Devotional Thoughts

Always There Is Jesus

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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!

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Mark 7:24-37

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.”

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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 serviceliving 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.

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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.

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We Have to Do Better

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Image compliments of Amazon.com

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.

AMDG, Todd

Nov. 3 St. Martin de Porres

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As we approach an important, divisive and decisive day next week on November 3rd, I’d love to share a bit about Saint Martin de Porres. November 3rd is our Election Day, but also his Feast Day, the day upon which many Christians will recall his example of faith and explore his life and legacy for nobility, truth and courage with which to animate our own journeys. This is my icon of Brother Martin to the right…

Brother Martin is remembered for an amazing life of faith and service, caring for the sick, putting others before himself, and a deep humility. This Peruvian saint was the rejected son of a Spanish noble and a freed slave of African and native descent. He was taken in as a young man by the local Dominicans, of whom he would become a treasured and trusted lay member. His selfless service was amazing. His ability to beg alms to feed his destitute neighbors and to care for orphans endeared him to many who knew him.

Today, St. Martin de Porres is held as the patron saint of many people and endeavors including African Americans, any People of Mixed Race, and of Social Justice. As his feast day falls on election day, I find myself looking to his example of faith, service and selflessness as a much needed filter for voting my conscience. 

Imagine voting as Martin served, all to the benefit of my most needful neighbors. Imagine voting as Martin lived, placing our my interests aside and valuing those around me who may not have the power, voice and comfort which I enjoy. Imagine voting as someone who looks at all of God’s beautiful creation and loves it. Imagine voting as someone who looks at all God’s people, great and small, and loves each and every one. Can we vote as Martin served? Can we vote as Martin lived? Can we vote as Martin loved? I believe we can.

I’m not writing to tell you who to vote for in this election. Many have already voted, but most are still making our way to the ballot box. I am writing to say I believe there is a way to vote which can change our nation, serve the most needful and love our neighbor. Which candidate will advance compassion? Which candidate has shown humility? Which candidate will lead us to serve and uphold our most vulnerable and disenfranchised neighbors? Which candidate will better serve my neighbor than me myself? Which candidate is most capable of seeking the welfare of, upholding the dignity of, and serving the justice of those in our society with the least power, voice or representation?

Voting this way will keep me from bruising my conscience too badly when I approach the ballot box.  

“God of Goodness, and God of Hope,
pour into us the kind of humility, love and courage
with which you animated our Brother Martin.
May we love our neighbors, honor their needs,
and vote to advance their lives.
Help us follow our Brother Martin’s example
as he followed the example of Christ,
through whom we pray. Amen.”

Be blessed, all
Todd

In Our Time of Waiting, COVID-19 Response

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IMG_1594As 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.

pray with youFinally, 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.

AMDG, Todd

Feast of St. Ignatius 2019

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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!

AMDG, Todd

P.S. Holy Trinity Parish in Georgetown has made Father Murray’s homilies available online! I never heard him preach in the life, we just had conversations together.

Ordination is Cool, But Not The Point

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Ordination of Deacons and Priests

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!

AMDG, Todd

Juneteenth 2019

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C6E077A0-7C27-4CE1-B09E-0BC972192E37Today is Juneteenth, and I urge you to stop for a moment and celebrate the end of legal slavery in the United States, the emancipation of our neighbors, and the victory of our country over the rebellious forces which threatened to tear it apart. Through great leadership, at great price and with tenacious hearts we kept our nation together and began the end of a terrible historical atrocity.

This is also a chance to recognize and repent that we so often move too slowly, resist the changes we need to make as a people and a society, and that we still have so far to go in realizing the full humanity and dignity of all people. If Juneteenth is new to you, it’s a celebration of the emancipation of the slaves, and a remembrance that freedom was ignored and resisted for years by some civil and State authorities after the Emancipation Proclamation. More can be found here Juneteenth.com, and across the internet with a simple search.

This year’s marking of Juneteenth is more meaningful for me as I was able on Monday to attend a screening of Emmanuel, a documentary movie about the nine lives ended in the hateful and racially motivated shooting at the Emmanuel AME Church four years ago to the day, in Charleston, SC. That was a difficult movie to watch, as the legacy of white supremacy and racial hatred was so clearly illustrated in the senseless murders and the face of a young man of our time, not any ancient past or even recent history. Our time.

The hatred, ignorance and racism which fueled the Emmanuel shootings should be a reminder to us that all too often words become wounds. The racism and white supremacist rhetoric we hear today across our country, online and sometimes from the highest levels of government must be unequivocally, vehemently and with all our strength rejected and repudiated. Until our courts are equitable in applying the law to all people, policing is no longer far more lethal and brutal towards our brown and black neighbors, and all people of our nation are free to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, let Juneteenth be a reminder that our work is not done.

1058FF77-4FB2-4AED-A9C2-044667A1BEA7And we can vote. The image to the right is of a button I made earlier this year as an exercise of empathy and reflection on privilege. It’s time to vote with our neighbor’s best interest in mind. We need to vote with empathy and a realization that political wins achieved at the expense of another’s civil liberties or freedoms is no win at all, but a loss for all. Let Juneteenth become part of your annual remembrance that we have begun the difficult work of equality, but still have so far to go. We can do this. We’ve shown what we are capable of, both good and evil. May we forge a future of greater hope and liberty for all.

