Salt & Light

A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake Episcopal Church, Canyon Lake, Texas.
The lectionary readings for the fifth Sunday after Epiphany are here.


I feel like we talked about this passage just a few weeks ago. Did it sound recently familiar to you? We did talk about it recently, but it wasn’t on a Sunday, it was part of our Wednesday night Advent study. The book we used, What if Jesus was Serious? walked through Jesus’ most well-known sermon as given to us in Matthew’s version of the Good News. It begins with last week’s reading of the Beatitudes that Fr. David preached about and we’ll continue to read through parts of this sermon between now and Lent. In between Sundays, I’d encourage you to pick it up and read the whole sermon, Matthew 5, 6, & 7; it will help bring what we talk about on Sunday into your every day.

You know, I find it kind of odd giving a sermon on one of Jesus’ sermons. I mean, really, who am I to add anything at all to what Jesus said? But, here we go.

I want to back up just a bit to build the bridge between last Sunday and today: As a point of definition, Jesus says that to be blessed in God’s Kingdom isn’t about worldly possessions but about living in the sure and certain hope that God is with us always, in the confidence that we are beloved children of God always, in the wisdom that says love is the most powerful force in the world.

And coming on the heals of the description of what it is to be blessed in God’s Kingdom, Jesus tells us we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

Salt & Light. All that we are and all that we do is to be seasoned with and illuminated by God’s Love so that others may taste and see that the Lord is good.

We don’t think much about salt in our 21st century world. It’s the stuff in the shaker on the table and by the stove for when we cook. I think most of us know that it is also a preservative. In the day that Jesus spoke these words it was the only way known to prevent meat from being contaminated and spoiling and it was also used medicinally to promote healing. Medically, we know that without the proper amount of salt in our system, our bodies would not function.

And, until we have no electricity, most of us don’t think much about light. When our power was off this past week, I can’t count how many times I walked into a room and out of habit, reached up and pressed the light switch. Even without electricity, we have battery operated lights that come on with a sensor as we moved through the house; we have flashlights at the ready. And we have candles sitting on our tables, not to provide light but to make our world smell better. But did you know that the light from a single candle can be see from more than a mile away? The tiniest flame shatters the darkness in which it shines.

Salt and Light. Salt doesn’t change the flavor of a food, it brings out the natural flavor of the food. Light breaks through the darkness, always. Darkness cannot extinguish light.

Jesus wasn’t preaching this sermon in the temple or synagogue but on a hillside to ordinary folks who were looking for hope in a world that didn’t offer much because the world didn’t think these folks weren’t worth much. And Jesus tells them they ARE salt and light, life-giving and life-sustaining essentials. Being salt and light aren’t specialized spiritual gifts of the most holy among us. We don’t need some specialized degree or to wear a special uniform. We just have to be willing to follow Jesus. Being salt and light in this world are the outcomes of ordinary lives lived in communion with God, those who choose to live on earth as in heaven here and now. Being salt and light is about loving well.

Love builds up without destroying us. When we let anger or hate guide us, we are destroyed from the inside out. When we live with the attitude that we always have to be the one who’s right, the strongest, or the most powerful, life becomes a competition, a continuous battle zone of fighting to stay on top. This is not the life God created us for. We are created to live most abundantly, to flourish, to thrive, when we partner with God to share the goodness of God’s Kingdom on earth.

Jesus gave us a glimpse of God’s kingdom and shows us how to be glimpses of God’s Kingdom in this world – seasoning all we think, say, and do with God’s Love; shining compassion and kindness … even when we aren’t receiving it in return. We aren’t born to compete for all we think we deserve in this world but to be companions, working together with God’s help so that we all have enough.

By beginning his sermon with a new description of who is truly blessed and then describing who we are, Jesus makes it clear that being blessed isn’t about outwardly visible behaviors we can pretend to have but the way that people with God shaped hearts simply are. When we begin to live from the image of God within each of us, we reflect God’s righteousness, God’s love and goodness for everyone.

The Pharisees had a reputation for adhering to the superficial letter of the law while disregarding the spirit of the law which is to teach us to love God, our neighbors, and ourselves well. Life isn’t a competition in which we have to prove we are more righteous that anyone else in order to secure our place in God’s kingdom. We are made righteous by God’s gracious love who extends the invitation of life in the Kingdom to every one.

None of what Jesus’ teaches in this sermon is new – it is exactly what God spoke through the prophet Isaiah in our reading today. The people listening to Jesus sermon weren’t the elite, the politically powerful, the religious authorities, but those who the world said were far from ‘blessed”. These are the folk who Jesus called Salt and Light.

Jesus comes along and says to these people who the world said were the opposite of blessed that not only are they blessed but they possess the ability with God’s help to bless others. Those who see no hope in the ways of this world are blessed when they find the hope that only comes in our relationship with God. Those who see the world through eyes of mercy are blessed because they see as God sees. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed because they desire what God desires. Those who work for justice and peace are blessed because they understand that anger destroys us, not those we are angry at. Those who grieve are blessed because they have learned the healing power of lament.

Jesus fulfills God’s law of love by living it and he shows us in flesh and blood what that looks like to live in God’s Kingdom where we are. He doesn’t offer 3 simple steps to becoming salt and light but tells us we ARE salt and light and invites us to live into who we truly are: beloved children of God.

Salt can’t be anything but salt. If something is labeled salt and isn’t salty, it isn’t salt. Light can’t be anything but light and despite Thomas Kincaid’s beautiful efforts, a painting of light can’t actually light a room.

We are created to be beloved, blessed children of God, living God’s law of love so that everyone experienced the goodness of God through us. Salt & Light. All that we are and all that we do is to be seasoned with and illuminated by God’s Love so that others may taste and see that the Lord is good.

