Waiting

A sermon preached at St. Francis Episcopal Church, San Antonio, TX.
The Lectionary readings for the ninth Sunday after Pentecost are here.


Good morning, I’m so happy to be here with y’all this morning. I don’t know how much Mother Carrie has told you about me but she and I first met 10 years ago this past June. I had just graduated seminary and been ordained and was assigned to St. John’s in McAllen where she was serving as the Youth and Family Minister. I had the privilege of working with her at St. John’s for over 4 years and then when I moved to St. Alban’s in Harlingen, she did her seminary field-placement there! And now we are both serving at churches named St. Francis in the San Antonio area – I’m the associate rector at St. Francis by the Lake in Canyon Lake. And I hope and pray that our years in ministry continue to weave together as they have.

As we started getting to know each other, we quickly discovered we each had a knack for pranks. Don’t laugh, it’s an important survival skill. So, I believe in an effort at self-preservation, we focused our joint pranking efforts on the rector of St. John’s. So, as we were executing these exquisitely honed skills, we would have to remain vigilant, watching for Fr. Jim to return. And this waiting was the most exhilarating part because we wanted him to discover what we’d done, that was the whole point.

In our gospel lesson today, Jesus speaks of waiting, and vigilance, and being prepared for an unexpected return. It’s all part of Jesus’ response to the man whom, as we read last week, asks Jesus to settle a family dispute over inheritance – a warning against the attitude of scarcity that leads to greed, followed by the reminder of the evidence of God’s abundant provision all around us, in the beauty of the earth and the lives of the animals with the instruction ‘not to worry.’

In our reading today, we jump into the middle of Jesus’ sermon with the words, ‘do not be afraid, little flock.’ Do not be afraid because God delights in giving us what we need. God, delights! Don’t you love the sound of that? It isn’t God’s ‘duty,’ God doesn’t provide for us because he has to. God delights in it, God chooses to give us the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Here and now. Every day. So, do not be afraid.

Jesus says that a lot – do not be afraid. We even have God saying it to Abram in the Old Testament story we read. But don’t think for a moment that he’s telling us to pretend there aren’t things that cause us to be afraid. I mean, have you watched the news? Inflation, war, viruses, political unrest, drought, there is much to be concerned about. When we take Jesus’ words ‘do not be afraid’ in light of all of his teaching, in light of the Good News of God, it isn’t an artificial positivity, it is wise optimism. We are to live in the hope-filled wisdom that God is God and we are God’s beloved children.

It is God’s promise that he will set all things right again, some day when God says it’s time. Our job, our purpose is to live on earth as in heaven, loving God, our neighbor, and, yes, our enemy. This is how we diligently wait, preparing ourselves for the coming Kingdom, and extending the invitation of the Way of Love to everyone we encounter each day. This is the faith that the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews speaks of. It is faith that is to guide us, not fear.

But, before we wrap up this message of Love, I want to throw a monkey wrench into the works because I know some of you are already thinking it. What about the line in the Psalm we read that says, “the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him.” The phrase ‘fear-of-the-Lord’ is all over the Old Testament. What do we do with being told we should fear God and Jesus telling us to not be afraid? Don’t these contradict one another? The short answer is ‘no’. But don’t just take my word for it. The phrase fear-of-the-Lord is just that, a phrase that has to be taken as a whole word, not the sum of the words that make it. This is one of the many instances in Bible translation where there just isn’t an equivalent English word to the Hebrew original so we do the best we can. It is more than awe or respect or even reverence.

Eugene Peterson always writes Fear-of-the-Lord with dashes between each word and defines it like this, “the way of life that is lived responsively and appropriately before who God is, who he is as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. … a way of life in which human feelings and behavior are fused with God’s being and revelation” (Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, pps 40 & 42).

What equips and enables us to not be afraid, in the midst of all of the frightening happenings of this world, is our fear-of-the-Lord, knowing who God is and who we are in relationship with God. Fear-of-the-Lord is how we wait, in active anticipation, alert to who God is and aware of his presence with us every moment of every day. This is the active waiting we are called to participate in by Jesus; this is how we stay alert and prepare for the time that is to come and in the hear and now, as live our lives with the same faith our ancestors did.

There is much to be concerned about in this world; there are many dangers. Following Jesus doesn’t mean we won’t ever face scary events, or that our life will be easy, or even that we will always get what we want. Following Jesus, walking humbly with God means we are never alone or abandoned, that with God’s help, we face whatever is to come trusting in God’s promises and provision, rather than living with the burden that we must fix all the ills of this world.

The Psalmist tells us: “Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon those who fear him, 
on those who wait upon his love.”

So let me wrap this up with this – don’t get stuck in trying to analyze the details of who is the thief in Jesus’ story. Just as I don’t want you to get stuck in trying to figure out the parallels of this bit of the Good News story and mine and Carrie’s pranks on Fr. Jim. Sometimes we have to step above the details and look at the whole message. The point of me telling you that story is to share some background of mine and Carrie’s relationship and the point of Jesus’ story is to teach us that we all are called to live this faith journey in active relationship with each other as we participate with God in God’s purposes in the here and now. We must always be ready to welcome God because God is with us always, what’s missing is our awareness of it.

