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

There are stories of archeologists who, while excavating a pyramid in Egypt, finding pots of honey that, after thousands of years, are still good.  The pyramids, built as a supposedly eternal monument to the self-proclaimed deities of particular pharaohs are crumbling away but the honey, the natural product of bees being bees, endures.  

The fruit of the bees’ life endures.  The fruit of the Pharaohs’ lives have not.  The bees lived a faith filled life by being a bee and doing what bees are created to do.  The pharaohs attempted to be something they were not created to be.  

In our gospel lesson today, the disciples ask Jesus to ‘increase their faith’ and what Jesus tries to do in his response is to get them to reframe their understanding of what faith really is.  What prompts the disciples’ request (and the part we didn’t read) is Jesus warning them about causing others to sin, speaking to others about their sin, and telling them that they must forgive over and over again.  And all of this falls on the heals of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man from last week and the parable of the dishonest manager from two weeks ago when we read Jesus’ words, “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.”

With all that he says and does, Jesus is teaching how to live in faithful community, building each other up so that we can all be who we are created to be, image bearers of God. 

Through the stories of our faith ancestors in the Old Testament scrolls, we hear often of God’s faithfulness.  It has nothing to do with God’s ability to do anything but all about who God is and his choice to remain in relationship with the people he has called to reveal who he is to the world.  And when God called his people to be faithful, full of faith, he was calling them into relationship with him.  Our faith isn’t measured or proven by how well we pray or perform the rituals and sacraments that express our belonging as God’s children.  Our faith is shown in the way we live our life, every day, revealing who God is through our behaviors toward others.  We are faithful when we live generous, grateful, and forgiving lives. 

Jesus shows us in flesh and blood how to be Children of God, the citizens of God’s Kingdom.  Living the characteristics of justice, mercy, grace, love, in all that we do. Faith isn’t about proving we are worthy of God but living in such a way that is worthy of God’s faithfulness to us.  Jesus shows us how to, like the faithful bee does, get in on what God has done and is doing in and through us by being human.  

When Jesus tells the disciples if you had the tiniest amount of faith, the size of a tiny seed, he isn’t scolding them but encouraging them.  The life he is teaching them to live can be challenging and difficult – living in loving relationship, forgiving, showing mercy, treating all people justly takes strength and courage.  Jesus is saying this life, The Way of God’s Kingdom, takes just a tiny speck of trusting that this is the life we are created for, who we are created to be.  And when we live with that understanding, we will have all the faith we need.

Having the faith of the mustard seed isn’t about a measurable quantity of faith but about trusting in God’s creative purpose for us.  The faith of the mustard seed is that the mustard seed doesn’t expect to be anything but a mustard bush doing mustard bush things.  

The faith of the honey bee is that the honey bee doesn’t make it’s honey as a monument to it’s own greatness; the honey bee makes honey because that’s what God created the honey bee to be and to do. Our faith is about becoming who God created us to be, opening ourselves up to the work of the Holy Spirit in and through us.  

So often we hear Jesus say to others, “go, your faith has made you well.” The disciples had heard this too.  Learning who and Whose we are, beloved children of God, trusting in God’s creative purpose heals our thoughts about earning, deserving, and working to be worthy.  Faith heals us from the struggle of self-reliance and sets us properly and confidently in relationship with God and each other and all of creation.  We don’t have to make ourselves into anything; God has already created us to be who we are intended to be.  We don’t have to earn God’s love, God loves us as he created us.  We don’t have to prove ourselves good, God created us good.  We only have to be and do that which we are created for.  

In the words of the psalmist: 

Put your trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and feed on its riches.
Take delight in the Lord, *
and he shall give you your heart’s desire.
Commit your way to the Lord and put your trust in him, *
and he will bring it to pass.
He will make your righteousness as clear as the light *
and your just dealing as the noonday.

And this is very good news indeed.  

Having faith is putting our whole trust in God’s grace and love. It is proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; Seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. It is striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being. 

With faith, we will do greater things than our human efforts can imagine because we will be living God’s way, striving for justice, loving our neighbor, seeking the glory of God instead of our own.  

Jesus tells us that faith isn’t a measurable thing but a character trait that reveals the image of God in us.   And just to make sure we understand that faith isn’t a competition, Jesus plainly reminds us that having faith doesn’t make us super-human or even faith heroes. Faith makes us human, simply doing what we ought to do, doing what is ours to do because of who we are, being who we are:  followers of Jesus, beloved children of God, living on earth as in heaven. 

