, mending the broken and making us whole, moving alongside us as we love one another do our ministry.
Who better for the Lectionary to use to remind us of what following the Way of Jesus looks like day to day than James? I have to admit, I do love me some James. James is the no-nonsense, get busy and get real kind of voice of faith that I often need in my life. Who has been a voice like that in your life for you? Someone who says, “Good idea… are you going to do it? Good idea, do you really mean it? Good idea, let’s go, let’s get started!” For me, it was my grandfather, my mother’s father, who we called Pa. Pa had this habit of putting me on the spot when I was teenager… when I’d see him he would stop me and ask, “Where are you at the Word right now?” He wanted to know where I was digging into scripture to grow and learn and get strong. I was so grateful when I finally entered seminary studies and could say, “Well Pa, we’re studying this and that and I’m in Greek class and…” naw, Pa didn’t stand for that, not for a minute. He would still drill down on me, where am I digging into the Word? Today, James often does it for me…
James reminds us that showing partiality and favoritism is not living in love. In truth, we all have our various richness, our riches of money or education or privilege or experience, which can blind us to the value and dignity of those in whom we don’t see those same riches. James says it is not to be so among us.
James reminds us that legalism and rule keeping is not walking by faith, it is not our path. He makes the point that no matter how good we think we might be at keeping all the rules, we’re going to miss one, and all end up in the same basket of rule-breakers. So he says to live by the law of liberty, a life of freedom to love, freedom to embrace one another and to love our neighbors, not to judge them. Our path, our walking by faith, is guided by what James calls the royal law, the freedom and mercy to love our neighbor.
And James reminds us that serving, our community and one another, is done not just spoken. Faith has to be put into action, made real and present, and so does our love and our commitment to one another and our neighbors. James contrasts for us a faith that is only spoken and a faith that is put into action, and he shows us the value of acting on what we have chosen to believe and follow.
If I didn’t know better I would think that James had read our baptismal promises, in an advance copy of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer made available a couple thousand years ago: in which we promise that in study, fellowship and prayer, in resisting evil and embracing repentance, we will proclaim the Good News of Jesus in word and action, seeking and serving Jesus in all people, loving them as ourselves, and striving for justice, peace and dignity for every human being. Joking aside, it’s not James who is reflecting our baptismal promises, but I’m so glad that our baptismal promises reflect the kind of active and serving faith to which James calls us! I invite you to spend some time with the reading from James this week and let that Law of Liberty wash over you. Let his call to an active faith inspire you. Revel in the beautiful worth of the people around you like never before.
Family… again, I am so glad to be with you. I’m so grateful for the history of service and ministry here at St. Timothy’s, so grateful for the chances that I’ve begun to have to meet you and share some time together, sometimes digitally in Zoom, in phone calls, and sometimes face-to-face. I covet your prayers and I will be working to get to know you and I want to hear your stories and your hearts. Know that I am praying for you, every day. Watch for emails to come in the next few days and weeks about the opportunities which we’ll create for praying, studying, fellowshipping and serving together.
Believing that Jesus will be in the middle of us, healing and making whole, we look forward to the ways that God will grow us together and use us to serve our city and our neighbors! Amen.
James 2:1-10, [11-13], 14-17
My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.[ For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.]
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
I love to binge series on Netflix and Amazon Video. Recently, finding myself between series, I was looking at available offerings on Amazon Video and stumbled across the Expendables franchise. I thought, “Hey, I like action, and this is just good old fashion gratuitous action, yeah? I’m in!” I seem to recall watching the movies years ago, but after the first movie and a few minutes into the second this time, I’m out.
Here’s the problem… these movies are all about a group of white guys roaming the world indiscriminately destroying black and brown bodies with impunity and a smile. Oh yes, they have a token black Expendable, Terry Crews (whom I adore in other roles). But his character is just shallow sexual comic relief. There’s even a token Asian Expendable, Jet Li, whose character is a punching bag for a white teammate and is always grubbing for more money owed him because of his diminutive stature relative to the white Expendables. I also noticed by the third movie they add a token female to the team. Wow.
The added value of being white in the movies? You can get shot, and not die from it. You can attack your own team, brutalize the token Asian Expendable, and be redeemed by the second movie. In fact, as an added bonus, the Asian Expendable will now be your buddy sidekick.