So, “do not be afraid, little flock, for it is God’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” Right now. Right here. Amen.

Burials and Baptisms

A Sunday reflection for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost.
The lectionary readings are here.


In July, we’ve had two funerals and today we end this month with the baptism of a precious two-year old. Not an extraordinary set of events at a church, and yet these occasions are the times we pause and look at life, lives lived out in this world of God’s creation, a creation both beautiful and dangerous, ordered and not tamed; life lived in the balance of joy and sorrow.

At each of the funerals as folks talked about the person who had died, not one thing was said about what they owned or the power they had over others or even who would inherit what. They spoke of character and love and integrity, faith and kindness and giving; they spoke of wanting to be like them.

In the Baptismal service, the parents and god-parents of this precious child promise to raise her, with God’s help and in the context of our Christian community, to be like Jesus. And we promise that we will do all that we can to help them. Together we all promise, with God’s help, to continue in the apostles’ teaching & fellowship, in the breaking of bread, & in the prayers; to persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord; to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourself; and to strive for justice & peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being (from the Book of Common Prayer).

In my faith tradition, baptism is the full initiation into the Body of Christ, living and active in this world, on earth as it is in heaven. It is the outward sign of God’s grace – the freely given gift of love and compassion to everyone. Being a part of the Body is a relationship with the One who created all of us in love, for love, and to love. Following Jesus isn’t about getting what I want or about being in some elite group, it is about living in loving community seeking the wisdom from Jesus’ teachings to love God and our neighbor and ourselves better and better as we journey together. Following Jesus is about letting God’s image within us shine into the struggles and the joys of this life.

When I talk with the parents and god-parents of children about to be baptized, after going over what they will promise on behalf of the child, I simply put it this way: we are all going to work together to help her love like Jesus loves so we can all be more like him.

We follow Jesus to learn how to be like him. So much of history since Jesus and the first of his disciples walked about in First Century Palestine has taken the easier path – to look to Jesus for the answers we want in order to justify our own behavior, just as the man in our Gospel reading does: Jesus, tell my brother to do what I want.

And Jesus, true to who he is, turns the question back to the man with a parable about a rich man who hoarded all he had for himself only to discover that upon his death all he had served no real purpose. In the framework of baptism and burial, we can see clearly that the purpose of our life is to follow Jesus in the Way of Love, living together in community so that we all flourish and thrive. This is what we are created for. This is the key to living our ordinary lives extraordinarily. Amen.

Living Prayer

A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake, Canyon Lake, TX.
The lectionary readings for the seventh Sunday after Pentecost are here.

Have you been praying for rain? Are you also carrying an umbrella?

Almost 2 months ago I preached another sermon about prayer. It was the Sunday after the shooting in Uvalde and in the context of Jesus’ prayer for the disciples and all of us as told by the Gospel writer John. And we could look at the situation and say God isn’t listening because things haven’t gotten any better. There have been numerous shootings since then and as more and more information comes to light about that horrible day we don’t seem to be getting any good answers. If we think that prayer was our way of convincing God how to run this world, a means for telling God how to be God, then it would seem that our prayers aren’t doing any good so why bother. And yet, here we find ourselves with another reading about prayer. What are we to make of it?

Do you remember Mother Teresa’s words about prayer? “I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.” The purpose of prayer is to deepen our communion with God and yes, prayer and action go hand in hand – we pray and we act as we are able. And it’s more than that: we are to pray AS we live, following Jesus in the Way of Love, trusting God and walking humbly with God.

In today’s Gospel lesson, we have a disciple coming to Jesus asking him to provide instruction on praying. Jesus had been teaching them, showing them in flesh and blood how to live in God’s Kingdom, how to live in a continuous attitude of prayer. Perhaps, like us, this disciple didn’t see things getting any better – there was still suffering and pain in this world; following Jesus hadn’t made life all hunky dory and peachy keen. Maybe this disciple though he’d misunderstood what Jesus had shown them. What Jesus gives in response to the request for instruction is a short, simple prayer followed by a parable and a commentary that set the context of praying within our every day lives.

Jesus tells a story of a man who has guests and is unprepared to host so he asks a friend for help and then talks about a door and feeding our children. Jesus doesn’t offer these up as some magic prayer formula that will ensure we get what we want. He isn’t telling us we need to nag God to get our way. Jesus is giving us insight into who God is, putting God at the center, not our requests.

So, let’s look at the story Jesus tells. It helps to read these in the context of the culture in which they are told – a culture that is honor based and communal. What brings one honor – or shame – brings it to the whole community. Not being able to provide for a guest would have impacted the reputation of the whole neighborhood. If the unprepared host is us and we go asking for God’s help, being ‘persistent’ as the English translation puts it, until we get what we need, it would mean that God is reluctant to give us what we need. And in light of the whole story of God, we know that isn’t the case.

