Once Again

This is an updated redo of a post I first wrote back in 2019, still pertinent and much needed.

I’ve been seeing a lot of posts in the past few days about the uselessness of the phrase “my thoughts and prayers are with you”. I know these posts come from a deep place of extreme frustration – we keep having mass shootings and people keep praying and the shootings happen again and again – I feel the anger and the frustration, too. I mean, I originally started blogging in response to two shootings within 24 hours one weekend several years ago. But they still stab me in the heart and cause me pain, especially when they come from someone who professes to be a Christian.

Thoughts & Prayers and Action & Change are not opposites sides of an issue. For Christians, they must be used together. We thoughtfully consider the value of all human life and pray for God’s power and strength to reveal to us where we need to change so that everything we think, say, and do reflects God’s love for all people and a hurting world. We pray that our city, state, and country leaders will thoughtfully consider which policies will best serve the people and the common good and not their own political agendas or power trips.

And then, we need to think hard about how all of this “opposite” thinking is part of the problem when we approach life as a constant competition and debate. This type of thinking puts us all in battle mode, it fosters angry attitudes toward others, and in the end devalues human life. If I am in constant debate with you, you cease to be a person and become an object I must defeat.

One of the most important things I’ve learned in life is that I don’t have to make you wrong to be right. Very little in this world is absolutely ‘right’ or absolutely ‘wrong’ – there is a lot of grey area in our thinking and in our policies. I cannot “fix” you and I definitely can’t fix the whole world but I can do the next good thing in front of me. I can write my mayor, governor, senators, representatives, and president and voice my views in the most diplomatic and intelligent way possible because if I write them or speak to them in anger and hatred, not only will they not listen, I’m just being a part of the problem and perpetuating the dichotomous attitudes that keep us all so angry most of the time. I can use the power of my vote to make my opinions known – and, yes, I do pray about the way I vote, asking God to help guide my intelligent thinking to make the right choice.

I’ve also learned, and I do confess I had to learn the hard way, I cannot change or control another’s behavior or attitude. But, I can model loving and compassionate behavior and pray that with God’s help my behavior can influence others to do the same.

When we remove prayer from the “make the world better” equation, we are letting our egos take the place of God. I will fix this. I will do it. I don’t need – or want – God’s help.

Prayer isn’t some magic incantation we say to get God to do what we want when we want it. Prayer is intentional time in the presence of our Creator, in communication, in communion with the one who shapes our hearts to be more loving and compassionate. In prayer we are transformed so that all that we do reflects the light of God in this very, very dark world.

God never asks us to check our brains, or our abilities, at the door of his Kingdom. God asks us to live now in his kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven, living life grounded in him and his love for everyone whom he has created.

So, do things to make the world a better and more loving place, do things which will affect the policies of our government and attitudes of our leaders, and pray to God before, during, and after doing it. God is with us always and God’s greatest desire is for us to acknowledge that so that all we do is by God’s love and for God’s glory.

God’s peace be with us all,
Mother Nancy+


A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake, Canyon Lake, Texas.
The lectionary readings for the Fourth Sunday in Lent are here.

Whew! That was a long reading. And there’s so much here to talk about – it’s an incredible story of the contrast between God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven and our earthly kingdoms built trying to recreate heaven by our standards. We could talk for hours about all of the various relationship dynamics going on … but don’t worry, I won’t take all day.

So, let’s take a look at the people in the story and their reactions and responses to God’s amazing grace.

Jesus and his disciples are just “walking along” and encounter a man who is blind. The disciples first inclination is to place blame because they’ve bought into the idea that all pain and suffering is punishment from God, a way to determine from their human point of view who God favors and who he doesn’t. But far from seeing things from a Kingdom worldview, they are living in a self made kingdom in which only those who meet their standards are welcome.

The healed man, is all in, willing to risk everything by trusting what Jesus tells him and asks of him. Jesus invites him to participate in his healing, giving him agency and dignity, having him wash the pool which means ‘sent’.

And then there’s the Pharisees. Instead of opening their minds to see God at work, the Pharisees in this interaction force-fit what had happened into their small box of certainty. They don’t even deny the formerly blind man can now see, even as they still refer to him as blind but they hone in on what has gone against their narrow rules: Jesus healed this man on the sabbath and if you break the sabbath rules, you are automatically a sinner and so incapable of doing any good. And yet, this formerly blind man now sees. His news is so inconvenient for them that they just can’t accommodate the truth of what’s in front of them*.

