Monthly Archives: January 2014

Who? What? Why? How? Where?

We have just concluded one of my favorite weeks in the life of the Church.  Over these last several days, I’ve been struck yet again by the depth and continuity of the words and examples we hear in the Scripture lessons appointed for the day.  These days since January 18 are filled with examples of holiness, call, and discipleship.  (Not bad things to be considering at anytime, but there is something particularly fitting during this annual meeting season.)  These days are filled with questions, deep and profound questions.

questionsOn January 18 the Church celebrates the Confession of St. Peter.  On this day we hear of an encounter with Jesus and the twelve: an encounter where Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?”  In that moment Peter has the most amazing confession – the most amazing proclamation – of faith.  “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  In the seeming simplicity of this statement is the most profound moment of faith.  Peter does not wax on with a lengthy dissertation on the nature of Jesus using complex theological terminology.  Peter utters ten words.  You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.  What Peter does in this is give an unquestionable witness to his faith.  Peter in a sense of quiet, strong, confidence indentifies Jesus for who He is: The Messiah.  This example Peter sets provides an image, an example, of something we too must consider.  When we hear this Gospel it is not just the disciples being asked this question, but it is we ourselves being asked, “Who do you say that I am?”  It is a basic question of identity: Who are you?  Who is Jesus? But if we take a moment we will discover that this is a question that can – and should – serve as the foundation of our lives of faith.  So I ask you dear reader, who do you say that Jesus is?

How the calendar falls, the next day brings us to the Second Sunday after the Epiphany.  In the Gospel appoint for this year – year A – we hear John proclaim Jesus as the one he is sent to prepare the way for.  As the lesson progresses we learn that two of John’s followers turn and begin to follow Jesus.  On noticing this, Jesus turns to them and asks, “What are you looking for?”  They ask Jesus where he is staying and he responds, “Come and see.”  Jesus not only asks them what they are searching for, but he also offers an invitation.  Like these two disciples of John, we to must consider what is it that we are looking for.  Are we looking for a social club, community service organization, or a philosophy of life? Or are we looking for a connection with the Holy and to participate in the life of faith handed down to us by our ancestors?  When we begin our search, when we inquire where Jesus is going – how Jesus is working on our midst – we are not given an answer but an invitation: Come and see.  This invitation from Jesus to come and see stands before us all.  It is up to us whether or not we accept that invitation.  I wonder, what are you looking for?

A week after the Church remembers the Confession of St. Peter, the calendar keeps us mindful of the Conversion of St. Paul.  In the lesson appointed from the Acts of the Apostles, we meet Paul – then known as Saul – traveling on the road to Damascus.  On his travels he is knocked off his horse by a blinding light.  The resurrected Lord appears to him and says, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  In that moment leads to a drastic change in Saul’s life.  He looses his sight, is sent off, and in the midst off all that he is transformed.  When he regains his sight we hear that scales fall from his eyes, he sees the world in a new and different way.  No longer is he set on persecuting the Church, but instead he becomes the Apostle to the Gentiles.  As is common in Biblical stories, with his transformation comes a new name – a way of signifying that he is a new person.  No longer is he Saul, but now he is Paul.  Whether we like it or not, we do not always live our lives the way we are called to.  We deny ourselves; one another; and even Jesus himself.  It is in our very nature that we will fall short of the glory of God.  While we may not be like Paul and set out to persecute followers of Jesus, we turn our backs and deny God’s presence in our lives.  I wonder what our response to Jesus would be if he came to us and asked, “Why do you turn away from me?”

If we stop Paul’s conversion story there, there is a temptation to feel guilty or ashamed.  But, that is not the point.  The point of this story is conversion and transformation.  When we fall short of the glory of God we have the opportunity to do something about it: to have a change of heart; to turn around; think of the Greek word metanoia.  Like Paul we can repent and change our ways.  We can allow the scales to fall from our eyes, to see the world in new and different ways: to take our place in the transformation and conversion of the world.  Will you allow the scales to fall from your eyes, and take your place in the transformation of the world?

All of this brings us to today – the third Sunday after the Epiphany.  The Gospel for this morning is all about call.  We hear James and John, the sons of Zebedee, leave all they know behind to follow the call they receive from Jesus.  What of our own call?   How is God working in our lives?  How are we called to respond?  What are we being called to leave behind as that we may accept the invitation of God to follow him?

In these last eight days, through Holy Scripture, we are asked the: who, what, why, and how of our life of faith.  Questions that on the surface seem to be simple and harmless questions.  But, we if go deeper – if we allow ourselves to pause and wonder in these questions – we find that they are not so simple.  Rather, these questions are life changing.  Questions, it seems to me, we must consider if we are to allow our lives to be transformed: if we are to live as mature Christians in the world.  In looking at these eight days, these four questions, it seems one question is left to consider.  Where do we do all this?  Where do we live this out?