Living life faithful to who God is and who we are produces fruit, like the honey bee, that endures through all of eternity: love, mercy, justice, peace, joy.  

Something else about bees and honey; honey in it’s pure state will never spoil, bacteria can’t grow in it.  Honey lasts literally forever.  If bees can produce something that lasts indefinitely just by being bees, imagine what we can do in this world with God’s help just by being the beloved, generous, forgiving humans he created us to be, faithful to God’s created purpose for us.  We can do things as seemingly impossible getting trees to grow in the ocean – we can overcome fear with love, anxiety with peace, hatred with compassion, revenge with mercy.  When we stop trying to be pharaoh and just be a bee, what a wonderful world it would be, flowing with proverbial milk and honey, heaven on earth.  Amen. 

An Anti-Lesson

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

Think for a moment of a person whom, at any time in your life, you admired so much that you made an intentional effort to be like them.  We all have these folks in our life.  For me, it’s my grandmother.  People always said we looked just alike but I have always wanted to love and care for others as well as she did. And even with all of my intentionality to be like her, I pale in comparison.  But that doesn’t stop me from always trying to love as she loved.  

Now, think of a person whom, at any time in your life, you observed and then said, I’m intentionally not going to do things the way they do.  Every time I begin work on a sermon, I think of someone about whom I can say I learned a lot about how not to prepare a sermon, a priest who mentored me well in other areas, but who waited until Sunday morning to even think about the sermon and sat in their office with heavy metal music blaring while they prepared it.  This is what prompts me to start early in the week and give it the time y’all deserve for me to.  

I think it’s safe to assume that most of us think of Jesus’ parables as lessons about how to live, but have you ever thought that some of them are what I like to call anti-lessons.  We listen to a parable and try to decide who we are in the story or at least who we should be like but do we ever think we shouldn’t be a particular person in the parable.  Is there anyone in this parable you aspire to be?  Maybe perhaps the folks who are getting their debt cut in half but other than that, really?  

So, I think this is a lesson in who not to be, of how not to be.  It’s a lesson about the consequences of living transactionally rather than relationally.  The manager sees wealth as a means for relationship and relationships as something he can purchase.  In the economy of God’s Kingdom relationships are both free and priceless.   

Do you remember a couple of weeks ago when we talked about Jesus explaining the true cost of following him, of being a disciple, that we had to give all that we have into the service of God’s Kingdom.  And last week we talked about finding the one lost sheep and the one lost coin as a way to teach us that each of us is infinitely valuable to God.  The “wealth” of God’s Kingdom ins’t weighed out in gold coins.

Jesus is telling us a story of a manager getting sideways with his master.  This would have meant a household manager, also known as a steward, someone hired by the master, the owner of the house to oversee the family’s business dealings: the buying and selling of whatever the house needed and produced: livestock, crops, wine, oil, cloth, etc.  A manager, a steward, is trusted to manage these transactions as if the items and money of the owner were their own.  The manager mishandled what belonged to the master and when called to task, cheated the owner out of more in an attempt to purchase relationships he could cash in on later.  And although he is commended for his cleverness, he still doesn’t avoid the consequences of his choices. 

As a conclusion to the parable, Jesus asks about faithfulness and dishonest wealth and true riches, and I think this is the clue that it’s a lesson about what not to do.  Jesus asks:

If you have not been faithful with dishonest wealth, why would anyone trust you with true riches?  

If you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, how can you be trusted with anything?  

Jesus is using these words in the context of God’s Kingdom.  True riches are the riches of God’s kingdom – love, compassion, justice, mercy, the characteristics of God that equip us for true relationship.  This the wealth of God’s Kingdom.  God entrusts us with true riches – life and love and relationship.  How do we misuse them to build the wealth of money and possessions for our own benefit?  If we misuse the very life we are created for, are we using any thing properly – in the Way people and things are designed for in God’s Kingdom?  

These questions of Jesus should lead us to the questions: do I value my relationships more than anything?  

Do I use all that I have to nurture and grow relationships or for my own self interests?  

Do we live as stewards, with the understanding that all that we are and all that we have are gifts from God?  

Do we let Jesus shape our worldview so we move through this world in relationship with God, each other, and all of creation, or do we have a transactional worldview in which we see everyone and everything as something for our use, including God?

