It’s been a while …

It feels like forever since I posted something and in fact it has been a couple of months since I wrote anything beyond my sermon or a Sunday reflection for the weeks I’m not preaching and I haven’t even posted my sermons for the past few weeks. I’m not sure of the reason, except perhaps I just needed a break. I didn’t intentionally stop, I’m not withholding or withdrawing from anything (that I’m aware of but that can be a stress response from me so I do spend time pondering it), I just haven’t had much to say.

I have been doing a lot of reading and observing and learning so perhaps I’m just letting stuff settle in. I’ve been seven months in a new parish, five months in a new house and life is on a fairly even keel right now. I am grateful for a steady pace. It’s how I function best. But I also know that I can go a bit too slow for some, that I procrastinate as a way of avoiding even the potential for conflict. And sometimes in my avoidance I actually can create conflict, the very thing I’m avoiding. We humans are peculiar creatures, aren’t we?

I have a dear friend who says, “life was so much simpler before I was so self-aware.” Such a true statement. Doing the work, making the time to ponder our reactions and ways of moving through this world is challenging. And it is the best way to become more compassionate toward others. Deepening our capacity for compassion is the reason I started this blog. And so, looking back over the time I’ve been posting I realize that my own awareness of Whose and who I am has continued to grow. They (I’m not sure who ‘they’ are but I know they said this) say that the best sermons are given to ourselves. As I write and preach, praying that my words are useful and edifying, I grow too. And to my prayer I add the request that this growth never stops. For each of us and for all our sakes.

In all of the conflict and danger and trauma of our broken world, we cannot see peace and hope if we do not have it within ourselves. If I am not at peace with who I am, I cannot be at peace with who you are. If I do not have hope that I will continue to grow and be continuously transformed into God’s beloved, how can I have that hope for anyone else? Intentional time and the awareness of God’s presence with me are necessary components as I follow Jesus in bringing light and Love to the small corner of the world I inhabit.

I fret that talking of my ongoing journey will come across as self-centered so I pray I can clearly communicate that in my vocation as priest and writer I cannot walk with you in your journey of continuously becoming God’s beloved if I am not also on the same path. God’s gifts and blessings are never for a single individual but given through one for the benefit of all. God’s gift of love for us is to be shared so I preach and write with the hope that you will find God’s love in my words and in me as we walk in relationship with each other.

So, I’ll get to writing again and I’m so grateful you are willing to journey with me. Together, as God’s Love grows in us we can leave less and less room for darkness in this world.

Remember How He Told You …

An Easter sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake, Canyon Lake, TX The lectionary readings for Easter are here.

Alleluia, Christ is Risen!

<The Lord is Risen, Indeed! Alleluia>

Oh, good, you remembered! And although each Sunday we celebrated the Resurrection of our Lord, today, Easter Sunday, we remember the very first Easter.

Do you remember when we put away our ‘alleluias’ at the beginning of Lent?

We have new alleluia this morning! A little brighter and shinier than the ones we packed away. Take one and pass them along. Alleluias are to be shared!

Do you remember what I said when we gathered them up in the purple box way back at the beginning of Lent? Although we never stop praising God for his gracious goodness toward us, through the season of Lent we suspend saying alleluia so that we can take it up again refreshed and new so we don’t take either our praise or God’s goodness for granted. We suspend saying it for a season so that when we resume, it’s a bit shinier and brighter than before, enabling us to better remember why we say it to begin with.

This Greek word for remember, ‘mnaomai’ is more than just a factual recollection, it is being mindful of past events, bringing “past actions to bear on the present, with new power and insight,” letting what happened before shape who we are and what we do now. It isn’t getting stuck in the past or wishing things would ‘go back to normal’ or even an unrealistic romanticization of ‘the good old days’ but an understanding that we are shaped by our past as we inhabit the present and move forward into what is to come.

Whenever God instructs his people to observe a festival it is to ‘remember’, remember what God has done, remember who they are as God’s people so that they can continue to follow God. At his last meal with his friends before his crucifixion, Jesus tells them that whenever they share this meal they are to remember.

When the women, Mary, Mary, Mary, and either Joanna or Salome, depending on the version, went to the tomb that morning to properly prepare Jesus’ body, they forgot to remember what Jesus had told them … until the messengers, angels, remind them: “Remember how he told you!” Remember how he told you! HOW he told you. Not ‘what’ he told you but how.

Imagine yourself in that moment – not just recalling the words but bringing to mind, being mindful of all that Jesus had said and spoken and done and taught! All of their time spent with Jesus comes to them in a completely new way. These women take their new insight – the dawning reality of the resurrection and HOW Jesus had told them – to the men and the first Easter Sermon is preached by the women who had remained close to him through it all. And most of the listeners of this first Easter Sermon don’t ‘remember’. They cannot bring what Jesus had spoken, the miracles they had witnessed, the resurrection of the widow’s son or Lazarus, into their present and let it shape and transform what is to come.