We are called to ask and live into these questions in our own time and place: In school and work; at home and at Church; with friends and with strangers.  If we take serious our call we will find that our lives of faith are indeed surrounded by these questions.  I wonder where you are in your search – in the who, what, why, how, and where of your faith.

Who do you say that Jesus is?

What are you looking for?

Why do you turn your away from Jesus?

How is God calling you?

I pray you will join me in pondering these questions.  I hope you will join me in accepting the invitation to come and see.

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I love to read Prayer Books: So What?

“Get a hobby,” “Church nerd,” “liturgy geek,” “you need to get a life” the list goes on.  I’ve heard these and so many other things from peers, classmates; colleagues both clergy and lay, but I still do not understand why they make such a big deal of my love for liturgy.  You see, I do not think it is a problem.  It is a life.  It is a hobby.  For me, it is vocation.

photo-45I have a deep and abiding love for the liturgical life of The Episcopal Church.  The beautiful music, poetic language, the engagement of all five senses, the interaction with the Sacraments: but, my love goes beyond the here and now.  I have a quest and deep desire to understand the meaning, history, and development of our worship.  I want to know where this stuff comes from and how it got to us today.  I want to know where we are going next.

My senior year of college, I had some extra time on my hands: I already had enough credit hours to graduate, and only a few required courses left.  Not wanting to waste an opportunity, I elected to write a thesis in the History department (it might be helpful to know that I was a Political Science major).   I could write on anything I wanted to. I had no restrictions, no limitations, and no requirements.  I wanted to know that I could write a major academic work; I wanted to push myself.  More importantly, I wanted to take the opportunity to know more intimately that which I loved so deeply.  I wrote on the Prayer Book.  What else would I write on?

I approached my History of the Reformations professor and she agreed to be my advisor and we spent both semesters of my senior year reading and studying together.  I read more in that first semester than the entirety of my collegiate career.  I could not get enough.  It was a level of academic energy and drive I had never experienced before.  One day I was studying in the student café and another professor walked in.  He could tell that I was animated about what I was talking about, so he came up to ask what we were talking about.  “The Black Rubric.” I said in a duh-of-course-this-is-exciting tone of voice.  After noticing the confusion on his face I told him more.  At the end of my explanation he smiled, “Clearly you’re headed into the right line of work.”

Recently I put to use some Amazon gifts cards that I had gotten for Christmas.  Of the several books I got, the two I was most excited about were The Prayer Book Parallels.  I remember when they came in the mail.  “You got a heavy box from Amazon,” my wife said.  I took one look at the box and new what it was.  “MY PRAYER BOOK PARALLELS!”  I think I scared her a little bit, but ultimately she was not surprised; she knew whom she married.  I opened the box, cracked open the books, and began thumbing through the pages.  The rest of the room disappeared: it was just me and my books.  I began to feel this overwhelming excitement as I noticed similarities and differences between the Prayer Books from the 1662 English Prayer Book to the most recent American Prayer Book – the 1979 edition.  I was up far later than I should have been, but it was worth it.  If there was ever any doubt left of my love for liturgy, this made it disappear.  Studying the history of liturgy in The Episcopal Church is not a chore, for me, it is life giving.  My experience in studying liturgy is like developing a relationship with a new partner and rediscovering an old friend all at the same time.

Keeping the Sacramental life of the Church in the forefront of my mind has changed the shape and focus of my own ministry.  This life is what makes the Church different than local social service organizations and non-profits.  There are organizations that feed, clothe, nourish, and teach people far better than we ever can.  But, there is something far more powerful that we can offer.  We have the opportunity to take those acts of mission and outreach and turn them into Sacramental moments.  To take these ministries and allow them to transform our communities, ourselves, and all those we come into contact with.  This transformation and motivation are our greatest gifts to the world around us.

What happens if we allow our Sacramental life to penetrate our very beings?  The phrase Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi comes to mind.

This is the only way I know how to live into my vocation and ministry.  It is why I seek ordination in The Episcopal Church and am not off working for a non-profit or in law school.  The liturgy of the Church and my study of said liturgy have transformed my life more than I could ask for or imagine.  I wonder what the Church would look like if we all took are acts of worship a bit more seriously?

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Ministry of the Coffee Shop

Ministry of the Coffee Shop: Why it is a good thing I spend so much time at Seven Stars. 

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One of my favorite things to do is to spend time doing work at a local coffee shop.  Seven Stars is my absolute favorite place to do this.  It is a local place with a few locations in RI with good coffee and great pastries.  It is one of my favorite places to write sermons, prep for EfM, or do any other thing that I can on my computer.  This morning hanging out at Seven Stars, I was truly struck by how powerful it is to hang out in the coffee shop.