The added value of being brown or black in the franchise? You’ll be an incompetent. As in you’ll be an incompetent pirate, despot, soldier or hapless bystander who is shot, run over, cut, burned, crushed, exploded or otherwise dismembered by a grinning white Expendable, unless Terry Crew’s character hasn’t delivered an on-camera sexual innuendo about his gun lately, and then he’ll kill you.
So, what’s the big deal? Why this big post? It’s because we who are white have got to wake up to this not so subtle but constant degradation and devaluing of black and brown bodies. How else do we think so many armed police officers who claim not to be racist end up killing all those unarmed black and brown bodies? In part because gratuitous violence by white do-gooders upon black and brown bodies is a movie mainstay, an unquestioned entertainment, and a national on-screen pastime belonging to white America. Most of the time we don’t even notice it when it’s so prominently displayed in front of us without any effort to hide or nuance it.
Notice I’ve not said that Sylvester Stallone, the power house actor and force behind the franchise, is racist. I’m not saying that any of the actors in the franchise is particularly racist. I’m saying that the systems which produce such garbage, the movie industry, the white penchant for needing black and brown antagonists, our viewing habits as consumers, our desensitization toward violence done to brown and black bodies, and our understanding of the world and its people and politics, are steeped in generations of racism and racists assumptions. Every time we white consumers notice the blatant ugliness of the way we devalue and destroy brown and black lives on-screen for our entertainment, we have to stop and seek something better. We can no longer quietly accept the racially destructive and hurtful expressions on-screen and consume them without question. It just may be that our souls are at stake. I know without a doubt that our black and brown neighbors’ lives are at stake.
As the saints of my Diocese all surely know by now, Bishop Mariann has called a two-week suspension of worship services and public gatherings at our parishes all across our Diocese of Washington. The Diocese of Virginia has taken a similar step. Bishop Mariann’s letter to the Diocese is found here, and let me simply affirm that this is not a move made from fear or panic, but a thoughtful service to our people and our communities. Our Bishops are showing wisdom, care and courage in calling for these suspensions.
In the meantime, we Christians formed in the Anglican tradition feel a loss, a real and authentic loss. We value our common prayer and worship, the prayer and worship which is shared among us as a faith community. This time of suspension is a time without that common prayer and celebration. In response to this loss we have many superb clergy across our Diocese and beyond sharing their wisdom and insight for online services and remote sharing, and the Diocese is compiling those resources on EDOW.org. Our Bishop is even popping up on Facebook Live!
To all these efforts I would add only this complimentary addition; as we work to meet virtually and continue our common prayer, let’s not forget that our life of common prayer was never meant to remove or negate our life of personal prayer. This just might be a fantastic opportunity for many of us to reengage our personal prayer lives in dynamic and meaningful ways. There is another important perspective to keep in mind: personal prayer is not really praying alone… we’re engaging with God and all those who similarly pray. Physical proximity with our community is warm, life-giving and central to who we are as Christians. Our connection goes much deeper than just our physical proximity. We are truly surrounded by and connected to a great cloud of witnesses.
There are a couple of resources I’d like to highlight…
There’s good stuff in the Book of Common Prayer! Morning, Noonday and Evening prayers are found beginning on page 37 for Rite I, and page 75 for Rite II. If you didn’t know, Rite I uses older expressions while Rite II uses more contemporary language. Much simpler devotions are found for morning, noon and evening beginning on page 137! There’s no shame in going simple, so maybe start with those devotions. Knowing what Lessons (scripture readings) to use in the daily prayers when prompted can be a struggle. I go online for any day’s readings at The Lectionary Page, or to an app on my iPhone, Electronic Common Prayer. There’s a nice online compilation of the prayers and readings here from our family in Province VIII! We also have a variety of prayers beginning on page 810 and one of my favorite prayers of thanksgiving on page 836. The entire Book of Common Prayer is available online.
Hour by Hour! This is a fantastic little book which simplifies the Daily Prayer Offices of the Book of Common Prayer into a week’s worth of daily Morning, Noon, Evening and Compline prayers. Compline is the late night prayer before bed. The beauty of Hour by Hour is that all the readings and prayers are right there, no page flipping or calendars required. It’s available in print or as an electronic book. It’s even a Nook book.