Somehow they are unable to let the joy of the resurrection blend in with the pain and grief of the previous three days; they are unable to see the redemption of the crucifixion in the resurrection. Perhaps they need to remember even further back – to the stories told in their scriptures, the story of the God who has been leading the people through redemption after redemption since the very beginning.

God is the God of Redemption. God takes what we – the whole of the human race – have messed up or done incompletely and redeems it. Redemption isn’t the same as undoing or even re-doing.

God chooses to work with and through humans to further God’s purpose for all of creation. God leads and sometimes pushes us in a redemptive direction, allowing us to learn from our own misdirections so that we can learn to live into the ideal for which God created us. God doesn’t erase what we do but gives us the freedom to learn as we compare the consequences of choosing our own way with the consequences of choosing God’s Way.

God calls us to remember – to remember HOW God was with us from the very beginning, to allow God’s Word and our experiences, and the experiences of our ancestors, both blood and faith ancestors shape and transform who we are as we follow Jesus toward who God calls us to be.

Jesus said he came to fulfill the law not do away with it. The Way of Love that Jesus teaches doesn’t negate the 10 Commandments. The Way of Love shows us how to live the purpose of God’s law – to live on earth as in heaven loving God and our neighbor … and ourselves, just incase some of you need to remember to love yourself.

Jesus tells us how to do this through the parables he teaches, the miracles he performed, the care and compassion he showed for all. He preached how to live as God’s people on earth as in heaven, here and now, in the now and not yet of God’s’ Kingdom. This is the Good News, the Gospel message. Jesus shows us a new way of being human, The Way opened for us by his death and resurrection.

Easter morning doesn’t undo Good Friday. Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t undo his death. His wounds were still visible. The resurrection leads us toward the Kingdom of God on earth, living in this world as God created us to live. Jesus’ human death doesn’t undo his divinity and his resurrection doesn’t undo his humanity. Jesus is fully human and fully divine, in the time he lived on this earth, in the events of his arrest and crucifixion, and in the resurrection we celebrate today and every Sunday as we gather to remember how he told us Whose and who we are.

Life is a blend of sorrow and joy. One does not undo the other. The pain we experience in life isn’t undone by happy events. And our happy moments aren’t erased by the hard times. All that we experience blends together to shape us into the beautiful beloved people of God. Joy redeems sorrow into growth and wisdom and sorrow redeems joy so that it doesn’t become just whitewash.

The Resurrection of Easter redeems the death of Good Friday by revealing the nature of Jesus, fully human and fully divine. Just as Jesus’ divinity and humanness cannot be separated, so his life, death, and resurrection cannot be taken as individual events but a singular movement in the Story of God and God’s people. Neither can we separate our humanness from the image of God in which we are all created. It is only when we live from the image within that we are fully human as God created us to be. And this is the continuous movement of Easter – Easter is the redemption of all of life, to the New Life Jesus calls us to.

This new Way, the Way of Jesus doesn’t undo or erase the pain and sorrow of this world – the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, the destruction of storms, the division in our own country – the strife of this world is all so very real. Jesus gives us a Way to Live in the midst of it all as God’s people, participating with God in the redemption of the world, living each day from the image of God in us, living into the fullness of our humanness as Jesus shows us how to be, a living and active remembrance of Whose and who we are, reminding others Whose and who they are. When we say we believe in the resurrection we are saying yes to God’s new creation, to this new way of being human that Jesus shows us in flesh and blood.

This new way of being human is to recognize the image of God in all people, in ourselves and in every person we encounter through our days, and interacting with them accordingly.

Remember HOW he told you the Good News. Remember the all powerful self-giving love of Jesus. Remember HOW he told us that the love God has for us is the love we are to have for each other. Remember that both the anguish of Good Friday AND the joy of Sunday morning shape and transform us into God’s beloved people, living on earth as in heaven.

Put your sparkly alleluia sticker where it will help you remember every day how Jesus told you of the Good News, how he told you Whose and who you are.

Alleluia, Christ is Risen!

True Night

A sermon preached on Good Friday at St. Francis by the Lake, Canyon Lake, Texas.
The lectionary readings are here.

Are you familiar with Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night? Starry Night is an imaginative composition of the narrow scene of a cypress tree against a backdrop of hills out his window and all of the other aspects he knew of the town and countryside around him. He painted it in a single sitting and he considered it “a more spontaneous drawing” than his other works; Van Gogh declared Starry Night to be more realistic than the new fangled technology of his day referred to as photography. He sought to capture more than just the details of a scene, going deeper into the essence, the emotions, the feeling and tenor of the night sky. Vincent dismissed more realistic representational paintings as “delusive precision”.