Another way to translate the word anaideia is ‘without shame’. Translating it this way puts it more in the communal context. The honor, the good reputation of all of us is dependent on each of us. Each of us needs to be the ‘good neighbor’ to each other because we want the best for all of us. Remembering that our lives are infinitely connected because we are all God’s beloved children is how we live the prayer “Your Kingdom come.”

So, what about Jesus’ commentary on his own story? The door that we knock on doesn’t lead to the path that gives us our every want or whim. The door is the entrance to God’s presence, the entrance to the Kingdom. And when we seek God’s presence we will find it. God’s greatest desire is to provide our needs, for us to thrive and flourish in this life God has given us, the same as we desire for our children.

Prayer as Jesus teaches us to pray is not simply communicating to God but seeking to be in communion with God. It is more than the words we say but engages the whole of our being – heart, soul, mind, and body.

Prayer isn’t access to some holy vending machine in which we tell God about all of our good works so God will dispense what we want. It isn’t a way to earn God’s favor or to get God to change or punish others. Prayer isn’t a way to disguise our gossip, nor is it a way to show off how sound our theology is or a way to try and impress others with our fancy sounding words.

Prayer is entering into honest and authentic communion with God.

Prayer is the first step in our partnering with God to make it on earth as it is in heaven here and now. Prayer is about aligning our will to God’s will, shaping our hearts so that what we ask for is in line with God’s will for all.

I think it is significant that this story of the disciples asking Jesus how to pray follows right after Jesus telling Martha that she is distracted by many things and that Mary has chosen to cultivate that which can’t be taken away, as Father David preached on last week.

How often do we sit down to pray and our minds are running full speed ahead and so we just give up and give in to our own distractions. Henri Nouwen describes it as a “banana tree filled with monkeys jumping up and down.” But what if instead of letting the monkeys direct us, we learned, with God’s help, to direct the monkeys.

Even if we try to deny that we are distracted by our to-do list or what we forgot on the grocery list or that conversation we need to have with someone or the dinner party we are looking forward to, God knows about it and wants us to be authentic and real. So, speak it. Say to God, “I need to make this note so I don’t forget; I can’t believe I forgot to put butter on my shopping list; I’m nervous about speaking with Ruth; I’m so excited about this party!” Speak to God what it is that is distracting you from however it is you think you need to be praying. God is interested, I promise.

And then, listen. Listen for God’s voice. Prayer is communion, prayer is relationship, prayer is the framework of our life with God. When we get up from our intentional prayers the door doesn’t close. Be aware of God’s presence with us every moment of every day. Walk with God. This is the eternal life we are given. Don’t be so distracted by what you are doing that you forget that God is with you always. Or as the prayer we prayed at the beginning of the service says, “we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal.”

Jesus’ prayer is simple and yet holds the whole of God’s story within it. God is God, the creator of all that is and the One who wants to be in relationship with us, working through us to fulfill his purpose for all of his creation. Prayer isn’t a task or an event, it is our relationship with God.

How we see God informs how we pray. If we see God as some distant object, our prayers are mechanical duty. If we see God as some sort of Santa Claus figure who’s supposed to give us what we want, our prayers are self-centered. If we see God as a cosmic chess master whom we have to appease, our prayers are an attempt to prove our own worthiness. If we see God as a loving parent who wants us to thrive, our prayers are how we step deeper and deeper into communion with our Creator as we partner together to make it on earth as it is in heaven. And so we keep praying, knowing that through prayer we will be enabled to love our neighbors better and that is how God works in this world to heal and redeem even the most tragic of circumstances. We pray for peace and we act peacefully, we pray for kindness and we act kindly, we pray for rain and we carry an umbrella. Amen.

Jesus, Don’t You Care?

A Sunday reflection.
The lectionary readings for the sixth Sunday after Pentecost are here.


My grandmother taught me about hospitality. It didn’t matter what time you showed up at her house or how many people there were, she laid out a feast. Now, granted this was back before there were entire tv networks devoted to trying to convince us that a ‘feast’ had to be certain recipes and menus and back before food competitions made us think that the most important part of having guests was gaining the admiration, envy, and applause of the guests, not the guests themselves. My grandmother could create the most delicious feast out of whatever she had on hand because she knew that hospitality was really about making others feel welcomed and at ease so there was a loving space to talk and be in relationship with each other.

In our gospel reading today, Martha is busy and hurried and wants so very much to please Jesus with her skill and talent of putting together the perfect feast. In her desire to impress she demands that others help her look good. Even without the aid of food tv, Martha has forgotten that the purpose of having guests is to be in relationship with the guests. And she also seems to forget that she is supposed to be following Jesus, not getting Jesus to follow her instruction.


Martha says, “Jesus, don’t you care that I’m doing all this work? You seem more interested in what my sister is doing, sitting with you and listening, rather than being impressed with all that I’m doing for you. Please tell Mary to stop being and come and help me do. Don’t you care that I’m frustrated with my sister?”

Ok, perhaps I’m paraphrasing there a bit, but I have been like Martha, and these are the thoughts behind my frustration at others not doing as I think they need to be doing. Jesus, don’t you care that the world isn’t operating how I think it should?