Finally, just a reminder that though we may suspend gatherings, we never suspend faith, mutual love and concern, or our deep connections to one another. Does your parish record worship services to post on YouTube or Vimeo for those who miss a Sunday? Go back and relive some of that worship when you need a lift. Go back and relive our amazing revival in January! If you need a moment of prayer and blessing with your Priest, contact your parish clergy to set up a phone call. I’d love to pray with you and bless you! Send me a note and I’ll call you. Of course, you don’t need a collar to pray with one another. Reach out to folks in your church you know would be encouraged to hear from you and pray with you.
With an election year looming and our energies running hot these days, let’s take a few minutes to talk about civility and how some extra care given to civility in 2020 might look. Civility is not compromising or giving up on our strongly held convictions, but it’s a more productive and honest way of speaking to the issues and ideas which move our politics and public discourse. Our words matter. Our convictions matter. Our neighbors matter. So, civility matters. I’m asking us to commit to a higher level of civility in 2020 in two specific ways…
First Resolution: Let’s not post and share the name-calling mean memes in 2020, or ever. They aren’t fair, usually aren’t too accurate, and they likely hurt someone we love, a friend or family member. Let’s just be done with mean memes. Name-calling is simply the least productive and least accurate way to talk to, with and about people, and accuracy is important. Name-calling generalizes people, usually undercuts their personal value and worth, and it’s a childish way to score a point or make ourselves feel better. We often proudly claim and use titles and political designations like Conservative, Liberal, Progressive, Libertarian, and more, and using those titles is ok. But using offensive slurs like dopey, traitor, libtards or deplorables, meant to degrade people and grab a laugh, is when we stray into incivility, stop advancing what we actually hold as political convictions and lose the argument. Really. As soon as we start throwing around names and meanness like that we’re no longer arguing a political point of view, but we’re resorting to bullying tactics and personal attacks to intentionally hurt someone. We’re also possibly hurting someone we love with these ugly names, someone who thinks a bit differently than we do and just got a derisive label slapped on them by our social media post. It’s not a joke, not laughable and not right. Besides, that mean meme is probably not only wildly inaccurate but was made by an internet troll to do exactly what it’s doing: to cloud issues and to wreck your civility and relationships with family and friends. Don’t feed the trolls, my lovely people. Let’s stop the mean memes.
Second Resolution: Let’s speak to people’s actions and words, not evaluations of their character. Ridiculing or attacking people just doesn’t get the job done. We’re taking about de-weaponizing our speech. We have to speak with civility, which means making our point about ideas and issues, while not stooping to attacking personalities and personal attributes. This is admittedly a tough one, but it’s such a powerful habit if we can throw some real energy behind it. Let’s apply this to President Donald Trump and me… I personally cannot abide most all of his rhetoric. I do not approve of his calling people names or attacking them personally. I don’t like his use of Twitter to throw personal attacks at children, public servants and other politicians. I cannot stand all the false statements he makes. And yet, I can say all that without saying “F*%k Trump.” I can also study up on and speak against all his inaccurate and false public statements without saying “he’s a liar” or attacking some aspect his personal appearance with a mean meme. Just point to the facts. We can apply this to any politician. I can say, “I really wish Joe Biden didn’t have so many public gaffs, and I’m actually worried at the thought process and disconnect which leads him to say something like, poor kids are as smart as white kids.“ I don’t have to attack Biden’s character or call him a racist to talk about the systemic racism in America which has encoded ideas like equating poor with non-white and therefore equating white with wealth and intelligence. I can be appalled that he would say such a thing and I can hope he reflects deeply on his way of thinking about the world, all without calling him a racist or needing to demean his character. As someone so completely opposed to our current President on so many issues of economics, environmental protection and civil rights, I do find this a tough task. President Trump’s words and actions are hurting people, or have great potential to hurt people, often people whom I love. Attacking his words and actions instead of him personally helps me stay sane, helps me better present an opposing position (which will hopefully help make a safer world for those threatened people), and honors my commitment to civility.
This is a heavy lift and will demand more from us as participants in our civil discourse and interaction with issues and details. It’s takes way more energy to construct an opposing view on something or to deconstruct a stated view, than just saying “they’re a piece a sh*t” or “they don’t love America.” We cannot allow ourselves to get distracted with name-calling and pettiness when there are simply too many things being said and done which we must strongly and unequivocally oppose. We need to maximize every opportunity to expose the threats and crimes which must be confronted. Civility will help us get more done for more people.