Hope

A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake Episcopal Church in Canyon Lake, Texas
The lectionary readings for today are here.


If you were here a couple of weeks ago you might remember that we talked about Jesus’ baptism and I said that our baptism is the bridge between Jesus’ resurrection and life in God’s kingdom? Last week we heard of Jesus’ invitation to John’s disciples to ‘come and see’.

And today, we hear the story of Jesus inviting the first of his disciples to follow him. Matthew tells the story of the Unexpected. Throughout his telling of the Good News, Matthew grounds what happens in ancient prophecy and then points out how Jesus upends how most would have thought these prophecies to be fulfilled. Matthew wants us to be on the lookout for God’s Kingdom with a whole new lens.

Matthew tell us that Jesus begins his public ministry by settling in a town on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah. And Jesus’ message is a simple one – change your hearts and minds and come into God’s Kingdom.

The word ‘repent’ carries a lot of ugly baggage for many of us. We conjure up screaming street corner preachers or cranky Sunday school teachers wagging their fingers at us, telling us we are terrible and bad and naughty and we must give up all the things we like to do to live the austere lives of denial before God smites us. I never could figure out how that was preaching Good News, could you?

The Greek word, however, means to change our minds for the better. As Jesus uses it, it isn’t a condemnation but an invitation to live the hope-filled life of God’s Kingdom on earth as in heaven.

Hope was in short supply in Roman occupied, first century Palestine.

With the fulfilling of ancient prophecy clearly laid out and a message of hope ringing in our ears, Matthew tells us how Jesus begins to build his support group with a couple of … fishermen. Fishermen! Men not from the best schools or the most admired religious leaders but from the lowest rungs of society. God’s Kingdom isn’t always what we expect, we have to change our hearts and minds to see it.

Jesus didn’t call religious leaders and theologians. He called the ‘common folk’ and the ones no one expected – fishermen and tax collectors. I’m not sure who said this first, and a Google search had lots of people taking credit, but have you heard the phrase “God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called”? I first heard it from Fr. Chuck Woehler so I’m happy to give him the credit for it.

Over and over again throughout scripture we see God calling those we wouldn’t consider. God’s qualifications are a teachable spirit; people who are willing to change their hearts and minds for the better; people who are willing to follow the way of Love putting relationship above all else. People who are looking for hope and a sense of belonging.

The life of a fisherman in first century Palestine wasn’t an easy one. The fishing industry of the day was highly regulated. Every single fish they caught had to be sold to the Romans who then resold them at high prices. They didn’t get to keep even enough for their own families and they had to pay high taxes on the little bit of money they were paid for the fish, which left even less to buy back the fish they caught so they could feed their families. Fishermen were critical to the food chain of the day yet they struggled to survive themselves. They were mere cogs in an economic machine to the Romans and the lowest ranking occupation among the Jews.

It seems miraculous to us that they would so quickly drop their entire livelihood, meager as it was, to follow this wandering rabbi with such a simple message. But try to experience this invitation from their point of view. They had no hope of anything ever getting any better. The Roman occupation was a brutal one. Any plausible invitation to something better was more hope than what they had just moments before, more hope than they had their whole lives.

Jesus doesn’t show them a list of qualifications to achieve before extending the invitation, he didn’t interview them. He knew their resumes and he invited them in. It is in the following that we are transformed into Kingdom people, beloved children of God. That’s what discipleship is all about – the practice of our baptism, answering the call to be ministers for God’s kingdom.

This past Wednesday, those of us who will represent St. Francis by the Lake at our annual Diocesan Council gathered for an online pre-council meeting and Bishop David presented the Diocesan theme for the year: Go, Baptize, and make disciples. This is the last instruction Jesus gave after his resurrection. We call it the Great Commission. It is God’s blueprint for building the kingdom on earth as in heaven, made of people, bound together in relationship with Love.

The diocesan theme matches nicely with what we’ve said will be our focus this year here at St. Francis – inviting others and sharing God’s story. Inviting them to participate with us in the great story of Love. The fancy seminary word for this is evangelism, another word that has a lots of baggage with it but which simply means telling the good news. We are good at telling stories, it is instinctively how we get to know each other.

Those who have participated in one of the BibleProject small groups have read the entirety of the Bible, the written story of God’s people. If you were here on New Years Day, you heard “the highlights” of God’s written story, read in a series of 6 lessons through the scriptures. In our church calendar, we read through the story each year as we shape our worship with the rhythm of God’s story as told through our scriptures.

But God’s story didn’t end just because we stopped gathering writings into one book binding. We are not just readers or observers of the story, we are invited to be active participants in the greatest story of all. God’s Story.

Jesus’ invitation is an invitation to belong and an invitation to hope. Not wishful thinking that some vending machine style god will give us what we want if we manage to say the right words in the right order but the hope that is the confidence that God is always faithful and will set the world right as we participate with God in the Kingdom on earth as in heaven, answering the invitation, practicing the promises of our baptism, and sharing the story of God’s people to give hope to those who walk in darkness.

Hope is in short supply in twenty-first century America. And Jesus offers us the same invitation he did the fishermen of his day: follow me and I will show you how to live in the sure and certain hope of God’s Kingdom here and now. As we follow, we learn to be more and more like Jesus with every step. As we follow, we become the ones who shine the light into the darkness of our world so that others discover with whom they belong. As we follow, we live God’s story of Love for us and our neighbors and all of creation and that is very good news indeed. Amen.

The Beginning and the End

A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake Episcopal Church, Canyon Lake, Texas.
The lectionary readings for the first Sunday after the Epiphany are here.