In another story, the gospel writer Mark tells us that the disciples asked Jesus a similar question when he was napping in the boat while a huge storm was brewing, “Jesus do you not care we are perishing?”

How often do we hear ourselves asking the same? “Jesus, don’t you care that the world isn’t as I want it to be? Don’t you care that I see pain and suffering and it makes me uncomfortable? Don’t you care that I’m feeling incompetent because I can’t fix it?”

When we see yet another senseless shooting, when we witness the ravages of war on our tv screens, when our world is turned upside down by a virus we can’t control, when we watch our politicians looking our for their own power and prestige instead of the greater good of all of us, don’t we all wonder whether or not God even cares.

God cares enough to come to us as Jesus, in flesh and blood, living as we live, coming to us to save us from ourselves. Showing us that following him, walking humbly with God our Creator isn’t about controlling others but about learning from Jesus to be the best neighbor we can be. That being in relationship with God isn’t about us fixing this broken world but living in it as God’s beloved children, building, restoring, reconciling relationships, so that we see the image of God in each other. God has promised to set the world right again and God is faithful. God has chosen to fulfill God’s purposes in God’s creation through us.

When we learn at the feet of Jesus how to be who God created us to be, when we let go of the need to impress others, or to be in competition with others, or to make ourselves the center of all that we do, we are choosing the one thing that we can never lose – our relationship with God.

When we let go of trying to lead Jesus into our camp and follow him in the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, we come to know just how much Jesus cares as we follow him through the storms, learning to love others better and better. This is God’s plan and purpose for us, living in relationship with God and letting God’s love shape our relationship with each other. We show the world that Jesus does care by the way we live.

Neighbors

A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake, Canyon Lake, Tx.
The lectionary readings for the fifth Sunday after Pentecost are here.


So, for those of you who were here two weeks ago, what do you remember about the Samaritans?

For those where weren’t here, here’s the Reader’s Digest version: Samaritans are a religious people group who are descendants of the Levites and tribes who settled in the northern part of the Promised Land. They consider themselves, to this day, to be the true people of God who stayed faithful to Yahweh through the civil war that split the Israelite tribes and the exile and return. Suffice it to say, the Samaritans and the Israelites did not think well of each other. In the bit we read two weeks ago, we have a ‘bad’ group of Samaritans who weren’t welcoming of Jesus. Today we have a story of a Good Samaritan. Hmmmm. What, on earth, do you think Jesus is up to?

Let’s take a look at the cast of characters in the story Jesus tells: We have a man who is beaten and left for dead by some robbers. We are not given the identity or nationality or any affiliation of these folks.

And then we have two Israelites: a priest and a Levite – a keeper of the temple and a keeper of the law. Each one saw the wounded man and each one walked on by. Now, I’ve heard folks try to give them the benefit of the doubt and say they were on their way to work and could risk being ‘unclean’ by touching blood. But, and those of you who made it all the way through the Torah in our BibleProject will know this, there is no law against the blood from a wound or injury. They walked on by because they thought what they had to do was more important than being inconvenienced by the wounded man.

And, so, Jesus introduces another member of the cast – a Samaritan. And everyone listening to this story would have thought “a Samaritan, what’s he going to do, finish the man off?” I’m sure Jesus left a long, dramatic pause in his telling as he looked from person to person letting them think what he knew they were thinking before saying, “and when he saw him, he was moved with compassion.”

Ok, before we continue, you may have noticed that I used a different word than what is printed in your bulletin. I used compassion rather than pity. The Greek word that is translated pity here is the same word translated compassion elsewhere. I don’t know why the NRSV uses pity here and compassion elsewhere but I’m sticking with compassion and here’s why: Pity evokes a hierarchy of sorts – you are worse off than me and I may have what you need to improve your circumstance but if I help it will be to make you more like me because why wouldn’t you want to be just like me, I’m better than you.

Compassion, on the other hand, moves us to do something to relieve another’s suffering because compassion understands that when one suffers we all suffer. I see you and your suffering and I want to work with you in relationship to alleviate your pain because I know that when you thrive so do I. It’s like the difference between a soup kitchen and a potluck supper. In a soup kitchen, there are those that have something to offer on one side and those who supposedly don’t on the other; the only interaction between the groups is the giving what I have to you in a one-sided transaction because I don’t think you have anything to offer. At a potluck we all bring what we have and share, each offering and receiving; we serve each other and come together in relationship. When Jesus saw hungry crowds, he was moved with compassion, he asked for what they already had and fed them. In this story, it’s the priest and the Levite may have had pity, we aren’t told. But, the Samaritan – gasp – compassionately helps.

Jesus tells this shocking story of a Good Samaritan in response to a question about how to inherit eternal life. The lawyer asking the question knows the answer: Love God with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength, and love our neighbor as ourself, quoting the instruction that Moses gives to the ancient Israelites.

Jesus gives him credit for the right answer and summarized the rest of Moses’ teaching by saying, “do this and you will live,” present tense, here and now, every day, not someday. Moses made it clear that God’s commandments weren’t just a checklist but a way of life. God’s word is to be in our mouths and in our hearts. God’s way is the very air we breath, our nourishment, our way of speaking. And being “in our hearts” isn’t some Hallmark-styled sentimentality. In their understanding of the human body, the heart is what guided everything, even our thoughts. Life, eternal life, everlasting life, life as God intends it for everyone, is life lived God’s way, the way of love, compassion, grace, and mercy.