Vincent thought that too much emphasis on precision can distract us from the truth, the pure nature of a scene or story. With Starry Night he sought to evoke the essence of what it actually feels like to look into a night sky. He wasn’t distracted by the delusive precision of the details; he painted to evoke a fully dimensional human experience.

Vincent wrote to his sister “It often seems to me that the night is even more richly colored than the day, colored in the most intense violets, blues, and greens. If you look carefully, you’ll see that some stars are lemony, others have a pink, green, forget-me-not blue glow. It’s clear that to paint a starry sky it’s not nearly enough to put white spots on blue-black.”

I think the writers of the Good News wrote with the same frame of thought as Vincent painted. Each gospel writer chose the details they included intentionally, to offer an experience, THE fully dimensional human experience of Jesus’ death. Remember that they weren’t taking notes as events happened as a newspaper reporter of our day would do. Most of them had run away to hide or at best watched from a great distance denying any connection with Jesus. But we still take their stories as truth, even though they weren’t written down until decades later. What matters is what the story points to, the story’s deeper meaning, the essence of the truth that evokes in us something more real than any historically accurate fact could possibly provide.

If we let ourselves get bogged down into trying to prove the factual details we will miss what the gospel writers are doing – evoking in us the experience of these events, the emotions, the impact, the deeper meaning of how these events shape and form our identity with the understanding that it’s not just “white spots on blue-black” but a richly colored story of Whose and who we are.

We have 4 eyewitness accounts of the same event recalling and focusing on different details, much like we tell family stories of Aunt Gertrude or Grandpa Fred. Each person telling different details from a different point of view, and each point of view coming together in composite to add to the complete experience.

We don’t necessarily consider any version of our family stories as incorrect or incomplete; we understand that together they give a more complete picture of a story, going deeper than just a focus on the factual details but how we perceive what happened and the impact on us. Our family stories shape and form our identity. They paint a picture of our lives in motion, the fully dimensional experience.

Luke tells us that as they lifted and set the cross Jesus was nailed to, he prays: “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing,” a statement of preemptive forgiveness, God’s grace bestowed on us in our ignorance.

Then Luke tells us abut the conversation between Jesus and the two criminals who here hanging with him. Three men found guilty of not conforming to the oppressive standards of their day, threats to the Roman way. And as we see the three of them hanging together we cannot forget about the fourth who was set free in exchange for Jesus because of the narrow view of the temple leadership. Imagine what Barabas might be saying to his companions as they watched these three die. One of the men with Jesus mocks him as the crowd does, his view of life distorted by his own anger. And one has the eyes to see and ears to hear the truth and as he humbly acknowledges Jesus is given the reassurance that: “You will be with me today in paradise,” an offer of hope that is given no matter what stage of life we are in.

Then, turning over to John, we hear of Jesus’ concern for his mother and beloved disciple: “Woman, behold your son; Son, this is your mother.” A God-created relationship bound together through the death of another, the re-creation of God’s people knit together into a holy family.

Matthew and Mark tell of the desperate plea made by Jesus as God turns his eyes away from the world, causing the sky to darken and the curtain of the temple be ripped in two: “My God, why have you forsaken me.” A desperate cry of the deep anguish experienced by Jesus so that none of us – no one ever – would have to know life without God’s loving presence.

And then again, John brings us to the human side of things when Jesus says, “I am thirsty.” And although some mock his request with sour wine, some remember Jesus promising to give us all living water so we would never thirst for compassion and mercy and love again.

With John’s telling we witness Jesus saying “It is finished” and then giving up his spirit with Luke telling us the words “Father into your hands I commend my spirit” as Jesus breaths his last.

And, for now, this is where our story pauses: in the despair of death. A death that in the reality of the moment seems intolerable, unforgivable, unredeemable. The sky is dark and we cannot see beyond the blackness of it.

We have the blessing of knowing Sunday is coming; those who witnessed this day first hand, had already forgotten what Jesus had told them, that he would die but they could not find the light of hope he promised in the darkness. They were stuck in the delusive precision that death is death.

They had forgotten the promises of God from the beginning of time. They had forgotten Jesus’ words, “soon you will not see me but soon after that, you will see me and you will find joy.” They had forgotten that he told them that he would be handed over and condemned to death and killed AND would rise up again. They had forgotten that he had told them about their own betrayal and abandonment of him and he did not condemn them but served them.

They could not, as Vincent did in his painting, bring in what they knew of the whole Story of God to complete their picture. Despite all they had learned from Jesus, despite all they had done and witnessed with him, they could only see death.