Have y’all made resolutions for this new year? Have you considered what you want to focus on, what you want to eliminate, how you want to grow in the coming year? I’ve never been a fan of New Year’s Resolutions because I think mostly they set us up for failure and making resolutions to be a better person once a year doesn’t take into account that every day, every moment even, is a new beginning in God’s Kingdom on earth as in heaven. However, this time of year is as good a time as any to reflect and self-examine and make choices and changes that will better center our lives on Jesus.

Personally this year, I want to read more fiction, to better balance both learning and relaxing in my reading time. I enjoy reading theology and spiritual growth books but I’ve lost balance in my reading choices and that’s not good for anyone. Balance helps us all be who God created us to be. I also want to learn to make really yummy bonbons and truffles … I’m still working out how this will help my walk with Jesus but I’m sure it has something to do with hospitality and caring for others.

What choices and changes have you considered for this coming year?

Whatever choices and changes we’ve each decided to make this year, together, we also need to reflect on how we continue to center all that we do as St. Francis by the Lake on Jesus.

How can we focus on growing together this year for the benefit of God’s Kingdom on earth as in heaven? I really want to know. If you can, in just a couple of words or a sentence, what do you want us, as the parish of St. Francis by the Lake, as a committed group of Jesus Followers within the community of Canyon Lake, as a part of the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement, what do you want us to focus on this coming year?

Ponder this in your hearts and we’ll pick it back up at our All Parish Meeting on January 29.

So, you may be asking yourself, what on earth does any of this have to do with our Gospel reading for today? I’m so glad you asked. Baptism and New Beginnings are all about each other. Baptism isn’t just some theological ideal, it’s the beginning of our whole and holy life following Jesus. Our baptism is a practical thing; it is our life’s practice.

In this very short reading we get so much about who Jesus is and who he wants us to be. As Jesus comes to John to be baptized, John didn’t feel right about it, he knows who Jesus is and is quite confused that Jesus is submitting to him. Jesus tells John that it is ‘proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness”. Jesus is showing us, in flesh and blood, what it is to be a child of God. Being a part of God’s plan of redemption for this world isn’t about political power or social prestige or hierarchical ranking but about giving ourselves over to each other, trusting we will each and collectively seek the greater good of all as we follow Jesus.

Jesus didn’t need to be baptized, he had nothing to repent for, nothing to be washed clean of. But he got in line with everyone else as an act of humility and solidarity and love so that we, too, can claim God’s words “this is my child, my beloved.” This is the Good News.

Baptism marks the beginning of Jesus’ flesh and blood ministry here on earth and it is the last command he gives to us. After his arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection, he tells us to go into the world to make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to obey all that Jesus commanded us. And what did Jesus command us? To love God with our whole being and to love our neighbor as ourselves. This is the practicality of our baptism.

Our baptism isn’t for us individually in isolation but the initiation into a way of living that looks like Jesus. Our baptism is our continuously renewing life here and now.

Would you do something with me? Would you take the Book of Common Prayer from the pew rack and turn to page 299. Did you know that even the format of our prayer book is to teach us something? If you turn back a couple of pages you’ll see that the service for Holy Baptism follows immediately after the Easter Vigil and if you were to look ahead you’ll see it precedes Holy Eucharist, the service we participate in every week. Our baptism is the bridge from Jesus’ resurrection to our life in Jesus.

Holy Baptism, holy, meaning set apart for God. Turn to the bottom of page 303. After the candidates are presented and make their vows, the whole congregation witnessing the baptism makes a vow to support those who are baptized in their life in Jesus. It is a communal thing, and then together we all renew our baptismal vows. Each time someone new is baptized we reaffirm our own.

The first bit of the Covenant we make together is a recitation of our regularly spoken creeds. I want us to look specifically at the second part, beginning toward the bottom of page 304 where the celebrant asks “will you continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread and in the prayers?” See it? Baptism is the beginning of a life centered in community and the teachings of Jesus.

Next we vow to persevere in resisting evil and when we trip up to return. Continuous new beginnings. God’s forgiveness is guaranteed.

Then we vow to proclaim by word and example the Good News of Jesus. Baptism is about our whole life, all that we do in this place AND in our homes, our workplaces, our community, our world.

And we promise to seek and serve Christ in all person, loving our neighbor as ourself, to strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of everyone. We don’t follow Jesus to exclude anyone but to draw everyone into the kingdom by the way we live.

In our baptism, we are following Jesus into the life that we are created for. Let me take a quick side note here for those who are asking – But what about baptizing babies? Babies don’t have the capacity to choose. When babies and small children are baptized the parents and godparents make the commitment on their behalf, grounded in the understanding that our faith is lived out in a community, within our village of folks as we all follow Jesus together. Baptizing babies and small children brings to life, makes practical, the intellectual theology of community.

What Baptism does is a mystery; the Holy Spirit of God is at work and no one, no matter how much theology they say they’ve read, really understands. As a priest, I do the manual work of baptizing another by pouring the water but the true work, the work that transforms us into the beloved children of God is God’s work. That’s why when making our vows we say “we will with God’s help.”

Baptism is a practical thing, the first new beginning of our life on earth as in heaven. It is the beginning and end of all we do, of all that we are, as we follow Jesus in the Way of Life we are created for.

So, back to the question I asked earlier: How do we, together and with God’s help, continue to practice our Baptism better in this year to come, proclaiming the Good News, loving God, our neighbors, and ourselves better? Ponder this in your hearts. Amen.

2023

We are, each and every human being, created by Love, to love and to be loved. And yet, that seems to be the first thing we forget as we learn to navigate this amazing gift of life we’ve been given. Somehow we write for ourselves a story in which we have to earn love, make ourselves worthy of love, and ration our love for others.

The journey inward to remind ourselves Whose and who we really are feels self-centered and selfish to many Christians because we’ve bought the false story that when Jesus said “deny yourself and follow me” he meant that we were to ignore our own well-being. That is not at all what Jesus meant; Jesus showed us in flesh and blood what it looks like to be other-focused not self-centered. To love like Jesus loves we must be emotionally and spiritually well. And to manage our whole well-being we have to take the journey inward so that we can love from the image of God within us.