AMDG, Todd

Good Friday Gratefulness

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biblical way fo the cross

It’s Holy Saturday and I’m supposed to be quietly waiting for Easter, focused specifically on the darkness of the tomb and the cost off the cross. Instead, I’m thinking about how grateful I am for the services yesterday, especially the long vigil we held from noon to 3pm.

The clergy and good folks at St James Episcopal Church in Potomac opened their hearts and minds to a new vigil exercise, different from previous years. Together as a community we followed the readings of the fourteen stations of the Biblical Way of the Cross as designed by the late Pope John Paul II. These fourteen stations are all built upon scripture instead of upon a mix of scripture and tradition. They are also accompanied by some amazing prayers!

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Carrying Christ’s heavy cross to the altar.

As we read, prayed and sang through the stations many volunteers placed pieces of a tableau at the altar for each one. At the end we had an installation of greenery, signs and elements of the crucifixion, each related to the passages we read. In the final station we placed a corpus upon the altar, a representation of the wrapped and buried body of Christ. 

Let me say honestly, a three hour vigil is a long time, wearying and taxing. I have such respect for my clergy colleagues (Meredith and Mary Margaret) who stood, vested and focused, for the lion’s share of three hours of liturgy and stations, just to uncomfortably kneel the rest of the time. I was on my feet as well, but I was at the back of the sanctuary directing the placement of the tableau pieces. I had a chair handy, but stood in solidarity with those on stage. 

I have heard good things from some who haven’t worked together to make such a tableau before, and I’m so happy that the images and art spoke to them. I am most moved by what we did for the stations in which Peter betrays Jesus and then later when Jesus forgives the criminal on the cross… we had a familiar image, a Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was made to be broken in two at Peter’s denial and then put back together at the moment Jesus forgives the dying criminal: a broken heart, and a healthy active heart.

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What a blessing. I am so grateful to have shared the time with the amazing souls at St James, grateful for the legacy of selfless love and devotion we find in Christ.  I am so blessed by God’s church. Easter will be that much sweeter in joy and celebration after such a rich Good Friday.

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Have a great Easter Sunday, beloved! 

AMDG, Todd

Beginning Lent 2019

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Sitting behind the altar yesterday, having received the ashes and having imposed the ashes for others, I found a quiet moment to flip over to a prayer in our Book of Common Prayer…

Prayers for the Church
7. For the Church

Gracious Father, we pray for thy holy Catholic Church. Fill it
with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt,
purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is
amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in
want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake
of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer pg. 816

This prayer touched me, on the first day of Lent, in the wake of the recent divisive decisions and news from the United Methodist Church, in the context of the Church of Rome and many others finally facing up to sexual sins they have worked so hard to hide for so long… and I prayed it sincerely.

In case you don’t know, when Episcopalians pray or speak of the Catholic Church we mean the whole of the Church in all places and times, not just the Church of Rome. The word Catholic comes to us from the Greek katholikos which is a combination of kath and holo, throughout and whole.

The prayer resonated with me as a needed reminder that we must resist the mistake of equating the church with God, just as we must always remember that our beloved scriptures are not God. When the church fails, God has not. When scriptures fail, God has not. But it still hurts. In daily life it’s too easy to look to what can be seen or touched for our compass and foundation. And when those foundations shake, we fall apart. When our compass fails to point a way from pain to healing, we despair.

As I begin this year’s Lenten journey I’m feeling called to pray for more than my own transformation, but also for a transforming of the church, all of us, throughout the whole. We have fumbled with truths that should have been held tightly. We’ve too often  exchanged peace for power. We’ve ignored our neighborly responsibility to this world and its people. Reform us, God! Please, heal the hurting!

Version 2This morning I pray that our Mothering God would teach us to have broken and pliable hearts. I pray that the Holy Spirit, the spiritual presence of God living within each of us, would give us her wisdom and a deeper joy. I pray that Christ would truly be our spiritual food and daily sustenance, the One who animates us as we speak and act. I pray that the whole church throughout all of humanity will be courageous in its love and humble its following of the God who breaks down the barriers between us and frees us to love and serve one another. This is my Lenten prayer.

AMDG, Todd

 

Beginning With Gratitude

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prayer candlesA week ago I was blessed to preach again at St John’s Norwood Episcopal Church and I invited everyone to join me on an exercise, to begin each day with gratitude praying with the Book of Common Prayer on pg. 836… A General Thanksgiving. In case you don’t have a BCP, I’ll include the prayer here, and I invite you to read it aloud. It’s also available in the online version of the BCP…

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have
done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole
creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life,
and for the mystery of love.

We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for
the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best
efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy
and delight us.

We thank you also for those disappointments and failures
that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the
truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast
obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying,
through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life
again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.

Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and
make him known; and through him, at all times and in all
places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

My hope was that intentionally beginning each day with gratitude would help orient me toward seeing things each day in which I could give more thanks, and I would be better able to fend off the things which would move me toward ingratitude, spite or anger.

My reflections on the week include my joy and deep gratitude for my wife, with whom I often shared this prayer in the morning. I also reflected how she is in a season of accomplishment at her work, and we are constantly delighted by her reaching new goals and heights in her efforts at work and school. And I think I felt a deep connection to the community of Christ, not only in the Episcopal tradition, but in a broader sense, to the community of souls who see God’s love and touch in both the ups and downs of daily life.

I’ve decided to keep this up for another week. Want to go along? I lack the discipline to be doing this at the same time each morning, but at some point in each morning I make time to read and center myself in all of God’s goodness in my life. I’d love to hear of your practice and any reflections after the week!

AMDG, Todd