When Jesus talks about dishonest wealth, he uses the Greek word mammon which refers to worldly wealth, but it’s not just money.  It is that which we give the power to fulfill our deepest needs and desires: money, possessions, looks, service, excitement, prestige, another person, knowledge, rules, ourselves.  When we look to anything else besides God to fulfill our deepest needs, to give us our identity and sense of belonging and purpose, we are serving the wrong god.

When we look to money or possession or another person or our job or our volunteer work or exciting experiences to make us happy, to fulfill us, to save us, we are worshiping the wrong god.  None of these in themselves is bad, money and wealth aren’t evil, work and volunteer efforts, fun and travel, none of them are bad.  It’s what we do with them and how we use them that matters.

Jesus uses this lesson to help us orient our lives properly.  With God at the center, what we do have, our possessions and wealth, our ability to serve, our skills and talents, our quest for fun and enjoyment are part of how we live into the command to love God, our neighbor, and ourselves.  When we use these as a way to elevate ourselves, we’ve got it wrong, like the man in the story.  He used his wealth as a way to curry favor and earn relationship and relationship built on transaction can’t last.  Relationship, as Jesus shows and teaches us, is a gift freely given and freely received.  

We use the title ‘disciple’ often to describe our relationship with Jesus. Being a disciple means that we learn from Jesus, by following his life and teaching, with the intent of becoming like him. The purpose of being a disciple is to become like the teacher.  Who or what do we allow to disciple us, to shape who we are becoming though the whole length of our life?  Do we orient our life toward the Kingdom of God or the fallible wealth of this world?

This parable is about who or what we put at the center of our life and who or what we choose to serve; it is about knowing Whose and who we really are; It teaches us about living relationally instead of transactionally, letting go of the idea we can earn or purchase real relationships and accepting God’s gift of love and life.  It is about the rich and abundant life of living on earth as it is in heaven, as we are created to live, here and now.  Amen. 

What did he say?

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

Two weeks ago we talked about the meaning of Sabbath and what it is to cease our work, our way, and intentionally focus on God’s presence as we rest in the truth of who God is and Whose we are. Last week we talked about humility and pride and knowing our place in God’s Kingdom – who and Whose we are.

And today, we have some very challenging words of Jesus that also speak to the truth of Whose and who we are. Taken out of their context, these words can be twisted into permission to hate. But received in the truth of who God is, the context of the whole of scripture, and in the culture into which Jesus spoke, we cannot take them literally but as the dramatic hyperbole they are.

These words of Jesus make us stop and ask “WHAT?” and that’s exactly how we should react. Jesus came to shake up our worldview, to incite us to look at ourselves, the life we have crafted, the culture and society in which we live through the lens of the God’s Kingdom. Jesus came to transform our views of love and hate, success and failure, families and enemies, good and evil, wealth and poverty.

Before we talk about the wisdom this particular passage offers us, let’s look at what else Jesus has to say about love and hate. First and foremost he tells us the greatest commandment is to love and he says we are to love our enemies and those who hate us and that others will hate us when we choose God’s way over our own way, especially those who have benefited most from our way. Taken in the context of all of his teachings, Jesus is setting up the same kind of impossible scenario that he did with the parable of humility and pride we read last week. The point of this shocking statement isn’t to give us justification to return hate for hate but to incite us to consider the true cost of following Jesus, the true cost of loving others as God loves us.

Hate is a much easier path than Love. When we claim to hate someone, we don’t have to deal with them, we can just write them off, not having to consider a greater good that also includes them. We don’t have to treat them as a fellow child of God, desire good for them, or treat them with dignity. Following Jesus in the Way of Love is much more challenging. We have to give up our ideas of revenge and retaliation which are transactional; we have to let go of any idea that we are better or less than any other human being; we have to let go of our thoughts about earning and deserving; accept that we can’t control other’s behaviors because love doesn’t seek control or power; and we have to do the difficult work of examining our own self-serving motivations so that Jesus can transform our hearts as we learn to love better and better through our lives.

This is the mission Jesus sets us on when we choose to follow him. Jesus never tells us we have to save anyone or to fix the world or to fix anyone we don’t think is living as we think they should. Jesus gives us one mission – to proclaim that God’s Kingdom is at hand, by how we love and live. This mission is a purpose, it isn’t goal oriented. Goal oriented implies there is a point at which we will have achieved our mission. Jesus does’t give us a goal for our mission but a purpose, a way of living: loving God with our whole being and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

We aren’t responsible for saving souls, that’s the Holy Spirit’s work. We are to live a life in which we learn from Jesus, every day, how to love well and share our life, grounded in God’s Love and the teachings of Jesus with the people we encounter ever day. Our mission, as Jesus invites us to it is about HOW we live, not just what we do for an hour or so on a Sunday morning or for a few minutes each day, but HOW we conduct ourselves in every relationship – family, friends, community, business, recreation, every possible encounter with another human being.