The Pharisees, too, offer the man an invitation – they invite him to participate in their condemnation of what Jesus has done by twisting the act of giving glory to God into a way of elevating one’s status over another. “Admit Jesus is a sinner and God will be glorified” they tell him. But this man’s eyes have truly been opened and he refuses to see through their compassion-less worldview. He even gets a little cheeky in his response, “why do you want to hear the story again, are you wanting to follow Jesus?”

Their inquisition of this man echos ironically Jesus’ own words to Nicodemus that we read a couple of weeks ago. Jesus said, “the wind blows where it chooses but you don’t know where it’s from or where it goes.” The Pharisees tell the man “as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” And the man responds, “You do not know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes!” Jesus tells Nicodemus, “are you a teacher of Isreal and do not understand.” The Pharisees say to the man, “you are born of sin, and you trying to teach us?” They are so certain they are right, and they are so busy trying to prove they are right that they can’t see the glory of God’s love right before their eyes.

The man’s parents break my heart – they are desperately trapped in the fear caused by the Pharisees need to exclude those who disagree with their narrow worldview. Instead of rejoicing that their son can now see, they plead ignorance to save their own skin.

When Jesus says that this man was born blind so that “God’s works might be revealed in him,” Jesus is showing us a Kingdom worldview, life lived in the wisdom that God has given us agency in this life to promote the grace and glory of God’s Kingdom … or to promote ourselves.

When Jesus uses mud as a healing salve he absolutely intends to bring to mind the original creation story in which God creates humans, to reorient our worldview toward God’s Kingdom on earth. Throughout the story of God’s people, God chooses specific people to reveal the Kingdom not because God chooses some and excludes others, but because it is God’s desire to partner with us, be in relationship with us, to be present with us in the working out of the purpose and plan for God’s creation.

The mighty work of God that is revealed in this man isn’t only his physical sight but his all-in trust of God’s way and his faithfulness to God’s way in spite of what others say and do. His own parents threw him under the bus to save their own reputation. He was willing to be expelled from the Temple for his belief that Jesus was doing God’s work.

It has never been part of God’s plan to exclude anyone; it has always been God’s plan to extend the invitation to everyone to come into the Kingdom of heaven on earth. When we begin to view God’s blessing and favor as a way to elevate ourselves above others, we’ve lost the plot. When we point the accusatory finger at those who don’t meet our expectations of who God should deem worthy, we are the ones who are defying God’s law.

The one in this story who according to the religious leaders was the sinner, the man born blind, is the only one who shows true faith in God’s plan and purpose. This man is who Jesus invites to be an apostle – one sent to tell others of God’s grace and goodness.

Yet, we must be careful in our reading of this story. The minute we begin to point at the Pharisees and label them the evil ones, we’ve fallen into the same sin of condemnation that we see as evil in them. Jesus himself says he came not to condemn but to save. He teaches us to let go of the blame game, to seek reconciled relationship rather than revenge and retaliation.

We can’t be blind to the humanness of the Pharisees. Jesus was disrupting all that these Temple leaders had built their identity and purpose on, their interpretation of God’s law. They are blind to the abundance of God’s Kingdom and are frightened of losing their power and prestige. They, too, are reacting from a place of fear.

In these moments when our lives are disrupted, Jesus says, we have a choice – to lash out at those around us, seeking someone to blame, reacting from a place of fear, and wanting others to hurt as we are hurting, or we can choose to trust that God knows our hurt and pain so that we don’t have to inflict on anyone else to feel understood and known. We can choose to remain in the narrowness of our own vision or let God’s Spirit show us how to see the glory of God at work in all people and situations.

Are we willing to risk everything in order to see the world as Jesus sees it, to go all-in and answer God’s invitation into the Kingdom on earth as in heaven? Do we trust that God’s Way of Love is more valuable than anything we fear losing?

Every moment of of every day is an opportunity to participate with God. This is the purpose of our faith in God – to participate with God in building up the Kingdom on earth, all-in in both hardship and happiness.

The hardships we face in this world are absolutely occasions for participating in God’s work of grace and compassion, not with a faked positivity but with the understanding that God knows our pain and suffering and will bear it with us, always present, always loving, always strong, enabling us to live as children of light even in the darkest of times, illuminating the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, so that others may see Jesus, too. Amen.

*Nancy French, March 18, 2023 episode of the Good Faith podcast by Curtis Chang.