Getting to know ourself as God knows us enables us to see others as God sees (as much as humanly possible and with God’s help). Compassion, kindness, and gratitude are how we step back into God’s story written for us at the beginning of time. Start with being compassionate, kind, and grateful to and for yourself. Enter 2023 knowing you are a beloved child of God, part of the eternal story of Love. Together we can participate in God’s rEVOLution and change this world from the nightmare it often is to the dream that God intends*.

*Credit goes to the Most Reverend Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church for the nightmare/dream statement.

Surprise!

A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake Episcopal Church, Canyon Lake, Texas.
The readings for Christmas are here.


Merry Christmas! Has it been all you expected? Has it been a difficult time? Have you experienced anything unexpected?

For those of us who participate in the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement, we know that the season of Christmas is only just beginning, even if tomorrow, the world around us will start clearing away Christmas – everything will go on clearance, decorations will be removed and stored, and trees taken down.

Christmas is a seasonal part of our continuous, life-long celebration of God coming among us, born a tiny, fragile baby, growing and living to show us in flesh and blood who and Whose we are, dying and rising to life again to defeat even the worst of our fears. Christmas is so much more than a day or even a season; it is part of the ongoing story of God loving us and teaching us to love every moment of every day.

What we celebrate over the next 12 days of Christmas is not a single event in time but an eternal story that always has been, is now, and always will be. And the story begins with a word – the word that spoke us and all of creation into being. The word that gives us life and lights our world.

In his telling of the Good News Story, John tells us that Jesus is this very word of God – the power to create and restore and give life to the world, the source of the light of hope that is and always has been, more powerful than any dark force of this world.

In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God. John makes it clear that Jesus was not plan b – the Christmas story has been God’s plan all along. God’s Word always has been and always will be.

There is a video floating around this Christmas season that some of you may have seen. It’s done by a church in Auckland, New Zealand. They’ve done several, actually, all focused on parts of the Christmas story, all staring children and they are very well done. In this particular one, titled The Unexpected Christmas, God has declared it is time to step into history.

The angels around him begin to offer advice – Gabriel and the other archangels want to send an army. God says, no, just one person. So they counter that it must be someone very powerful and very strong. Again, God says no, not someone powerful but a baby. So another angel reminds God, as if he needs reminding, that human babies are small and weak and suggests the baby should be born to a powerful ruling family. Again, God declares his own plan – that the baby would be born to a peasant girl. And that it won’t be just any baby, it will be the prince of heaven, the son of God. And throughout the scene, as God reveals the details of his plan, one little angel keeps exclaiming “Brilliant, they won’t be expecting that!”

And slowly the angels realize that God’s plan is to take the world by surprise.

And then one angel asks, “Lord, how will the people know he’s there? What if they don’t notice him?” And God replies, “those who are looking will find him.”

Like the Angels, we all think we have the perfect plan for God to use in this world – be it armies, money, power, or whatever. We want to use the ways of this world to fix this world. But God knows better.

The work of God is not done through how the world defines strength and power, but through a small child who had to be sought out.

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury says, “The work of God is not done through strength and efficiency, but through those who, having seen the baby, leak out the love that they receive.… Glorifying God, leaking into the world the love that he leaks into us through the wounds and breaches and gaps of our own lives, is a severely practical and down to earth activity.”

So what are you expecting this Christmas? I know each of you is seeking God’s way or you wouldn’t be here.

As the world around us moves on from the event of the day, consider how we can keep the eternal story visible. Reflect on how you leak the love that you have received, or in John’s words how do you to testify to the light of God’s love?

If you were here a couple of weeks ago, you may remember that I confessed to having put some Christmas ornaments around our Advent wreath. Well, I have another seasonal confession – I leave my nativity scene up all year round. It is a continuous reminder of God’s love. When I found it in a little shop in a Guatemalan market, the presence of God in that place took me by surprise and I am reminded of that each time I walk past it. And, it makes me even more aware of the display of crosses I have hanging on the wall on the other side of the living room because it is in the living that we experience who God is and shine God’s light of love.

As we follow Jesus we live life as Jesus showed us by his life, framed by his fragile birth and vulnerable death. And if the Savior of the world’s birth into a poor family wasn’t shocking enough, God’s way of redeeming the world through compassion and vulnerability at his crucifixion was absolutely revolutionary. Jesus spent his time in history with the marginalized, not those in power. He chose relationships over rule keeping. He offered compassion instead of seeking prestige. And he invites everyone to follow him in this Way of Love.

In a world that seems to be addicted to anger and exclusion, shining the light of God’s love will take many by surprise and we are invited to participate in the unexpected Way.

God’s light of Love shines bright in every small act of kindness. In the year to come, watch for God’s Way of Love to take you by surprise and seek out ways you can take others by surprise with the love that brings us to life with the peace, hope, joy, and love of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Merry Christmas.

Link for The Unexpected Christmas
https://youtu.be/TM1XusYVqNY

Now & Not Yet Joy

A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake Episcopal Church, Canyon Lake, Texas.
The Lectionary readings for the Third Sunday of Advent are here.


Joy. Joy to the World. All the boys and girls. Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea, Joy to you and me … oh, wait, that’s the wrong song. Let me start again.

Joy to the World, the Lord is Come. Let Earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare him room. And heaven and nature sing. I’m not sure why we save this particular carol for Christmas because to me it is very much an Advent song. It is about the now and not yet joy of Jesus’ coming – the very definition of Advent. Isaac Watt’s carefully chosen words speak of Jesus as being with us in the present tense even as we continuously prepare for him to come to us daily and more fully at some undisclosed time.