Our mission as we follow Jesus is to build community with mutual love, to be Image Bearers who look for the image of God in every human being so that we all come to know to Whom we belong.

The most concise way I know of to express the worldview Jesus came to transform is moving from a transactional way to a relational way. Richard Rohr refers to the difference as ‘world of merit’ and ‘world of grace’.

“Everything is a gift—one hundred percent pure gift,” Rohr writes. “The reason any of us woke up this morning had very little to do with us and everything to do with God. All twenty-four hours today are total gift. Only when we stop counting and figuring out what we deserve, will we move from the world of merit into the wonderful world of grace. And in the world of grace, everything is free.”

When we choose to live relationally, our two deepest needs are fulfilled: our need to belong and our need for purpose. When we live in the confidence that God loves us, full stop, not in spite of our failures or because we are good enough, we can let go of our need to try and make others love us by what we do or the way we look or what we know. We can let go of our struggle to earn others love or favor or attention. And we can let go of our expectations of others with the wisdom that to love someone isn’t about whether or not they measure up to a particular set of standards we impose but to see them as a fellow image bearer, a beloved child of God.

I was privileged enough to grow up with a wonderful model of the kind of Love Jesus teaches us. My grandparents knew each other mostly their whole lives. They and their families settled into Martin County Texas when they were young children. They grew up on neighboring farms, got married, made a home and raised 4 boys, helped raise seven grandchildren and several of their great grandchildren. When my granddaddy died they’d been married 65 years. I remember my grandmother saying as she would share her wisdom with us that through their lives there were moments and days that she didn’t like my granddaddy at all but she always, always loved him. My grandparents understood that Love was a way of being together, not a hallmark imposed emotion. They always looked for the good in and wanted the best for each other, sought the best for their family, and served their community through their work and relationships with those around them.

As we live in the Kingdom on earth as in heaven we are accountable and we have responsibility. There is great cost to following Jesus. We have the responsibility to seek justice in this world, to be kind and compassionate and loving, as we walk humbly with God, even when others treat us poorly, even as we live in the difficult consequences of other’s bad behavior, even when we want nothing more than to get revenge. Any life we attempt to craft for ourselves pales in comparison to the life Jesus invites us into – life defined by God’s love and walking God’s way. Let’s mind how we go. Amen.

Humble Pride?

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

Name something that once we say we have it, we’ve lost it?
And something that once we say we don’t have it, we gain it?

This is one of those Sundays I wish we could all just circle up and talk together about the readings. They weave so well together and each is made more enlightening by the others. I know I sometimes question why the Lectionary group picks what they do but this is a time they’ve done their job so very well!

If we were still in the Great Hall, I might just have us circle up our chairs for a chat but since we can’t circle the pews, we’ll just have to pretend. But, you might want to get our your bulletin and follow along. If I had my flannel graph board, I’d have made a diagram so you’ll just have to imagine it.

We have Jesus telling a parable based on the short bit we read from the Book of Proverbs. And the bit we read in the Letter to the Hebrews is an excellent sermon that wraps together Jesus’ parable and the Psalm for today (yes, I know the author quotes a different psalm but the message is the same). And together all of this weaves a beautiful picture of what it looks like to live in God’s Kingdom, the very life we are asking for in the prayer for today.

Alright, let’s go through it in a bit more detail, shall we? In our reading from the Good News Story as Luke tells it, we have Jesus being invited to a Sabbath dinner at the home of the leader of the Pharisees. Now, remember that Luke tells us many times of the issues the Pharisees take with Jesus and what he does on the Sabbath. They don’t take kindly to Jesus calling into question the difference between what they consider ‘lawful’ and how we do love on the Sabbath. Jesus speaks of God’s intent of the law and the Pharisees are more concerned with the letter of the law as a means to gain power.

The laws and commands God has given through the entire history of God’s people have all been for the purpose of teaching us how to love well; our egos cause us to distort them into ways to control and manipulate.

And Jesus isn’t dumb, he knows they are watching and waiting to catch him breaking the law and yet he takes another opportunity to speak of the true intent of the law and the meaning and purpose of Sabbath. In the parable he tells he sets up this impossible scenario: to avoid being shamed by taking the wrong place, sit in a place you think you don’t belong so that you may be ‘corrected’ and ranked higher. And in giving us this odd scenario, he exposes the false idea that it is possible to intentionally show how humble we are, regardless of what Mac Davis once sang.