But that’s not what the man wanted to hear and he looks for a loophole. He looks for a way he can just achieve a goal rather than living with a purpose. He sees the world transactionally not relationally. He wants a checklist he can accomplish and then live however he chooses.

And so, with this story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus reminds him, everyone listening that day, and each of us, that life as God intends it for every human being is a life of relationship, working with God and each other for God’s purpose – the redemptive work of bringing God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, being with God, stepping into what God is doing, doing life God’s way, following Jesus as our Savior and King.

Throughout the history of our faith ancestors, the people who entered into covenant with God wanted to look like all of the kingdoms and empires around them. And God kept showing them a better way, the way of heaven on earth, the Way of Love. But the people chose instead to believe the lies of this world: That one people group should dominate another, that life is about self-preservation and gaining power by any means necessary.

And God’s truth, the counter to the lie that I am more important than you, is that self-giving love is the only solution to the violence and injustice and oppression in this world.

God’s kingdom is a people, a family in which we all work together to take care of everyone’s needs, and in which we all recognize the image of God in each other. God’s kingdom is a potluck supper in which we offer ourselves so that we all flourish. No one is above another, no one is left out, as we walk together this journey of life, following Jesus in the Way of Love.

If Jesus were to tell this story today, he’s use groups like, Texans and Californians, Longhorns and Aggies, republicans and democrats, Russians and Ukrainians. When we toss an entire people group into a label bucket, we lose sight of their humanity, of their belovedness, of the image of God in them. And, we are not following Jesus.

When Jesus wraps up this story of the Good Samaritan, he turns the lawyer’s question back to him. The lawyer had wanted to know which groups he was required to label as ‘neighbor’ in order to check the “I’m a good person” box on his resume. Jesus leads him to the understanding that we need to work at being a neighbor, being the one who shows mercy to all. When we go and do likewise, we are living as God created and calls us to live on earth as in heaven. Amen.

Now You’re just Meddlin’

A Sunday reflection for the fourth Sunday after Pentecost.
The lectionary readings for today are here.


The title of this piece comes from an old preacher joke about two folks who were excited about a new preacher and encouraging her to preach against all the ills of the world – lying, cheating, stealing, etc., until she got to gossiping and then they got mad and said she’d moved from “preachin’ to meddlin’”. Jesus was all about meddlin’. He modeled and taught spiritual and emotional maturity and health that enables us to live in relationship with God and each other. Jesus did not teach that our role in God’s Kingdom on earth was to point out all that faults of others while ignoring our own. He regularly chastised those who did. So, as a preacher, I am very aware that I preach also to myself and so I gently ask: “can we talk?”

For the record, I’m on vacation today and, yes, I admit I do always try to take one of my allowed Sundays off for the year on or around July 4. Not because of any particular plans to celebrate the national holiday (I’m not a big fan of crowds at any time of the year) but to avoid having to navigate a sermon in the very mixed up waters of our Christian faith and our national pride. Especially in the extremely divisive political atmosphere of the past few? several? many? years. We are much better at speaking about what we dislike about the other side than we are at articulating what we think and why. We’ve confused our belonging to a particular political party with our national pride so we ardently defend our identity as a Republican or Democrat or Independent or Green Party and forget that the multi-party system is part of what makes the Untied States what it is supposed to be. And, then if we are also Christian, we claim that, because we won, God is obviously on our side, forgetting that Jesus said others will know we are his followers by our self-giving love not by our political power.

In the gospel reading for today, Jesus repeats a teaching about not living in an attitude of revenge or retaliation because some still wanted to bring fire down on those who disagreed with them. Jesus explains, again, that when someone doesn’t welcome the Good News message, they (we) are supposed to walk away, not even letting the dust on our feet bother us. We don’t take it personally; we don’t go on the attack; we don’t shame or belittle or name call or spread gossip about them. We simply walk away, because the Good News message is the message of Love. We tell them they are loved (which is the meaning of ‘the kingdom of God is near’) and if they don’t accept it, we’ve done our part. We are not responsible for their response to our message. We are responsible for delivering the message of Love in a kind and compassionate way.

As an example of how our political thinking is conflated with our religious beliefs I often hear folks of my generation and older say that one of the reasons our society seems so chaotic is that we’ve taken prayer out of public schools. To which, I respond, just because there are rules against organized, compulsory prayer in a public school in which all students have the freedom to practice the religion of their upbringing or choice doesn’t mean I can’t pray. If we think a human created rule can keep God out of anywhere, we’ve made god (not a typo) small enough to fit into our bag of complaints. If the only time I pray is when someone has organized a time of prayer for me, I’m not doing a very good job of following Jesus.