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

When was the last time you were curious? Not just “I’ve got to figure such and such out so that I can solve the problem in front of me” but a child-like wonder, a “I just want to discover what ‘this’ is for the sake of it” curiosity. When was the last time you showed real curiosity about someone else, asking questions about how they experience the world, where they find hope or joy?

I’m going to offer up a quote and then ask you who you think said it: “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.” Do you know who said this? If you had to guess, who would you say?

Does guessing cause you stress? Are you worried about getting ‘it’ – whatever it may be – wrong? Concerned others might judge you badly if you don’t know everything? Our culture values certainty over curiosity. We see curiosity as simply a prompt, an temporary lack of knowledge with an end goal of knowing for certain because being certain must mean we are are right, regardless of what anyone else may think or any contradictory facts that may be presented.

In our need for certainty, we look backwards into the biblical stories with our Western, post-Enlightenment way of thinking and instead of seeking an understanding within the context in which these stories were written, we place our evolved meaning of words such as belief and faith onto them and are certain about what they mean.

We ask ‘what’ others believe and make it about definable doctrine. Yet, faith and belief in the ancient writings we call the Bible are more about trusting and relating than they were about facts. They are life words – referring to a whole way of being, a world-view, and the life and actions that stemmed from WHO they believe and have faith in, not what.

And we don’t often use ‘certain to describe relationships. I can know you well enough to make predictions about your behavior, but this is about trust rather than knowing for certain. Only preprogrammed robots behave the exact same way in every situation. If I attempt to force you into a certain way of behaving or a certain category, I’ve reduced you to a label or an idea and have taken away your human agency. If I am continuously curious about you, even if we’ve known each other a very long time, asking questions like ‘how are you’ and waiting to receive your authentic answer, our relationship will continue to grow. Healthy relationships require continuous curiosity.

Curiosity is a mental capacity we all have; it isn’t a personality trait of only some; it isn’t something we outgrow as adults, even if some of us set it aside as ‘childish’. Monica Guzman, journalist and author of the book “I Never Thought of it That Way” defines curiosity as “The attention you pay to the gap between what you know and what you don’t know.” Curiosity isn’t the gap between not knowing and knowing but the attention we pay to the gap, our ability to notice this ever present gap.

Certainty and judgement divert our attention away from the gap. Certainty is easy. Curiosity is a challenging, ongoing journey. And it is only through curiosity that we move from knowledge to wisdom.

Our friend Nicodemus from today’s gospel reading is paying attention to this gap. Nick was a Pharisee, one who is supposed to have all the answers. His job was to ensure that everyone else followed God’s law to the letter and to point out when they didn’t. But he’d heard this man Jesus talk and witnessed his healing and Nick became aware of this gap between the letter of God’s law and the spirit of it. And, so, not to put his hard earned reputation at risk, he comes to Jesus under cover of darkness and instead of asking what he wants to know, he poses a statement: “We KNOW that you are a teacher from God …” Nick is seeking to confirm his certainty rather than unleash his curiosity.

Jesus responds with what would seem an impossibility and Nick fights to hold onto the certainty. Jesus gently invites him into the gap and distinguishes between physical birth and being renewed by the Spirit of God to be who God created and intends us to be.

When Jesus asks Nick, “Are you a teacher of Isreal and don’t know these things?” He is inviting Nicodemus to let go of the need for certainty and employ holy curiosity; look for God at work in and around us. Let yourself experience the freedom of the Spirit; don’t’ try to stop it or contain it. It’s better to ask questions than to be the one who thinks they have to have all the answers. Curiosity is the wind that keeps us flowing between knowing and wisdom.

Our faith definitely doesn’t give us all the answers; yet it offers us the invitation to trust in God’s love and way. The suffering and pain in this world is because we humans tried to choose another path besides the one God gave us. We chose the way of self-centered personal gain instead of the Way of other-focused Love.

When we hold too tightly to our need to be certain, to be right, we become blinded to the image of God in others. We stop seeking relationship and insist that everyone be just like us and the irony is when we stop seeing the image of God in others, we also stop living from that image within us and create a god of our own making who looks just like us. We craft rules and laws that insist everyone conform or else we exclude them. We shrink our faith and belief to a god who we can define by what makes us comfortable, completely contrary to all that Jesus shows us.