Ok, that’s a lot of writing about only two things I’m asking us to embrace: 1) no more mean memes and name-calling, and 2) speaking to people’s words and actions instead of character assassinations. This is doable, and as crazy as 2020 is bound to get, civility is going to be so needed. Also, there are political ideas which need to be confronted and defeated, for our neighbors’ sake. We’ll accomplish that when we keep our convictions and keep it civil.
This is a sermon manuscript from my message on Sunday, September 15th 2019, at St. James Episcopal Church, Potomac MD. As a sermon manuscript it breaks my usual goal of staying at 500 words in a blog post, lol, clocking just over 1,700. The day’s Gospel passage was Luke 15:1-10.
Who has ever lost something and found it?
Our gospel passage today is in part about losing and searching and finding, and the joy that comes with being found. Jesus tells two stories about things being lost, first one of a hundred sheep, and then one of ten coins. When was the last time you lost something, and found it? Or maybe you’re like me, you like to think that you never lose anything important and love to be a little judgey when other people do? I’ll admit it, I’ve been that “How could you?” guy too many times… that is I was until I lost my wallet… on a cross country drive… in East Africa.
I don’t have my wallet at the hotel!
It’s the year 2000, and I’m driving across Tanzania with a friend, bringing home a new truck which we had just imported and outfitted for work in the rural areas where we were planting churches. After a long day of driving toward home from an area near Mount Kilimanjaro we were pulling into a beautiful safari hotel in the heart of the Serengeti game reserve for a well-earned night’s rest. But when I went to check in, I didn’t have my wallet and I couldn’t find it anywhere in my new truck. The folks at the hotel were understandably like, “Sorry, no money, no room.” That wallet had my money, US ID, Tanzanian drivers license, checkbook, everything… oh man.
Jesus is speaking to religious snobbery.
So we find Jesus was doing his normal thing one day, teaching the crowds around him… you might remember some of the recent gospel passages have been a little on the hard-to-hear tough side, yeah? He’s been talking about the cost of discipleship, or how seriously they should think of a decision to follow him. It’s a deep thing, choosing to follow Jesus, and it should be treated seriously and with dedication. And who should gather around and be listening to Jesus, but sinners. And worst kind of sinners, tax collectors, those who colluded with Rome and stole the wealth of the people. The good religious folks watching are like, “Man, Jesus hangs out with the worst people: Sinners!” Sound a bit snobby? Sound a bit judgmental? Yeah, it does.
A Clue! I find a map on the grill of my truck!
Back in Tanzania I’m standing at my new truck with my friend and we’re talking about this missing wallet thing while my stomach twists and sinks lower and lower. I last had the wallet at the gate into the park where we stopped to pay the game park entry fees… I know I had it at the gate! I start looking around some more and as I inspect the truck inside and out, I find a game park map stuck to my front grill. Putting things together I begin to imagine what I had done… leaving the office at the park gate after paying my entry fees, I must have set my wallet and the map I had grabbed on the hood of my truck. I must have forgotten and left them there. And as my luck would have it, my wallet didn’t get stuck anywhere in place like the map.
What does sinner mean? What will make the angels party?
Something else we know about Jesus from the recent gospel readings is that when invited he would totally go to the house of a Pharisee or religious leader for a meal. It’s not even like he exclusively eats or only hangs out with those sinners, but he is available to everyone. They’re a bit jealous maybe? We also know from many Gospel stories that Jesus doesn’t tolerate religious snobbery. To answer their anxiety at his choice of company he tells a couple of parables, short stories, actually two of three we find in Luke 15, to very pointedly reorient them back from their judgmental stance. He tells stories that will help them understand that sinner doesn’t really mean what they think. Lost doesn’t really mean what they think. For Jesus, sinner apparently means beloved. Lost means desirable. In the first story a man finds one of a hundred sheep has gone missing. Instead of simply being glad of the 99 and writing off his loss, he leaves them to find the one. And when that one is found the party gets started. There is rejoicing! I wish rejoice wasn’t such a church word these days… if we’re going to honest, the man and the angels partied when the lost one was found. In the second story we meet a woman who has lost one of ten coins, and she is relentless in finding that coin! She doesn’t give up but turns her world upside down to find what was lost. And when the lost coin is found? You guessed it, she and the angels start partying.
We just have to drive back, hoping and praying for the best.