Praying in public doesn’t make me a Christian or even prove I’m a Christian. Prayer is being in conversation with God. It is an awareness of God’s presence with us at all times and in all places and circumstances. Sometimes it is scripted and organized; sometimes it is spontaneous. Prayer is praise, petition, lament, gratitude, intercessory, venting, self-examining, reflecting, meditative, authentic, vulnerable, and transformative. If we want our children and grandchildren to not be limited by necessary rules about compulsory prayer in public, we need to teach them what prayer really is and how to live in an attitude of prayer always. And, we need to be the ones who model and teach them how to be in relationship with God and what it looks like to follow Jesus in this world. And then, if you also want your children to be a part of organized Christian prayer at school, put them in a private Christian school.

Throughout the history of God’s people, God instructs us to teach our children and grandchildren who God is and what God has done for us. Jesus says that others will know we follow him by the way we love. We cannot throw our hands up in defeat because of the rules that allow freedom of religion for everyone keep us from passing the responsibility of teaching our children about Jesus to someone else. We best teach our children and grandchildren how to follow Jesus by following Jesus ourselves.

God brings order to the chaos in this world and God has chosen to do so through us, by coming to us in Jesus, to show us in flesh and blood the Way of Love, the way of living on earth as in heaven. Following Jesus isn’t about getting God on our side, it is getting in on what God is doing in this world through the power of Love. Following Jesus is loving God and our neighbor and our enemies (and yep, ever that person).

God’s peace, my friends.

Life & Love

My heart is so sad. 51 lives. Human lives. Beloved children of God lives. Created in the image of God lives. And we have to include the human, beloved children, image of God people who didn’t die, because they were treated the same. I can’t even come up with a suitable metaphor for how they were treated; I don’t have words horrific enough to capture this tragedy. And yet I cannot stay silent.

I think of these people who wanted a better life so much that they were willing to risk their lives to try and attain it. How does one get to that place where such a decision makes sense? And how on earth did they get the idea that the United States is some grand place? Do they not see the news that reveals our violence and hatred toward each other? Do they not realize that we’ve commoditized human life and that life is no more valuable here than the cost of a single bullet? Do they not know that, if they make it here alive, they will have traded their known struggles for new ones?

I think of their families who don’t know the fate of their loved ones. I pray that each person who died will be identified and their family located so they can know and can grieve. I pray for those in hospital that they will be treated with dignity and respect and will find healing from this unimaginable tragedy.

I think of the people who set this up, the people who make money with the lives of others, selling lies for their own wealth and gain. I cannot comprehend viewing another human being that way. I pray they are brought to justice. I pray their brokenness is somehow healed by God’s Love. I pray that I do not damage my own soul with hatred toward them because I know this is the beginning of the descent to see others as they do.

I pray for our local, state, and national leaders that they will not make this a political issue to bolster their campaigns but they will see it for what it is, a human tragedy and respond accordingly. I’ve watched the mayor of San Antonio speak compassionately about these people and am so very grateful for his mature, responsible, humanitarian leadership in this country. It gives me hope. I pray others will follow his lead.

And I pray for all of us who are witnessing this, that we won’t let our hearts be hardened, that we won’t descend into numbness. I pray we will turn off the so-called news channels that speak of these human beings with judgement and labels and then use the time you would have spent watching to volunteer in your community in any way you are able that will help someone else. I pray we will call out our political leaders for using this tragedy for their own gain, and vote accordingly. I pray we will correct each other with loving words when we hear someone speak in judgement against these people’s desire for a better life and learn to have conversations of understanding guided by compassion.

They will know we are Christians by our Love.

I pray that we can see each other and everyone as beloved children of God, created in God’s image because this is how we begin to end the violence and hatred in our world. With eyes to see and ears to hear God’s Kingdom we will spread God’s Love in all that we say and do.

And as I finish praying, I walk into my day with the awareness of God’s presence that enables me to spread God’s Love. Will you do that with me?

God’s peace, my friends.

Be Still

I love the story of the Prophet Elijah – well, I guess ‘love’ can be a bit misleading. It definitely isn’t a happy-go-lucky kind of story but more of a document-drama that’s hard to watch but nevertheless has much to offer us all these many years later. I really appreciate what we can learn from his story. Anyway, here’s the summary: Elijah is fleeing for his life and God’s messenger comes to him and offers him a meal and tells him to take a nap and when Elijah wakes up he eats some more and sleeps some more. And he has this raw, authentic, honest, vulnerable conversation with God in which he tells God, “I’ve done all that you asked, I’ve told the people about you and told them to change their ways and now they want to kill me. I’m done.” And God has Elijah witness a great wind and an earthquake and a fire, all without hearing God’s voice. And in the silence when all the chaos stops, Elijah hears God again. (See 1 Kings 19.)

Our world appears to be chaos. We seem to have forgotten that God is the one who brings order to chaos, not chaos from order. Whichever issue you want to talk about – abortion, guns, immigration, prayer in schools – and whichever side you are on, we are all feeling a bit like Elijah because no one is listening and we feel as if “they” want to take our life or at least take away what we consider an important or even key framing of our life.

Why do we listen to the loudest voices? And the better question – Why do we think that we can prove ourselves to be right if we yell loud enough or get in peoples faces or call ‘the other side’ names and mock them? Do we really think that the solution is either in our own yelling or in listening to the yelling of those who think just like us? Would we really rather be in the wind, or earthquake, or fire?