It is often busy at Seven Stars, particularly in the morning, but I can’t remember a time when It was like today.  Tons of people waiting for tables, and a few getting rather angry if they perceived someone to be “jumping the line” for a table.  To women were sitting at a rather large table, having noticed I was waiting, they invited me to join them.  I took out my book – A Short Introduction to the Old Testament – and starting ready.

I was very much struck by the conversation these two women were having.  they spoke of ministry, of experiences at Harvard Divinity School, the work of Henri Nouwen, and so much more.  After sometime sitting with them, I noticed another table opening.  I began to gather my things, and thank them for sharing their table with me.  That’s when something happened.  One of the women inquired about what I was reading and my associates cross.  What followed was a brilliant and grace filled conversation.

They asked about my cross, what I was reading, what I do for a living, and what drives my passion.  One woman shared stories of her grandfather – an Episcopal priest in the 1880s.  She offered to meet me again for coffee and share stories from his journal as a missionary from Brooklyn, NY to mining communities out west.  The other talked about grace and being present in ministry.  Of places of calm she found at EDS in some of the most challenging moments of her life.  She spoke of the beauty and emotion  – the getting out of the cerebral world – of experiences worshipping with a friend at GTS.  It was an amazing moment.  I had never met, nor had I ever seen, these women.  But we spoke of experiences, of theological perspectives, of hopes for the world and the Church Universal as if we’d been friends for years.  It was a remarkable thing.

After they left, I moved to a smaller table.  The hustle and bustle of the morning had worn away.  The usual late morning hum resumed.  As I sat drinking coffee, I could not help but think of all the grace filled conversations I’ve had with perfect strangers here at Seven Stars.  Talking homiletics and trying out sermon ideas with an older couple; looking at the similarities between Christian and Jewish worship with a Rabbi; talking about service and faith with a member of the local Unitarian congregation.  On top of all this there are the conversations with clergy colleagues and former parishioners with whom paths cross.

Seven Stars has become more than just a place to grab a coffee and ginger star (seriously one of the best cookies ever).  It has become a holy and grace filled place.  A place where encounters with the holy happen over pastries, where deep joy and pain are shared, where knowing that even when  you cannot find a table there is still a place for you.

It is amazing to think about what the simple act of wanting a cup of coffee can do.  I wonder what would happen, if people felt as safe in Church as it is clear people do at Seven Stars?

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The Tone of Initiation

B-12FOriginally written for St. Peter’s by-the-Sea E-Net for January 12, 2014. 

In all cultures the rites of initiation have been the models for other rites of the community.  How people are initiated into the community sets the tone for everything else that happens.  This is true for the Church and our rite of initiation – Baptism.  This Sunday we have the opportunity to initiate new members into our community.  This Sunday we will receive Leonardo, Logan, and Shawn into the household of God, and invite them to join us in confessing the faith of Christ crucified, proclaiming his resurrection, and sharing with us in his eternal priesthood.

What we will do this Sunday sets the tone for everything else we do.  We will vow – we will promise – to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers; to persevere in resisting evil, and when we fall into sine, to repent and return to the Lord; to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; to seek and serve Christ is all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves; and, to strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being.  We do all of this with, and only with, God’s help.

This Sunday we have the opportunity to be reminded of what it is we are called to and how we are to do it.  We will join in prayer, in song, in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.  We will be strengthened to live into that which we have been called to do – that which was promised by and for us at our Baptism and each and every time we renew our Baptismal vows.

Will you join us this Sunday in welcoming Leonardo, Logan, and Shawn into this wonderful and amazing journey we have been called to?  Will you welcome them and support them in this work?  Will you come to get a glimpse into the kingdom of God breaking into the world in our very midst?

The Lord has shown forth his glory.  The Lord is showing for his glory in us: Come let us adore him.

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The Power of Word

Sermon preached at St. Peter’s by-the-Sea on Sunday December 29, 2013 (Christmas 1A).  You can listen to the sermon here.

“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”  Rudyard Kipling.

ImageDespite the abundance of words we encounter on a daily bases – in television, radio, books, magazines, blogs, Facebook, tweets, the list goes on – despite this over saturation, words have overwhelming power.

Think about the phrase, “Merry Christmas.”  How many times have you heard and said these words in the last several days?  How many more times in the days to come?  For us as Christians, these words mean something.  These words embody for us the joy, hope, and holiness of the incarnation – of the Christ child coming into the world.  We do not say “Joyful Christmas,” “Holy Christmas,” or any other variation of words that convey the same understanding as “Merry Christmas.” That is because in a way this phrase has been canonized for us.  It has become so important for expressing what this season means that these words in themselves have become holy.  But, what happens when these words are taken and used for other things?