And while some Advent observing folks may get bent out of shape with the world putting up Christmas decorations before December 24, I see the appearance of tinsel and lights and ornaments, and my favorite, red and white candy canes, as a more than suitable illustration of the anticipatory joy that Advent is about. The Now and the Not Yet. The past, present, and future all wrapped up together.

I enjoy the excitement of Christmas even though I know the calendar says it’s only December 11. I don’t see it as a symptom of the instant gratification malady that has infected our culture, I see it as a – and yes, I intend every pun here – a pregnant anticipation of what is to come. When a woman is pregnant, we don’t wait until she goes into labor to get the clothes and diapers and all the paraphernalia necessary. We are excited and we begin preparing now. We live in the now and not yet of what is to come.

Because of what all has been going on in our household these past few weeks, Jim and I haven’t gotten our tree and decorations out yet, but I did get the Advent wreath put in the center of the dining table. And, while out and about with my granddaughter Jacey recently I purchased a few new ornaments for the not yet put up tree and I couldn’t wait to put them out, so you know what I did? You might want to move back some, there might be a lightening bolt come through on this confession – I unwrapped them and set them around the Advent Wreath! And, the display brings a smile to my face and to my soul with the now and not yet joy of Advent.

Mary knew this joy. She sings of God’s Kingdom already in place even though the events the angel has spoken to her about haven’t yet occurred. Her joy is too much to contain.

Jesus tried to get John’s disciples to understand it. But I think they are too hung up on how they have decided things are supposed to be that they can’t grasp what actually is. Jesus doesn’t answer their questions directly but asks them what they see and hear. The lame are walking, the blind see, the sick are restored, the hungry are fed! How can this not be joyful, how can this not be the will of God whose deepest desire is for all people to thrive in the Kingdom!?

And then he turns to the crowds and says just because things are not what we expect them to be doesn’t mean we are right and whatever happening is wrong. Jesus was not what the majority of folks expected in a Messiah and so they struggle to see what is right in front of them, John’s proclamation of the Kingdom, Jesus’ signs and wonders didn’t seem to be enough to convince them because they were looking for something else.

More often than not, God’s plan isn’t what we expect by our human standards. And so, Jesus’ question is also for us – what do we expect to see? Can we let the reality of God’s now and not yet Kingdom reset our expectations of, well, everything and everyone?

When we let go of our expectations and see God’s Kingdom as it is, we discover it is so much more that we expect. I don’t mean ‘more’ in a materialistic way but more in that we discover what it is to be more fully alive, more human than we can ever experience by settling for our own expectations. When we let God reset our expectations, we discover what it is to know we are invaluable to the loving God who created us and chooses to be in relationship with us.
We discover what it is to know we are unconditionally loved even in the midst of the pain and suffering of this world, that God is willing to walk through the most difficult of situations with us, holding and comforting us.
We discover that joy doesn’t come from getting whatever we want when we want it but from the understanding that God is true and faithful and loving so that we trust God’s Way and have faith that God will set all of Creation to rights.
We discover the peace that comes from understanding it isn’t our job to perfect or fix the world or ourselves or anyone else but to simply be who God created us each to be, in his image.
We discover that hope isn’t wishful thinking but trusting that God will bring about all that has been promised, even when we mess up so badly we can’t seem to forgive ourselves.

We are called to be living proclamations of this now and not yet Kingdom. This is the reason Jesus extends the invitation to follow him. We are called to live Sacramentally – the outward signs of the the inner grace. Do we shine like the Joy candle in this world or do we get so hung up on how we think things should be that we become the extinguishers of other people’s candles? Do we look for the image of God in everyone we encounter or do we get distracted by whatever behavior or appearance we disagree with and behave more like the Pharisees than Mary? Do we proclaim the Good News with the open eyes and ears necessary to experience the joy of God’s Kingdom or suck the joy out of the season?

What did we come out to see? The world through the lens of God’s light and love or for something we can judge or complain about in order to appear more righteous than our neighbors?

Advent is about knowing that God is present with us in the here and now and yet there is so much more to come! James puts it plainly – be patient and don’t grumble against one another. Don’t grumble at those who put Christmas ornaments around their Advent wreath and can’t wait to hang candy canes on the tree. Don’t grumble at those who say Merry Christmas during Advent or Happy Holidays at any time. Have the eyes to see them as God’s children, the ears to listen their story, respecting the dignity of every human being. Proclaim the Good News. Share the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love we say that not just this season is about but what our life following Jesus is all about. These words aren’t just four candles in a circle or words on a church banner that we put out for a season and then store away. These words, Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love, are the foundation of life in the now and not yet of God’s Kingdom on earth as in heaven all 365 days of each year.

Joy to the World the Lord is come. Let Earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare him room. Joy to you and me. Amen.

Not Even One Stone

A reflection for the twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost. The lectionary readings for today are here.


There is much gloom and doom in the lectionary readings for today. And there is much joy and hope.

Jesus says, “as for the things you are admiring, the time is coming when not even one stone will be upon another. All will be demolished.” Since he is speaking to a group of folks admiring the grandeur of the temple in Jerusalem, they assume that is is only reference point. But, as we know, Jesus so very often speaks of so much more than the literal context of his words.

Numerous times in my life there have been predictions for the ‘end of the world’. As I say often, I grew up in a denomination in which the main focus of the faith teaching was about what happens when we die rather than living life on earth as it is in heaven. I’m sure someone smarter than me has done studies about how this ‘life after death’ way of thinking came to dominate so much of Christianity but I’m fairly certain it has something to do with the religious powers-that-be trying to maintain their power and control the behavior of the masses through fear and manipulation.