What if we took a cue from Elijah and stepped back, retreated for a time, had a snack, took a nap, voiced what we are feeling in a raw, authentic, honest, and vulnerable conversation with God, and listened in the calm and quiet to what God has to say? What would we hear?

Psalm 46

Can we hear this: Each and every human being on this earth, who ever was, is, and will be, is created in the image of God who is Love. We are all, each and every one of us, created to be in relationship with each other. Being in relationship doesn’t mean we have to agree at all times. Being in relationship means we seek the best for the greater good even if that means we have to let go of what we want individually. We are all, yep even that person, created to be in relationship with God. This is God’s deepest desire for all of us. And when we let our relationship with God shape and form who we are, our relationship with each other will be strengthened.

In the stillness of retreat, tell God your anger and fear and frustration. Pray for eyes to see all people as the Image of God. Pray for ears to hear the Voice of Love. Pray for wisdom to reveal God’s Love in our behavior. Have a snack. Take a nap. Let God bring order to the chaos.

After Elijah’s retreat, God sends him back down the mountain and Elijah finds a companion to help him keep on with God’s work. We are not alone. We are not created to do this thing called life individually. We are created to be in relationship. When we let God clear our sight and silence the noise of the chaos ringing in our ears, we hear the still, small voice saying, “you are loved; go and love likewise.” And we are to go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

Peace be with you, my friends.

Like Jesus

A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake, Canyon Lake, Texas.
The lectionary readings for the Third Sunday after Pentecost are here.

What do you know about Samaritans? I’m fairly certain, even if this were your first time ever in a church service, you’d be familiar with the phrase “Good Samaritan” and perhaps even the story that it comes from. But we’ll talk about that parable of Jesus in a couple of weeks. This is just the set up for it, so take good notes so I don’t have to repeat this first bit.

If you are in one of the BibleProject groups, we’ve encountered the origin of the Samaritans in our readings of Kings and Isaiah. They are a people group who trace their lineage back to the Levites who lived among the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin in the Northern Kingdom and who remained in the land after the occupation of the Assyrians and the destruction of Jerusalem. They believe they are the true religion of the ancient Israelites, preserved through the Exile since they remained in the Promised Land. Their very name means ‘keeper or guardian of the Torah.”

They believe the holy site of God is Mount Gerizim where the first altar to God after entering the Promised Land was built and not the temple in Jerusalem. And as of 2022, the total Samaritan population stands at less than 1,000 people, some still living in Kiryat Luza on Mount Gerizim and some in the Samaritan compound in Holon (Wikipedia).

Knowing the history of the relationship between the Samaritans and the Jews helps reveal the deeper layers of teaching in the stories we have of Jesus and the Samaritans.

In this long season between Pentecost and Advent in the Church calendar we call Ordinary Time, we will read through Luke’s telling of Jesus’ life with those who followed him closely. The men Jesus called disciples didn’t just hang out with him an hour or two each week, hoping to absorb a bit of wisdom that would make their life better or help them define themselves as a good person. They lived with Jesus, in relationship, working and playing and traveling and eating together so that they would learn to be like Jesus. They devoted their whole life, gave all their time to grow in relationship with Jesus. And they still struggled to get it right.

As they learned of their role in bringing God’s Kingdom to earth, Jesus had told them, “Whatever house you enter, remain there until you leave that place. Wherever they don’t welcome you, as you leave that city, shake the dust off your feet as a witness against them.”
(Luke 9:4-5 CEB)

And with this instruction ringing in their ears, they are dismissed by a village in Samaria. The Samaritans turned Jesus’ messengers away because he was on his way to Jerusalem, a key point of contention between these two groups. The Samaritan village didn’t want to listen to Jesus because they knew they already disagreed with him.

And what is James and John’s reaction? It isn’t ‘shaking the dust off,’ that’s for sure; they met intolerance with intolerance. I guess we could give them credit for what would be labeled in our day “being biblical.” They are, after all, making reference to the story of Elijah calling down fire from heaven to consume his adversaries (see 2 Kings 1). But what they weren’t being is Christlike – like the man they had given their lives to learn to be like. And shouldn’t this really be our purpose, to be like Christ?

Now, before any of us get all proud of ‘how much better we are”, we must admit things aren’t any better today. Our society still believes that power is about physical force, whoever is stronger, louder, and more aggressive wins, intolerance can only be met with intolerance.

In his book The Day The Revolution Began, N T Wright asks this question, “Did we really imagine that, while Jesus would win his victory by suffering, self-giving love, we would implement that same victory by arrogant, self-aggrandizing force of arms?” (pg. 374)

In the translation we read, the NRSV, all we are told of Jesus’ response is that he rebuked them. Some ancient manuscripts give words to Jesus’ rebuke: “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy people but to save them.” In their response to the Samaritans, James and John are not following Jesus, they are trying to lead Jesus in how they want things done.