Having figured out that I had left my wallet on the hood of my truck we were faced with a couple of problems. We had driven two hours since coming in that park gate, and it was getting dark. We’re not supposed to drive in the park after dark, it’s too dangerous with animals and possibly even poachers roaming around. I mean, could we even hope that it wasn’t already seen and grabbed up? Or maybe it was run over and scattered? It was also beginning to rain. We talked it over for a few minutes and eventually decided to drive back toward the gate and hope, and pray, for the best. You know that sick feeling when you can’t even talk? Everything inside is so tied up and you’re feeling so stupid and worthless that you just can’t even. I drove on, even out pacing the rain after some time, eyes glued to the road, and my friend sat there with a hand on my shoulder praying grace for me, for courage for me and for a wallet for our hotel stay.
Jesus is consistent that this kind of snobbery is not acceptable.
Maybe you’ve heard the kind of whispers and judgements that the people with Jesus heard from the religious leaders that day. Maybe you have felt unworthy in life, in church, in work, in play, in anything and everything. Maybe you’ve had the label sinner applied to you. Maybe you’ve had the label lost applied to you. Like many of the religious folks that day, we at church mostly find ourselves among the 99, the found. We find ourselves among the nine, tucked safely away in God’s purse. When you’re the 99 or the 9, terms like sinner or lost start sounding kinda bad. But in the stories told by Jesus, lost seems to mean desired, sinner seems to mean beloved. What the 99 and the 9 have to remember is that they aren’t giving up any of God’s love for it to be shared with the outsider, the other, the one whom God is pursuing instead of just always hanging with the insiders. So here’s a thought… we recently read Jesus telling a dinner host not to invite just friends and family to the table, but those who needed a meal, those without food, those without a table. Does that start to make more sense now? Do we have an extra layer now of understanding of the kind of love God has for all people so that we get a better idea of why spreading a table for the ones least likely to be invited, most likely to be overlooked, is so important?
What about my wallet?
We had out paced the rain and were driving in the dark for about an hour heading back toward the gate. We’d seen nothing in the dusty dirt road and now strained to peer through the high beams of my truck as we moved as fast as we dared. No, this wasn’t a paved highway, this wasn’t I-95 South toward Richmond. This was dirt, soon to be mud when the rain caught up to us again. Can you imagine what my heart did when at the edge of the high beam’s light, a small brown shape off the side of the road came into view? Can you imagine my lack of strength to even get out of my truck and go pick it up, when it was so obviously my wallet with the colored rubber-bands still holding all the contents safely in place? Can you imagine the relief, the joy? Can you imagine the party on our drive back to the hotel? I kid you not… we had found the wallet and started back for no more than ten or fifteen minutes when the rain storm caught up to us and poured down, obscuring a lot of our visibility for the drive back to the hotel. I don’t know if we could’ve found that wallet in the rain. Oh man, we partied like the angels in heaven! God is good.
Let’s make more solidarity, less fear more love!
What I believe Jesus is so often pushing the people around him to do, is to fear others less and feel a deeper sense of solidarity with them, a longing for them, a love that shatters complacency. He would seek and spend time with the lost and the sinner, because those are just synonyms for the beloved ones, the desired and desirable ones, the ones worthy of a great search, worthy of turning the world upside to get close to. Behind all that we do, all that we say, all that we would accomplish, let there be a deep sense of our being found, our being loved of God, and our being made worthy. From that understanding, let us also hold tight to the love of God that also embraces those outside of our community, making them worthy, worthy to be missed, worthy to be sought, worthy of our love and respect. Amen.
Howard Jones has been singing to me for years upon years, and his lessons are still as golden now as when I was a teenager. I’m feeling grateful for Jones today, and I’d like to review some of the best things he has been preaching to us through the years. Some of the things are obvious and built right into the song titles, and some come back again and again through his lyrics…
Don’t get in a rush, it won’t help. Life In One Day
Don’t always look at the negatives. Don’t Always Look at The Rain
Chill, it’s not just you. No One Is To Blame
There are some things we all must learn for ourselves. Look Mama
Hold on. Things Can Only Get Better
We’re all unique and awesome, so be your authentic self and accept others in their realities. Like To Get To Know You Well, Conditioning & Equality
Wait for an exciting, fun & valuing love. You’re worth it. An Everlasting Love
You’re good. Believe it. Specialty
Open your mind and enjoy the ride. New Song
There’s so much more; keep exploring! Hide And Seek, Hunt The Self & Always Asking Questions
Enough with the hate. We’re all one. Elegy
But Jones is not all pop sugar and happy feelings. We hear him lamenting loneliness (City Song) and all of our unfulfilled hopes and dreams (Hunger For The Flesh). We hear his pain and struggle to understand his own thoughts and the desire that we would hear his lessons before we’ve lost too much (Assault and Battery, The Prisoner, Last Supper, What Is Love, Human’s Lib, Pearl and The Shell & Exodus). All this is what I’ve heard from Jones, and might be incredibly far from what he intends with his music, but I am grateful. These are the lessons he has instilled in me, and he’ll always be one of my favorite teachers. I’m better for having his music in my life.