Once we’ve claimed humility for ourselves, we’ve lost it. To appear to be humble so that you will receive honor is not humility but pride. Humility isn’t about outer appearance or behavior but inner character. And when we let our inner character be shaped by the life of Jesus, what we discover is that there is no need for ranking in God’s kingdom. We are all beloved children of God, loved beyond measure.

Life in God’s Kingdom isn’t about earning rewards or doing good in order to be repaid, but living compassionately with all people, doing good to do good because it is how we love well. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews tells us to, “let mutual love continue.”

Mutual Love; Kingdom Love; unconditional love. Love that is other-focused not self-serving; Love that makes room at the banquet for everyone and where we sit doesn’t matter.

In his parables and sermons and questions, Jesus drills down to the heart of the matter, what really matters, our internal motivation for doing what we do. In the difficult work of self-examination, honestly answering to ourselves why we do what we do, we are set free from the bondage of our egos that lie that says life is all about ‘me’. We are set free from the struggles that come with wondering if we look too prideful or not humble enough because our worthiness doesn’t come from other’s opinions of us or even our own opinion of ourselves. Our worthiness comes from God’s love for us.

And, learning to love others better does not in any way mean that we are to deny that we have needs or that we shouldn’t also love ourselves. Loving one’s self is not the same as being self-serving. Remember Jesus’ answer to what is the greatest command: to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbor as our self. True humility isn’t denying one’s self but truly knowing ourselves in proper perspective of Whose and who we are.

Just like sitting in a lower ranked place with the intent of getting moved up is pride disguised as humility, denying we have needs isn’t being humble but prideful. If I insist of taking care of your needs but do not admit I have needs, our relationship isn’t based on mutuality. When we refuse to admit our own needs, it is a false humility. When we claim we aren’t prideful, we do so only from a place of self-centered pride.

My place in God’s Kingdom is no higher or lower than yours. We are all beloved children, created in the Image of our Creator. We all are given the same purpose in this world – to love well, to love on earth as in heaven. This is the life we are created for, God’s purpose for us all, to love and be loved.

Our Psalm for today is a lovely illustration of this Kingdom centered life. Happy are they who fear the Lord. Do you remember a few weeks ago when we talked about what ‘fear-of-the-lord” means? It is living appropriately and responsively knowing who God is and who and whose we are. When we ‘fear the Lord’ we aren’t afraid of God or God’s commands, we delight in God because we live in the wisdom of God’s commands, the understanding that the intent purpose of the law is to teach us to love better.

The upright, those who seek the wisdom of God’s commands, will be blessed, their righteousness will last forever, they are full of compassion and manage their affairs with justice. The wealth and riches in their homes isn’t silver or gold but an abundance of relationships grounded in the love of God’s Kingdom. When the world seems dark, the light of God’s love shows them the wisdom they need to endure. Their heart is right because they put their trust in God’s way of living.

This is the true religion we pray for in our prayer today – to see all people as being created in God’s image, to seek the greatest good for all because of God’s goodness in us. This is how we truly, authentically, walk humbly with God.

So, know your place in God’s Kingdom, following Jesus into the heart of what matters: how to love on earth as in heaven. Amen.

Mind How You Go

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

We are starting with a quiz this morning. If you don’t want to answer out loud, grab a pencil and make notes in your bulletin. Are you ready?
What does the Hebrew word Shabbat, the word we translate into Sabbath, mean?
Why are we supposed to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy?
What exactly does it mean to remember it and keep it holy?

The verb shabbat means ‘to cease.’ As a noun it refers to the one day a week we are to keep holy. Keeping Sabbath isn’t doing nothing or simply taking a day off and it’s not just coming to worship; I was not sabbathing while home with COVID this past week. It isn’t vegging out in front of a screen. For some of us, it isn’t coming here on Sunday and for all of us it is so much more than coming here on Sundays. Rest and time off and worship are all part of Sabbath for sure but for Fr. David and me and for those scheduled to serve, this is time isn’t Sabbath, it is work. God didn’t put a caveat in there that says, cease from your work unless it’s church work. God commands that we remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, a day set apart for God’s work in us. And so we pick another day besides Sunday to cease.