And, then, right on cue to deepen our understanding of what it is to follow Jesus, to be his disciple, we have some folks wander up and ask to be included, proclaiming their devotion. At first glance, it looks like Jesus is dismissing them. But he’s not. He’s calling them out for their attempt to simply add Jesus’ teachings to our – I mean their – life rather than letting who Jesus is transform who we are – I mean who ‘they’ are, because we’d never do this would we?

Each of these well intentioned folks explains to Jesus what they need to do to be ready to follow. First, Jesus, I need to to such-and-such. First I need to do one more thing my way and then I’ll begin to learn your way. First I need to make myself worthy and then I’ll follow you. First I must exercise control over this one thing and then I’ll give it to you. First I want to do things my way and when it’s convenient I’ll follow your way in some areas of my life. Jesus knows that they will find something else that needs tending to before they follow him and then something else and then something else.

But don’t think for a moment that Jesus is telling them that what they need to do isn’t important. What he’s telling them is that following him is a way of life, letting the Way of Love guide all that we do. Following Jesus, being a disciple, living in God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven isn’t ‘some day’ nor is it an add-on to our way, but a complete re-do of our lives. Instead of trying to “get our affairs in order” before we follow Jesus, we are called to let Jesus work in us to get our lives re-ordered by the spirit, bearing the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When we follow Jesus, he leads us through our grief, he shows us how to live in healthy relationships with our families, and guides us in the ordinary and the extraordinary days.

We will be discipled by who or what we give our time to. As we walk with Jesus and the disciples through the ordinary days to come, these stories shape and direct our days, our ordinary, typical, regular, work-play-eat-sleep-be-in-relationship-with-each-other days.

Following Jesus isn’t about letting the teachings of Jesus merely inform us but letting who Jesus is transform who we are so that all that we think, feel, and do is guided by the Way of Love, so that in our work, we make decisions that keep people and relationships as the priority instead of power and prestige. So that in our leisure time, we look out for the wellbeing of all instead of satiating out own desires. So that in our conversations with others we seek to understand who they are, seeing the image of God in them even when, especially when, we disagree with them. So that in our day-to-day, regular, ordinary activities, people experience the Love of God through us. Amen.

Responsible

Not to sound melodramatic but what a week of juggling unexpected events it has been! And it’s only Tuesday. One of my favorite Old Testament stories is when God tells Elijah to have a snack and take a nap and after he’s had two snacks and two naps Elijah has the strength and courage to proceed. Conversations with God, snacks, and naps are key to my functioning for sure. Not that I’m equating my job with Elijah’s, not at all. But there are times when I wonder why on earth do I keep trying to help us all learn to be better people. My minuscule voice is nothing compared to the vitriolic yelling that is over abundant in our society.

The violence in this world takes on many forms: our thoughts, our words, and our actions. Violence is anything we do that harms another and ourselves and violence against another always involves harm to our self.

I saw a post in a social media platform that said “I think since all these children want guns taken away we should take all video games with guns and violence in them away as well.” And while I agree with the shrouded message that what we expose ourselves to or let our children spend time doing shapes how we see the world (which is the same premise that discipleship is grounded in), I am deeply concerned by the attitude of “us vs them” revealed in the words “all these children” and the retaliatory nature of the post. It’s basically saying to our children, “if you complain about getting shot at school, it’s your fault for playing violent games. It’s not our fault as the adults who are supposed to teach you how to properly navigate this complicated world.”

Adults blaming children for the atmosphere of violence and the idolization of guns in our country is the most shameful thing I’ve seen in this grand debate. Children did not create violent video games, adults did. Children did not buy them, adults did. Adults let the children play them. Children are not responsible for the state of our culture, adults are. And as adults it is our job to raise up our children either to respect and value all human life or to see violence as the answer to all issues.

This statement about taking away video games as punishment for school shootings models the immaturity of a nation of adults who refuse to hold themselves accountable for the culture we have made. It is just one more instance of the blame-game. If I can find someone to blame, then I don’t have to be responsible or accountable for anything.

Blame wants revenge and retaliation, a tit-for-tat response. Responsibility and accountability will enable us to actually solve the problem. I had a conversation with a parishioner this past week that didn’t go how I thought it was heading. This person asked me why our confession of sin is in the plural ‘we’. I thought he was asking why we are all accountable for each other’s sin and I began to address the reasons we are. He listened patiently and said, “no, I get that, but what I’m worried about is that without individual accountability of ‘I have sinned’ that our responsibility gets diluted; we need to confess both individually and corporately.” I had never thought of it this way around before, but he’s right: avoiding individual confession dilutes our accountability. I reminded him that we do offer individual confession if he ever wanted to and showed him the liturgy for it in the Book of Common Prayer. I agree with him on the necessity of both forms of confession. I am so very grateful for folks who ask the questions that broaden my view.

As we follow Jesus, we are responsible for our own behavior and the collective behavior of our community. All of scripture teaches us this. As adults, we are responsible for the safety of our children and we are responsible for teaching them how to love others and the value of human life. Blaming others instead of taking responsibility is just another form of violence. It wounds our souls and our ability to see the image of God in each other.

God’s peace be with you, my friends.