It was such an amazing thing to hear him live in concert in 2015, a full 30 years after I first began my journey with his music. Jones has always been so real to me, though never even an acquaintance, and it’s been a blast to grow old together. He’s hopeful, hurting, healing and seemingly unstoppable. Amazingly, he sounds as good today as when I first popped that Dream Into Action cassette into a player in 1985. I truly hope he lives forever.
With gratitude, Todd
I was driving in for worship Sunday morning and thinking about St. Paul’s words from Colossians 3, one of our readings for the day. I was reflecting on the shock and pain of a weekend full of death and injury from more gun violence in our country. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a Sunday when I was preaching, so I had to wait and write a blog.
8 But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!
The El Paso shooting in particular highlights the growing problem we have with white supremacy in our country. Of course, racism is always there, and the groups who ignorantly fear people of other ethnicities, religions and cultures will always be there, but in today’s U.S.A. we see see them marching safely in our streets, openly propagating their murderous philosophy, and we see their disciples taking action to murder in our shared places of public life.
As Christians, we must stand united to say without any equivocation or hesitation, that there are not very fine people purporting that ideology. Fine people simply do not support racism or white supremacy. White supremacy, hatred of others, fear-driven ignorance and xenophobia are not virtuous or benign. These ideologies foment hate and killing, and drive wedges between us.
St. Paul taught us the theology which debunks white supremacy and hatred, that in Christ, in the knowledge of God, we see that there is no difference in the value, worth or dignity of people, regardless of their religion, ethnicity, culture or socio-economic standing. It is an old way without knowledge of God that allows one human to view another human as a hated enemy because of those differences.
When speaking to the Galatians, St. Pauls points out to them that their baptismal waters wash away that unlearned manner of viewing people as less than valuable, beloved or worthy based on ethnicity, socio-economics or even gender issues. All those things are sublimated under the intrinsic value of a human being.
27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
We are a diverse and amazing species, never to be all alike. St. Paul’s theology does not just include a warning to put aside the hatred, malice and slander that can be engendered by differences, but goes on pushing us to embrace compassion and kindness as a response to difference. We are God’s people and, in seeing Christ within all, we are moved to humility, grace and love.
12 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.
As people of faith we have to stand up and be heard that demonizing language directed toward our neighbors and fellow human beings will no longer be tolerated in the public arena from our leaders. Rhetoric which incites violence and casually laughing at threats of violence have no place in our public discourse. White Christians may not feel particularly threatened by the racist rhetoric and may find it easy to debate and argue the nuanced meanings of tweets and statements, but we cannot stand quietly by while that rhetoric becomes deadly episodes of gun violence against our brown and black neighbors, family and friends.There’s no room for debate when guns are in the hands of white supremacists in our streets.
The shooting in Dayton this weekend points to a more general problem we have with gun violence across the country, and access to weapons of war that have no place in civil life. We need more laws to protect us from those who would show such violent hatred and casual disregard for others. We need fewer guns on the streets and in our public places. We need common sense laws such as we have in place to govern the ownership and use of many other things in civil life which pose a threat to safety: chemicals, vehicles, etc. A peaceful and safer way forward will not be more guns in our public places, but fewer. How do we achieve such a goal? We demand action from our elected representatives and we speak out loudly against the waves of hatred, racism and white supremacy, especially when coming from our highest offices.
This is our official statement from the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and the Washington National Cathedral, demanding better leadership from our President: https://cathedral.org/have-we-no-decency-a-response-to-president-trump.html
This is a long post for me, but we have to keep saying these things aloud, over and over. It is painful to keep confronting this in our own society, but we cannot forget the burden laid on us by our rampant gun violence and the racially motivated mass killings, like we saw just four years ago at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the Poway Synagogue shooting in April, or the shooting at Young Israel of Greater Miami last month. Just try keeping up with our gun violence pandemic. We are a broken people, but our leaders in DC refuse to even begin to offer us ways to help us heal, to help us move forward, to bind us up, or to protect us. Giving up and giving in is simply not an option.