Sometimes when words are twisted, when the meaning is changed, they become even more powerful.  They can even attempt to erase the word’s original intent and meaning.  “Merry Christmas” is a phrase that has been taken over, not by Churches and faithful worshipers, but by commercialism.  See how the words “Merry” and “Christmas” change when used in a commercial advertisement. “Make Christmas more Merry. One day sale at fill-in-the-blank-department-store.”  Make Christmas merrier by purchasing more things, participating in the myth that we do not have enough – that our own personhood is defined by what we have.  The “Merry Christmas” uttered in shopping malls means something rather different than the “Merry Christmas” we are greeted with in this sacred space.

This morning in the prologue to John’s Gospel we hear of another word – we hear of the Word: The Word that was with God in the beginning; the Word through whom all things – the entirety of creation – was made; the Word that becomes flesh – Jesus the Christ.

We hear in this morning’s Gospel that “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” Eugene Peterson, in his biblical paraphrase The Message, writes that the Word, “moved into the neighborhood.”  The Word – the most powerful of all words – comes to be amongst us.  The Word comes to dwell with us not to destroy or punish, but to restore us to the light. To bring us back to the heart of what we have been called to – the Truth.  Theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez once suggested that the best contemporary understanding of “the Word became flesh” is “the Word became poor.” God becomes incarnate taking on the tangible, vulnerable, human form.  God comes among us to heal us, to bring light where there is darkness, to bring wholeness where there is brokenness.  That is what we celebrate this Christmastide, that is what the incarnation of our Lord and Savior is all about, the coming of the Word into our lives – into our neighborhood.

If we believe that the Word has indeed come to be among us, if we believe that the Word is saturated in own lives than we must be mindful of what we say and do.  In today’s Gospel, we not only hear about the Word, but we also hear of the one who prepares the way – John the Baptist.  Many say we are called to be Christ like, but what if we tried to be more like John.  We hear that John “came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.” This leaves me to wonder, what do I testify to? What does my life – my witness – lead others to believe in?  I wonder if you’ve ever asked yourself those same questions?

Throughout history people have used Christianity to point towards something other than Truth and Light.  Christianity has been used as a tool of violence.  It has been used as a justification for slavery, oppression of women and those seen as societal outcasts.  Throughout time – and still today – the Word is twisted and manipulated to suit political gains.  The light and truth of the Word is changed to bring darkness.  This incredibly powerful Word is used and abused to erase that which the Word came to achieve – light, peace, grace, and truth.  If we believe that God is in fact among us, if God is not some distant being, then we must pay attention – we must change our ways.  We can no longer ignore the light and presence of God, because it is too inconvenient or simply too disruptive to our daily lives.

This is the most central claim of the Christian faith.  God became one of us, that we might know God more fully.  That we might come to know and be transformed by God’s nature and God’s love.  As Athansius said – the divine becomes human, so that human can become divine.  Let that sink in for a moment.  The divine becomes human, so that human can become divine.  If that is not shocking and even scandalous, I don’t know what is.

So what does this mean for us? How do we come to know the Word? How do we come to recognize that which John testified to – the true light, which enlightens everyone, coming into the world? While many understand this season to be one of happiness and cheer, to truly understand light we must know darkness.  For if we do not know darkness do we really need the light of Christ?

Look at the story we heard just a few days ago.  An unwed, young women, gives birth to a child.  This birth is unlike anything she could have imagined.  Instead of being surrounded by family she is surrounded by animals.  Instead of being at her home, she is in a manger.  Mary and Joseph are alone, and for that night, they are homeless.  The story of Mary is one of shame.  This is not how things are supposed to work.  Yet God is born, a weak helpless child, to lift up the cast down, to raise up the lowly.

Where does your own brokenness lie?  What are the dark places of your life?  In this season of the incarnation we are invited to open our lives.  To receive the gift of God’s grace.  Do you hear that still small voice of God calling out to you?  Will you open your heart – your life – so the Word can dwell in you?

Now more than ever it is important to come together.  To be present in community, to hear the word of God as revealed in Holy Scripture, to be nourished with the Word and Sacrament.  When we do this we allow the spirit of God to penetrate our brokenness and make us whole.  It’s like reading a good book over an over again, it gets inside you, it becomes part of you, in a way that reading something once can never do.  When we come and participate in the regular life of this community – or any community of faith – we allow the Word to break us open and make us a new creation.  We become children of God.  And what better time of year to be children?

There is something magical about children on Christmas.  The joy and excitement, the unknowing of what is wrapped under the tree, the light and hope in their eyes.  That is because Christmas is all about children.  We hear in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, that with the coming of Christ we are now children of God.  We heard that “God sent his Son, born of a woman . . . so that we might receive adoption as children.” By welcoming and receiving the Word in our midst, the Word that is imbued in our very being, we too become children.  This Christmastide may we embrace our childhood in God, and if we are children than we are also heirs.  May we share in the childlike joy, hope, and excitement at the gifts we receive: Gifts of God’s grace, love, truth, and eternal joy.

AMEN.

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