Sabbath is a time of intentionally stopping from our work in this world and intentionally focusing on God’s presence with us so that God can work in us while we rest. It is remembering that after creating all things, God ceased for a period of time to show us that work and rest are both necessary parts of the rhythm of this amazing world because they are part of the rhythm of the One who created all.

In our reading today of the Good News story told by Luke, Jesus and the woman he heals get scolded for healing on the Sabbath. The Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day, said ‘you’ve got six other days to do such a thing, don’t do it today.’ This woman had been bound up by the Accuser for 18 years. What’s one more day, they said. Jesus responds by asking ‘what better day than the day God gave us to remember who we are to unbind her, to free her from this spirit?’

The Pharisees had taken what God commanded for good and distorted it. God said to remember the sabbath and keep it holy, to cease our work and give ourselves over to God’s work within us. The religious elite used it to control others. Why had they gone 18 years of ‘six other days’ and not done anything for her? God intended the sabbath to free us from the bondage of these kinds of distortions. The Pharisees aren’t angry with Jesus because he healed; they are angry because he undid a method they used to bind others for their own benefit. He showed them that Sabbath is about life lived God’s way.

Keeping Sabbath is remembering who and Whose we are and our created purpose. Sabbathing is about letting go of our way to make room for God’s way.
For some it is letting go of our need to be in control of all things; trusting that God will keep the universe going while we stop.
For some it is letting go of our need to prove ourselves worthy by our behaviors and accomplishments.
For some it is letting go of our struggle to earn others’ love by what we do.
For some it is letting go of the constant need to keep ourselves occupied because we don’t want to hear what’s in the stillness.
For all of us, it is one way we let God show us how to get back to the core of our being, the image of our loving Creator in each of us.

Sabbathing is intentional, we have to prepare for it. We have to look at the rhythm we’ve made for ourselves and ask what do we need to give up or rearrange to make room for sabbath, a time where we do what enables us to intentionally focus on God’s presence with us. And then we have to make that time more important than anything else on our schedule. Sabbath isn’t an add on to our week; it is an integral part of our week that enables us to do all things from the foundation of who God is and who we are as God’s beloved.

God didn’t create us to earn God’s favor or prove ourselves worthy but to live in the awareness of God’s presence, in the ongoing awareness of God’s Love. Full Stop. No qualifiers, no caveats, no conditions. Our two greatest needs in this life are to belong and have a purpose. Living in the awareness of God’s Love fulfills them both.

Sabbathing unbinds us and sets us free so we can orient our labors properly, or better yet, allow God to orient what we do with who and whose we are.

Sabbathing frees from the artificial success of this world – our purpose isn’t what we accomplish or what we do but to live fully into our humanness which includes rest. Rest is part of the image of God within us. God ceased from work and we must rhythmically cease from our work.

The world binds us with the artificial success of numbers and possessions and personal image. Sabbath returns us to the garden and our true purpose – to abide in God’s presence, to keep that which God has made, to be stewards, not owners.

In one of our many favorite British Detective shows, Endevour, the Detective Inspector Thursday uses the phrase, ‘mind how you go’ as a form of ‘goodbye’. Every time he says it I think, “wow, there’s so much in that.” And now I think I’m going to start using it. Mind how you go. Pay attention, be aware, be intentional with what you do and how you do it. Remember who and Whose you are. A regular rhythm of Sabbath equips us for this intentional, aware, God-centered way of being.

When we step outside of our regular business, we notice things we never did before. And, yes, for some of us this will stir up fear and anxiety.
What if I get still enough to notice what we don’t like about my life?
What if I really do notice that the world can keep turning without me holding the wheel?
How can I show and tell anyone what I accomplished by just paying attention to God’s presence for a whole day?
What will I have to show for it?
What if someone needs something and I’m paying attention to God and not them; what if I discover people don’t need me the way I want them to?

But what if, as we face our fear with God, we notice a feeling of freedom when we no longer carry the burden of running the world?
What if we find peace in no longer worrying about impressing others?
What if we notice that God isn’t put off by our needs and loves us for who we are and not what we do?
What if in the stillness of Sabbath we hear God say, “I love you” without condition or caveat or duty?

When we sabbath we are living from the core of our being, the image of God within us. When we deny we need sabbath or forget it, we are saying we don’t need to live in the very rhythm God created with and for. We are denying our humanity as God gave it to us.

The practice of Sabbath is what equips us to live justly and rightly; loving God, our neighbor, and ourselves; walking humbly with God all the days of our life. Mind how you go.


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.


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.