Jesus ends his conversation with Nick with a statement: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Jesus isn’t talking about a measurable degree of God’s love but the pattern and shape of it. God loves the world in this way: God wants everyone to choose to be in relationship with him and to live the life we are created for – to love God, our neighbor, and ourselves with holy curiosity that always leads us into deeper relationships. God invites us and Jesus shows us in flesh and blood the path to being saved from being estranged from God to being in relationship with God.

We have the choice to follow Jesus or not. God doesn’t want us to follow blindly but to use our God-given intellect and reasoning skills to discover that when we live other-focused rather than self-centered, we thrive and flourish as God intends for us. This is being born from above, letting God’s Way shape us, letting God’s image in each of us, guide our way of being. God calls us to believe not in a what but in who.

This journey we are invited to join in on is a balance of knowing who God is and Whose we are and remaining curious, teachable, always ready to grow. In our creed, we confess specific “knowings,” pieces of knowledge that help us stay centered on who God is and Whose we are. But we can never lose sight of the WHO of our faith, the relationship that is the center of our belief; Who it is we trust to show us the way of life we are created for. Who it is we love with all of our heart, mind, and strength. Who it is we follow. Whose kingdom it is we participate in here and now. Who journeys with us in this life.

Oh, and to go back to who actually said “never lose holy curiosity” – do you know who said it? it was Albert Einstein. With his intellectual magnitude he was certain about the continuous need to remain curious. Pay attention to the gap between what you know and what you don’t; feel the Spirit moving and drawing you deeper in relationship with God, your neighbor, and yourself. Amen.


An Ash Wednesday Reflection.
The lectionary readings for Ash Wednesday are here.

Being the youngest of 3 children, if I had a penny for every time my brother and sister called me the favored one, I’d be independently wealthy. It wasn’t that my parents raised me with a different set of rules than my siblings, it’s just that I watched what they got in trouble for and chose not to do those things.

But, I must admit, I liked being through of a the favored one, thinking I was extra special even though I really knew that my parents loved all of us equally.

God loves each and every human being who ever was, who is, and who will be equally, beyond our human measuring, unconditionally, and always, giving us life and inviting us into relationship without coercion.

Ash Wednesday is about acknowledging our humanness, not so that we look down on ourselves but so we deepen our understanding of who God is, who and whose we are, and our relationship with God.

And so this is one of those times I’d like to adjust the wording of the Book of Common Prayer. How would it be if instead of saying “God, you hate nothing you have made” we said, “God you love all whom you have made.” I guess I’m just a glass-half-full person; or perhaps it’s because I was raised in a church that tried to convince us that the God of Love was always looking for us to mess up so he could punish us. And if you have been taught by anyone about this same angry god, please know that you have been lied to and accept my apology on behalf of those who teach it.

If you were here on Sunday, you heard me say that when we focus on the so-called depravity of humans, that we are denying the image of God in which God created us all, that we are good and we are not perfect. AND, God loves us. AND, God gave us the free will to choose to love God back or to choose a different way of life because God knows that love requires choosing.

But please don’t hear me saying that we don’t ever need to repent, to redirect our hearts and minds toward God’s goodness. In order to be able to choose God, to accept the gift of forgiveness, we have to admit we need to change. We have to acknowledge when we choose to direct our attention and affection away from God. We have to admit that we spend a good amount of time trying to build our own kingdoms rather than participating with God in building up the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.

We need to cultivate an awareness of what we let shape our hearts and minds. We need to pay as close attention to what feeds our soul as we do what feeds our body. We are being shaped not just when we are in worship together but by all that we watch, listen to, and read the rest of the days of our week. We are discipled by what we give our attention to the majority of our time.

And in our gospel reading for today, Jesus reminds us that, yes, our motivations do matter. If we perform rituals simply to get recognition for how holy we appear to be, we are getting our reward we want. And if we think being holy means being miserable, we’ve completely lost the plot. The message of Jesus is Good News, an invitation into reconciled relationship with our Loving God that frees us from the prison of fear, anger, and hate so we can live in the abundance and compassion of God’s Kingdom on earth.

When you hear “remember you are dust and to dust you shall return” do not hear, “you are nothing”. Hear the amazing love of the God who chose to create us from love and for love. We have this amazing gift of life in this world, part of God’s creation, THE part that tipped the scales from “good” to “very good”, partnering with God in the care of creation.

Being reminded we are dust is about God’s love and desire to be in relationship with us and putting our relationship with God in the proper order. God is God and we are not; we are the wondrous, amazing, very good, beloved of God’s creation.