When, however, we read Jesus’ words – all of them – in light of the whole of the scriptures, what I find is not fear and manipulation but joy and hope. In fact, the one phrase that Jesus says more than any other is ‘do not be afraid.’ Jesus understands better than any of us that life is constantly changing. God wove regular change into creation – fall becomes winter, spring becomes summer. Crops are planted and harvested. Tides ebb and flow. The sun rises; the moon rises and waxes and wanes. These are the natural, cyclical changes God gave us to teach us that change is part of the design of life. Change isn’t something to be feared but to live into.

Now, please don’t hear me say that I think change for the sake of change is good and to be sought after. Change can be very painful and filled with sorrow. But change, in any form, in and of itself is not the end of the world, even if it feels like it. It is part of the world, this life, we are created to be in. When we face change of any sort, good change, negative change, change we choose, change forced upon us, expected or unexpected change, we have a choice: to live a resurrection life following Jesus or not.

I do not like the current change I am living with. I would have much preferred not to have major surgery. And now I have a choice – to live into it the ways this is changing me or struggle against it. We always bring what was with us, woven into who we are continuously becoming. When change comes (and it is always coming), when necessary we lament and grieve what is lost. And we look to God who is always with us for the strength and hope to continue following Jesus in this life. As resurrection people we know that endings bring beginnings just as beginnings at some point in time bring endings. The only thing enduring is the love of God, faith empowered by the Holy Spirit, and hope we have in Jesus.

The Change that is to come, when God will usher in the New Heaven and New Earth is not up to us. We can’t forestall it by keeping things “as they always have been” (a myth at best, fear mongering at it’s worst) or trampling through the changes ignoring the impact. The Change that is to come will come when God’s plan says it will. Our role is to live as if it is already here, on earth as in heaven, sharing love and compassion and kindness where we are and with what we have.

Whatever change is going on in your life – physical, relational, political, financial, cultural, locational, step into it with Jesus. Not with manufactured happiness or fake joy, but with intent to grieve what may be lost, to learn and grow from what is and what is to come. Seek to be better, to be more like Jesus, because of the change, whatever that looks like in your situation. The choice is yours – to struggle and fight or walk in love as Jesus loves us.

“A time is coming when not even one stone will be upon another. All will be demolished.” Life changes continuously. Only with change can we develop and grow. Jesus shows us in flesh and blood what it looks like to live the fullness of life God desires for all of us. Follow Jesus.

Bodies&Souls

Although my anticipated audience for this piece is post-menopausal women like myself, I do hope and pray that younger women and all men would read it, too. We do not live this life as isolated individuals but as interconnected companions along the Way. The better we attempt to understand each other’s experience the more compassion we develop. (And I have this secret wish that we all wouldn’t be embarrassed by our natural body functions but I’ll try to be as delicate as possible.)

So, here’s my story:
About 10 days ago I went to donate blood as I do every 60 days and for the first time ever my iron was too low. It wasn’t super low, just .2 what it needed to be. So I rescheduled and made a plan to eat lots of spinach and other iron rich foods to boost it back up.

Three days later I noticed a change in my urine flow (this can’t be said delicately, sorry). It took me longer “to go” than what was typical but there was no pain or irritation so I just chalked it up to “getting older”.

Two days after that my back started bothering me – the same pain I get periodically because of a bad disc so I intended to make an appointment with my doc to get a PT referral. That has always remedied it before. The next day while driving into work the back pain was so severe I changed the plan to go to Urgent Care, after, of course, I got a few things done at the office (and due to the fact that I never got around to making an appointment the day before).

By lunch time the pain had me in tears and I had my hubby drive me to urgent care. The doc listened to my symptoms and said “kidney stones” and ordered a CT. The CT showed no stones. It did show a large mass in my uterus pressing on my bladder and my spine (did I say LARGE?) and the doc quickly got me a transfer to the hospital and referral to a gynecological oncologist and surgeon there. I was medically transported to the hospital not knowing what was next. The surgeon admitted me and ordered an MRI and other tests and said he’d work me into his surgery schedule after the tests were done.

Four days later, I’ve had a total hysterectomy and am recovering from surgery. The pathologist said she saw no cancerous cells. Her exact wording was it was all “completely unremarkable.” I’ve never been so happy to be unremarkable in my life. The cause for the mass is unknown. I do struggle a bit with giving up parts that make me biologically a woman, but I seek my identity in the God who created and loves me, so I’ll adjust. My dear hubby said we could have a funeral for the parts if I wanted. I don’t think I’ll do anything formal but I will allow myself to grieve and lament which is always healing.

Not once in my mind had I connected the three symptoms nor did I take any of them seriously until the back pain was unbearable. I am so very grateful for the first doc I saw who asked the right questions that allowed him to connect two and ordered the scan that began my diagnosis.

Ladies, and men, of every age, we need to take our bodies seriously and get to know them well enough that we can truly listen to what they are telling us. Our bodies are beautifully designed and intricately created by the God who loves us beyond our understanding. This God, the God I know as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, through the writings and experiences of those who have known God before me, and with my own reasoning abilities to recognize God through my experiences and time, gave us these amazing bodies as a gift for us to care for. Yes, there is pain and sickness and sometimes our “parts” malfunction but God does not cause this nor does God desire it. It is the collective result of the human race deciding we know better than God what is good and what is bad. (Before any of this, I’d been writing about suffering which I hope to being posting soon.)

Tend to your bodies, tend to your souls. This is how we become the whole and holy people God created us to be. I’m going to do my best with God’s help to do this better and better through the remaining of the wonderful life I’ve been gifted.

The nurses and doctors and techs who have cared for me at the hospital have been amazing. The medical profession is a true ministry, whether those in it recognize that or not. Each in their own way want us to be well in the gift of our bodies and they participate in the healing God desires for all of us.