A Chilling Historical View of Racism in the US: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/04/adam-serwer-madison-grant-white-nationalism/583258/
One of the great blessings of my spiritual life was journeying for a time with my dear and departed friend, Father Leo Murray SJ. He was my spiritual director for many years, though he preferred the term spiritual friend, and he lead me through several different shortened adaptations of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. He even once took me through the complete Exercises. The adaptations of the Exercises are made for those of us who cannot take a month off of life’s responsibilities to go into retreat… instead, we make time in our busy daily lives for the prayers, readings, meditations and journaling.
Tomorrow, July 31st, is the Feast of St. Ignatius, and I always stop and say a grateful prayer for my friend Fr Murray as well as the work of St. Ignatius to orient us to the voice and movement of God in our lives. That’s what the Exercises are all about, hearing God.
I myself have written short one-week or one-month daily life adaptations, but more in the style of the Exercises, not following their content or flow. This summer I decided to engage the task of adapting the actual Exercises from St. Ignatius into something I could do myself in the course of a month alongside all my many responsibilities in daily life. This is audacious and maybe even a bit offensive to someone who is a Jesuit or who has spent decades devoted to the Exercises in their vocation, so let me briefly give a few caveats… I’m not a Jesuit, an authority on the Exercises, or the most experienced person you’ll meet with Ignatian Spirituality. But adapting spiritual wisdom into daily life is a passion for me. This is a humble effort is truly a labor of love, and a work in progress.
I’ve almost finished Week 1 of the four weeks in the Exercises and hope to be done with all four sometime in August. The Exercises are not intended to be a solo journey, but something shared between spiritual friends, and that brings me to a question: Would you be interested in sharing this journey with me?
I’m wondering if I have a few friends who would like to experience the Exercises in daily life, and check in with each other once a week to share the journey. We are each expected to be giving about a total of 30 minutes a day (15 in the morning and 15 in the evening) to this effort, Monday through Saturday, each week. It’s a commitment. Let me know if you’re curious!
Let’s get a little geeky on ecclesiology for a minute, hmmmm? I was recently ordained as a Transitional Deacon the Episcopal Church. Huh? By our Cannon Law (rules of the church) one must be a Deacon for six months before being ordained a Priest. Not all Deacons are on the way to be Priests, many are answering the call to serve the church in that unique and valuable vocation. God willing, I will move on with priestly vows in December of this year.
My ordination as a Deacon was pretty cool. It was at the Washington National Cathedral and several other amazing individuals were ordained Priests and one other as a Deacon at the same time. So, fresh from my vows as a Deacon and this past Sunday preaching in a shiny white collar and stole, I was intrigued by an article about some Capuchin monks electing a leader from among themselves who is not ordained. Their new leader is a lay brother, someone who has not taken Holy Orders, as it were.
The article linked above makes a great point that although this election breaks with their Canon Law, it is right in line with the spirit and founding of the Capuchin Order and it’s Franciscan roots, especially in St. Francis who was not a Priest and possibly not even a Deacon himself.
Does all this matter? Well, by Canon Law it does. And I would not like to be heard saying that Holy Orders and the vows we make at our ordination are without meaning or significance. Being ordained a Deacon enables me to do certain things in Episcopal worship in service to the Priest and the whole congregation. God willing, should I be ordained a Priest in December as planned, then I’ll have more responsibilities in worship and the daily life of the church. Our Capuchin brothers have given a perfect reminder though that the whole church is a priestly nation (1 Peter 2:1-10), a gathered holy people, all in and all called to the work of Christ and the Gospel in the world. In our own tradition we affirm this in our Baptismal Covenant to continue in the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, prayers, repentance, proclaiming the gospel by word and deed, and seeking and serving Christ in all our neighbors by striving for their justice, peace and dignity. (Book of Common Prayer, pg. 417)
When I say that ordination is cool, but not the point, I mean exactly that… ordination is important, necessary in some respects and amazing to experience, but the church does not exist to ordain. The whole church exists to serve the world and to create a community of mutuality in care and concern for one another under God’s immense divine rush of love.
I’m grateful today for some courageous monks who have got me all reflective and thoughtful about our shared ministry across the whole church. Let us go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit! Thanks be to God!