Each and every one of us God’s favored one. Amen.


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

Did you find an alleluia in your pew? What was your reaction when you saw it? In a moment, we will gather up all of our alleluias and put them away for the season of Lent which begins this Wednesday with Ash Wednesday. For most of the church’s calendar year we sing and say it often. Do you know what it means? However you spell it, with or without the ‘h’s, with the ‘j’ or the ‘i’ it means Praise the Lord.

We don’t put it away during Lent because we aren’t allowed to praise God during this season. Praising God is never out of season. We put it away as a lesson in intentionality, so that we pay attention to when we say it and why. It’s a bit of an ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ thing. When we temporarily set aside our standard word of praise, it frees us up to ponder all the reasons we offer our praise to the God who created us and calls us beloved.

In our Old Testament lesson today we read of when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and said they are for our instruction. These commands teach us how to love well, how to be God’s people in all of our everyday, ordinary activities. And then Jesus comes along and says that he is the fulfillment of the law, as we heard a couple of Sundays ago, showing us in flesh and blood what it looks like to love as God loves so that we too can live God’s law. Jesus shows us how to live in the spirit of the law rather than to use the letter of the law to condemn and oppress others, or ourselves.

God gave Moses the commandments on a stone tablet not to weigh us down but to give us life. And life is growth. Every living thing grows and changes continuously. On the mountain, hundreds of years after the commands were given to Moses, the disciples hear God say “this is my son, listen to him,” and Peter wants to preserve the moment. Understandably so, but to do so would be to stop living and instead become like an engraved stone. Life isn’t static, life is a journey.

Jesus calls us all with the invitation ‘follow me’ and after the transfiguration, that moment when the disciples see Jesus for who he is and hear God’s voice, Jesus says, let’s keep moving, keep living on earth as in heaven, walking the journey of life as God intends in the ordinary, every day moments of our lives.

When Jesus sums up all of God’s law by telling us we are to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbor as ourself, he means that we are to love in all three directions. It isn’t a pick and choose buffet but a three course meal. The way we love one is both influenced by and influences the other two.

If we only focus on loving God, our faith becomes a set of religious practices, not a way of life. This is what Peter wanted to do on the mountain. It is the mindset that leads the Pharisees to use religious practices to control and oppress others, making religious practices more important than the relationships they are to cultivate. Our relationship, our love for God, disconnected from our relationship with others has no real purpose or meaning. Jesus teaches us that our love for God is shown best through the way we love others.

If we focus only on loving our neighbor, we can stay so busy that we avoid loving ourselves; or worse yet, we can begin to see our neighbors as an object through which we earn God’s favor, seeking salvation through our helping rather than in listening to and following Jesus.

If we only love ourselves we become our own savior, with no need of God or others. But this one goes the other way around, too. If we don’t love ourselves, if we focus on how horrible we think we are, this spills over into how we love our neighbor and God and what we think of them. Showing disdain or even hatred for others isn’t about them but about ourselves.

When we trust what God says and listen to Jesus, when we take Jesus seriously and follow him, we learn to balance the three. We see God as the source of all love and goodness and we see the image of God in our neighbors and ourselves.

God created us good and when we say we are depraved we are denying the image of God in us. The image of God within us, however, does not make us perfect. We are good AND we make choices with the free will God gave us that don’t always line up with God’s plan for Creation. We are good AND we are not perfect. But we are not depraved.

When we answer God’s call to repentance, it isn’t so that we can submit ourselves to punishment, but so that we can receive God’s grace. Do you remember a few weeks ago we talked about the meaning of repentance? It means to change our hearts and minds for the good. The season of Lent as a penitential season is about letting our hearts and minds be shaped by God’s love so that we can love God, our neighbor, and ourselves better.

I’m not a fan of giving up random things like chocolate, wine, or bacon for six-weeks just to take them on again after Easter. This only proves what we can do for our own glory.

Lent is NOT about proving ourselves worthy of God’s love, it is about being grateful for the love God has for us and learning to live into that love by following Jesus. Lent is an intentional time of letting go of our behaviors and practices that get in the way of or cause harm to our relationships with God, our neighbors, and ourselves. Letting go of those daily activities that cultivate fear, apathy, anger, or hate and instead spend the time practicing our awareness of God with and within us.