“LORD, you have examined me. You know me.
You are the one who created my innermost parts; you knit me together while I was still in my mother’s womb. I give thanks to you that I was marvelously set apart. Your works are wonderful—I know that very well.” Psalm 139:1, 13-14 (Common English Bible)

All the Possibilities

A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake, Canyon Lake, Texas.
The Lectionary readings for the twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost are here.


When you hear the name Zacchaeus, what is the first thing that runs through your mind? What about Jericho? I bet one or both of those songs will be running through your head for the rest of the day. You’re welcome. Now, besides the songs, what do we know about this man and this place?

Jericho is a city on the northwestern edge of the sea of Galilea and almost due east of Jerusalem, with settlements dating back to 9000 BCE. It claims to be the oldest city in the world and the city with the oldest known protective wall. Most famously known from the Old Testament from the story of Joshua and the destruction of the wall around the city brought about by a marching band of priests.

Whenever a specific place is named in the stories of Jesus, it is good to recall the stories known about the city from the Old Testament. In the battle against Jericho, Joshua was instructed to march his army around the city daily for seven days and on the seventh day to march seven times, when the priests blew their horns, the wall would come down. This is also the story in which we meet the prostitute Rahab who saved the Israelite spies because she had heard of their God. She and her family were not destroyed in the Battle of Jericho and she is the great great great great great great … grandmother of Jesus.

In the time of Jesus, Jericho was a major customs and trade city. Our friend Zacchaeus was there as Jesus was passing through. Zach, we are told, was a chief tax collector meaning he managed a group of tax collectors. From what they collected they had to pay the Empire first and give their ‘chief’ his cut, keeping what was left for themselves, so they would set the applicable tax rate to whatever they needed it to be to have enough of a profit to maintain the lifestyle they chose. And we complain about the IRS.

As we saw last week, tax collectors didn’t have a very good reputation in first-century Palestine. Their fellow Jews considered them traitors because they worked for the financial gain of the Roman Empire. Way back at the beginning of Luke’s telling of the good news story, a group of tax collectors ask John the Baptizer how they should conduct their business and he tells them to collect nothing more that the amount prescribed. Luke also tells us that Jesus frequently eats with tax collectors and even calls one to be in his inner circle of disciples.

And today, we have the story of Zaccheaus, the chief tax collector. Zach knew Jesus was coming through his town and he tries to work his way through the crowds just to catch a glimpse of this great teacher. But, alas, he was a wee little man, short in stature, our translation more politely puts it, and the crowds paid him no notice. Being ever so resourceful because he’s had to learn to live in a world built for people taller than he – I understand his plight well – he runs around the crowd and climbs a tree.

Now, Luke doesn’t give us anything about Zach’s motivation beyond he just wanted to see who this Jesus he had heard of was. Jesus had other plans. He looked up to Zach and invites himself to Zach’s house. And, as typical, the crowds begin to grumble. Why didn’t Jesus come and eat with them? Couldn’t Jesus see they are much more worthy of his time and attention? A tax collector, the chief tax collector, really?

Zach doesn’t give into their attempt to shame him. He stands, full stature, in front of Jesus and refutes the bad reputation the crowd has forced upon him. Our translation has Zach speaking in the future tense but the Greek text is in the present tense: instead of “I will give” and “I will pay”, Zach declares “I give half of what I make to the poor, and if I defraud, I pay back 4 times.” Zach isn’t declaring he will change his ways, he is claiming he already follows the rules, and more than that, he’s a bit of a Robin Hood figure. He makes up for the defrauding done by the collectors he manages, giving half of his cut to the poor and returning 4 times what was taken above the standard tax.

So, in this city once destroyed by the power of God through Joshua’s marching band, Jesus destroys the crowd’s ideas of who is righteous and who is not and empowers Zach to overcome the shame they force on him. The salvation that has come to the house of Zaccheaus is the power of living out the love of God by loving our neighbors well, exercising the justice of God’s Kingdom in all that we do.

Jesus came not to establish a great political, cultural, or even military power but to seek and save the lost. This is not what most Israelites expected in the promised Messiah; they had lost the plot of God’s story. They didn’t want mere salvation, they wanted retaliation and revenge over the powers that be.

The Israelites didn’t expect to capture the city of Jericho with a marching band and the Israelites of Jesus’ day didn’t expect a Messiah who would overcome evil with kindness and compassion. They didn’t expect Jesus to show up as he did – as an ordinary person, not seeking political or military power but gentle, loving influence, transforming the lives of those he spent time with – those on the margins, the ones whom the crowds often overlooked.

How and where do we expect Jesus to show up? Do we, in spite of the crowds, position ourselves to see him better? Do we attempt to look beyond the crowds to see who Jesus would see? Or do we, like the crowds, grumble when we see those we consider short in stature freely receiving the blessings we’ve tried so very hard to procure for ourselves?

The salvation that Jesus brings isn’t at all about social status or political prestige or military might or physical power but about living on earth as in heaven. It is, in the words of the prophet Isaiah “ceasing to do evil, learning to do good, seeking justice, rescuing the oppressed, defending the orphan, and pleading for the widow,” in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. In our jobs, in our volunteer work, in our business dealings, in our neighborhoods and community, regardless of whatever political party is in power, regardless of whomever our neighbors voted for or who they love or how they dress or wear their hair, the color of their skin or their country of birth.

Salvation, as Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica is living in the understanding that it is God who makes us worthy and God’s power that enables us to do the work of faith so that in all that we do, God is glorified. Salvation means we keep our eyes on Jesus and follow his example of loving well, being freed from the power of shame, coercion, and fear in this world.

Together, as the good people of St. Francis and with God’s help, we walk in the faith of following Jesus on earth as in heaven, offering up all that we are and all that we have and all that we do for God’s glory so that the people of our Canyon Lake community, like Zacchaeus, can see Jesus in us just as we look for him in others. Imagine all the possibilities. Amen.