Lent isn’t about beating ourselves up, but the the assurance that God’s forgiveness is guaranteed, just not automatic. God has already offered us the gift of forgiveness but like any type of medicine it does us no good if we don’t take it. God’s forgiveness and our repentance sets our relationship with God, each other, and ourselves is proper order. When we continue to berate ourselves or see ourselves as depraved, we are denying the goodness of our creation and distrusting God’s power and promise of forgiveness.

Lent is a season of cultivating our gratitude for who God is and what God does, a time of gratitude for who and Whose we are.

During the next six weeks, when we start to say Alleluia out of habit, because we all will, be gentle with yourself and each other. Don’t let our self imposed religious rules cause you to forget the image of God in another or yourself. Be grateful that we have a loving God to praise. Give thanks to God for loving us and being willing to forgive us. Seek new ways to praise God for creating us from love, in love, and to love.

So, listen to Jesus. Get up and do not be afraid. Be attentive to the light of God’s love in the darkness. Let this coming season be a time of intentionality and gratitude so that we continue to become more and more like Jesus every day, every season of the year. Alleluia! Amen.


Pondering on the readings for the sixth Sunday after Epiphany.
The lectionary readings are here.

“I am now giving you the choice between life and death, between God’s blessing and God’s curse, and I call heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Choose life.”
Deuteronomy 30:19 GNBDC

I did a thing this week that I don’t usually do – I chimed in with my thoughts on a Facebook post, carefully crafted to express my thoughts and my reason for thinking them, trying my best to not invalidate the words or experience of the original poster, just offering my point of view. It took courage because I live in the self-assumption that my words have no impact on the world so why bother voicing them. Yes, I write a lot but it’s different when my words are in response to someone else’s. And here’s what happened. Other people responded to my words making all sorts of assumptions about what I knew (and didn’t) and without even referencing my experiences that informed my words. They didn’t seek to clarify or ask me to engage in a conversation wanting to know me better, they just invalidated my experience, trumping my words with theirs. And the most troubling part is these are colleagues whom I know and I really do doubt they even knew the impact their words would have. I don’t believe they intended to invalidate my voice. They were filling some inner need to be right, or the smartest, or the most powerful, or to feel worthy. I can’t know their inner motivation, I can only give them the benefit of the doubt and see them with compassionate rather than competitive eyes.

I am also in the middle of another situation in which two individuals are standing firm with ‘I’m right’ and refusing to budge. Instead of my typical mediating to try and bring the two people to a mutual agreement, I’ve taken a stand with one of them because this person is sincerely working for the benefit of the greater number of folks. The other person is only working to control the situation and be right and is either completely unaware of the relational harm they are causing or if they are aware, it appears that being right is more important to them than being relational.

It takes a lot of work and time and energy to become aware of our inner motivations, to ask ourselves “why do I do what I do?” What need am I trying to get fulfilled? What am I avoiding? What am I afraid of? How does my behavior impact those around me? And this is the work that choosing life & blessing requires.

Moses tells the people following him through the wilderness that they have a choice between blessing and curses, life and death. Whether we are aware of it or not, we each make this choice daily, with every interaction we have with another. Moses’ words aren’t about individual benefit, am I getting a blessing, but about living in relationship with others. Moses is helping them learn to ask of themselves, am I offering a blessing or am I cursing, am I being life-giving or life-taking, am I helping keep their candle burning or blowing it out? Am I competing or trying to walk alongside?

The life God desires for all of us is one of companionship, grounded in God’s love for all and our love for God, our neighbors, and ourselves. Jesus says to make our yes, yes, and our no, no, to be honest and authentic, not seeking to manipulate others for our own gain but to seek the greater good. So often we don’t even realize we are being self-serving because we have used these behaviors our whole lives and we’ve convinced ourselves it’s working. And yet we don’t feel fulfilled. And so we have to be brave enough to ask ourselves why. This emotional awareness, relationship building work is our life’s work in God’s Kingdom.

In the first situation I described above, I chose not to engage further in the posts; I needed my energy for other things, face-to-face encounters with others whom I hope and pray I helped shine brighter. In the second situation, I choose to love them each as well as I can and with God’s help. I can’t force this work on anyone or do it for them, I can only work at being the best I can with God’s help.

The life God offers us is a life of relationship, journeying together, building each other up, authentically living from the image of God within us, and seeing the image of God in each other, prospering in the Kingdom on earth as in heaven. This life God offers us is a shared life, in community, in communion with others, witnessing to and living in the consequences of the choices we make. Choose life.

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.


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.


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.