Faithful Persistence

A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake Episcopal Church, Canyon Lake, Texas.
The Lectionary readings for the nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost are here.


When you hear this particular parable, what American proverb comes to your mind?  …  And when you hear “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” what does it mean?  The one who makes the most noise gets the attention or gets what they want?  Do you think that’s what Jesus means with his parable?

So, as we delve into the substance of this parable, let me be very clear – this is NOT a parable that gives us permission to nag God for whatever we want.  The widow is seeking justice, not something unnecessary or frivolous or even something that would only benefit her.  The judge in the story is well known for being unjust, self-described as having no fear of God or respect for any one else. The only reason this particular judge gives this woman what she asks is to make his life easier; his motivation has nothing to do with justice.  

And, so, if this self-centered, disrespectful, unjust Judge manages to do the right thing if even for all the wrong reasons, how much more can we trust in God, who is other-focused, loves unconditionally, always just, and full of compassion.

Let’s look at what bookends this parable: We are told very plainly that Jesus is telling this story to emphasize the importance of praying always and to not lose heart.  And, Jesus ends the story with the question, “will God find faith on earth?”

Do you remember the definition of faith I gave a couple of weeks ago?  Having faith is putting our whole trust in God’s grace and love. It is proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; Seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. It is striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being. Do you recognize that definition from our baptismal vows, how we promise to live as followers of Jesus?  

What about praying always?  What’s that all about?  When Jesus explains the need to pray always, so you think he’s telling us to hide ourselves away in church, heads bowed, eyes closed, saying all the right words at God?  I don’t think so.  The story Jesus uses to illustrate the importance of praying always doesn’t detail any of these actions.  The story tells of a widow, one of little to no social standing or influence, being persistent in her quest for justice, even in light of a judge who has no desire for justice.  

But just what is justice and why bring it into a lesson about prayer and faith?  All people, every human that ever was or is or will be is created in the image of God and, therefore, are to be treated with dignity and fairness.  But, for all of human history, we’ve proven our tendency to use our own definitions of good and evil, looking our for our own advantage and rather than walk in this world following God’s way and God’s definition of good and evil, using other people to get what we want, pushing other people down to raise ourselves up, seeking power and vengeance rather than justice. 

Justice is more than just a set of laws that define wrongdoing and punishments.  Justice, in God’s Kingdom, is about doing the work God has given us to do to restore God’s way in this world – seeking out those who are vulnerable and building relationships grounded in God’s image, working together to meet everyone’s needs.  Justice isn’t one sided but considers the greater good of all.  We hear this definition of justice throughout the Old Testament: 

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.” (Zechariah 7:9-10)

“Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9)

“Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow.” (Jeremiah 22:3)

Justice, and it’s partner ‘Righteousness’ are about being in right relationship – with God, with each other, and with ourself.  Jesus comes and shows us in flesh and blood what living life justly and righteously looks like, even in the face of adversity, even when we don’t feel like it, even when we would rather put our own comfort first.  The widow is persistent.  She doesn’t give up.  She lives in a continual attitude of prayer, the awareness of God’s presence with her so she doesn’t lose heart.  This is what it is to live faithfully with God, seeking God’s vision for this world, not our own.  

So, how do we, the good people of St. Francis, follow Jesus in this type of persistence, this faithful living in an attitude of prayer, seeing the world through God’s eyes?  We’ve been trying to discern the answer to this since I first met many of you over a year and half ago as we had a day long conversation about listening to the prompting of Holy Spirit as we move forward in our ministry and service to the community around us.  

First of all, we come together regularly for worship, knowing that our method of worship is formative, letting the Holy Spirit sculpt our hearts and minds so that the image of God is revealed in our lives outside these doors.  And, as importantly, we gather for the study of scripture and have conversations about what it looks like in our day and time to be the people of God.  We learn together how to rediscover our true selves as God’s beloved. We meet to conduct the business of this parish within the Economy of God’s Kingdom.  We fellowship in relationship with each other, doing life together, sharing the good and the difficult and tragic, celebrating the joys and bearing each other’s burdens as if they are our own.  And we talk about how we can share all of this with our greater community.  Seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves, striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being.

Back late in the summer, we asked everyone to offer suggestions on how we can use our beautiful property for the benefit of the whole Canyon Lake community and we’ve brought the ideas together in a intentionally crafted, well prioritized plan.  It’s going to take all of us, with God’s help, to bring it to fruition, to create a welcoming, hospitable, safe place for all.  

Just like the parable isn’t about what the woman wants for herself but for the greater good, we give of ourselves – our time, our talents, our treasure, to equip us all for every good work we discern we are to do for the benefit of our community.  Together, collectively, with all that we are and all that we have, we listen to the prompting of Holy Spirit, following Jesus in the Way of God. We are being who we are created to be – God’s beloved revealing God’s love and justice to the world.  Whether it is the ECW hosting a charity wreath auction to assist groups around our community to raise funds for their work, or Chris Mitchell teaching others how to process deer meat or all of us picking up extra items at the grocery story to help stock the CRRC food pantry, the DOK preparing food bags for the children in our community who are food insecure, helping prepare goodies to encourage and thank our teachers, offering our space as a county voting site, or giving financially to support the ministries and daily, weekly, and annual business of St. Francis, we are, together with God’s help, living answers to the prayer “on earth as it is in heaven.”  

The thing about squeaky wheels is the squeaking means something isn’t right, they’ve been neglected.  With proper maintenance, they don’t squeak. Living in an attitude of prayer and in faith takes intentionality and regular, ongoing work through the whole of our lives, proper maintenance so that we well equipped and prepared to proclaim the Good News of God with faithful persistence.  Don’t lose heart.  Amen.