From our perspective, our vantage point some 2000 years later, what do we bring into our composition painting? As we stand in the pain and anguish of Friday, and live with the tension of the now and not yet of Saturday, what is the true essence, the fully dimensional experience of God’s story? Can we look for the beauty of the night sky or do we close our eyes and wish for Sunday morning? Can we participate in the story or do we rush past what makes us uncomfortable?

Our participation in the crucifixion is to remember that the cross is not simply a ghastly sight of a naked man dying in agony, but the full disclosure of what God is up to in this world, the revelation of who God is and who we truly and fully are in relationship with God.

The cross defeats all of our attempts to climb our way to God through good works and righteousness and reveals the God who comes to us redeeming our attempts to be our own Creator by enabling us to participate in God’s new creation here and now. The cross teaches us that the only way to God is the way from God.

What happens on Sunday makes no sense without Friday and Friday is just a real downer without Sunday. The two together reveal the truth of who God is. If you look closely, you’ll see the true essence of God. Amen.


A Sunday Reflection for Palm Sunday.
The lectionary readings for Palm Sunday are here.

This day used to be only Palm Sunday, a celebration of Jesus’ Triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The crowds shout Hosanna and lay palms their coats on the ground before him as they would someone of high official rank and authority. For us, two thousand plus years later, as we recollect the events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, it is the beginning of Holy Week. But, in recognition of the fact that most folks stopped attending the services in between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, the church began incorporating the Passion of Jesus – the telling of his arrest, trial, and execution – into the liturgy of Palm Sunday. Instead of a weeklong journey from triumphant hosannas to betrayal and denials, to shouts of ‘crucify him’ and the anguish and pain of public crucifixion, we get it all in an hour and a half, creating a bit of mental and emotional whiplash.

And although I understand the reasoning behind it, I don’t agree with it. In squashing all the events of Holy Week into one service we do ourselves a great disservice. We leapfrog from triumph to resurrection without walking with Jesus through the events in between. We forget to remember that without death we can’t have resurrection. Without the events of Thursday and Friday and Saturday, we don’t have Easter Sunday. The true meaning of Easter includes the events that precede the resurrection. We’ve enabled what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called cheap grace:

“Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin.…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate” (The Cost of Discipleship). Cheap grace is what allows us to justify professing belief in Jesus Christ on Sunday and then not living Monday through Saturday in the Way of Love.

Grace is God’s gift of Himself to us. The Very One who created us did not consider it too high a price to live and die as one of us so that we could be in relationship with him. In Jesus, God became fully human (and also remained fully God, a mystery beyond our understanding) to show us in flesh and blood what it is to live in the Way of Love. He was betrayed by one of his closest followers. Another denied even knowing him. And most of the rest of his inner circle abandoned him at his arrest and trial, much less stick around for his crucifixion. Only three that we know of stayed by his side through the entire ordeal, and two of them were women, who couldn’t even use the title ‘disciple’ at that time.

How do we honor the gift of God? Regardless of our behavior or actions, God offers us himself fully. God welcomes us home any (and every) time we ask to return. We don’t (and can’t) earn God’s Love; we simply have to accept it. And yet, we can only receive the full benefit when we let God’s Love change us. And it can only really change us when we know the full value of this amazing gift of everlasting life and follow Jesus into the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

As I do each year at this time, I invite everyone to fully participate in the events of Holy Week. Don’t skip them, don’t avoid the ugly parts, don’t try to sanitize the betrayal and pain and suffering. Experience it all with the full assurance of the hope given us by God. Experience the full meaning of the Resurrection. You won’t regret it.

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

Abundance or scarcity? How do you see the world? Go back with me to the beginning of 2020. We are all just beginning to notice this deadly virus in the world and someone somewhere decided that they needed to stockpile toilet paper because their understanding of virus meant a lot of trips to the necessary room (that was my grandmother’s polite way of saying the bath room). And then someone saw that person leaving the store with a cart full of toilet paper and thought “hey, maybe I need a lot of TP, too.” And then another person took a picture of a cart load of TP and the empty shelf in the store and posted it on social media and the Great TP shortage of 2020 was created. Not because there wasn’t enough to go around but because some folks feared running out and took more than they needed. How did you react: buying just what you needed or buying all you could? And although this is something we can look back on with a chuckle, it reveals if we view the world with an attitude of abundance or scarcity.

In the time that Jesus, fully God and fully human, walked this earth, he showed us, in flesh and blood, what it looks like to be Kingdom People. God, the One who created us, came to be one of us, to show us the life we are created for: a life of abundance and generosity. Before I go any further, however, I want us to be clear about what abundance in God’s Kingdom is. It is a unending supply of what we need to be God’s beloved children. It is not getting everything we want. And it is not excess.

Scarcity is based in fear – fear of not getting what we want or losing what we have. And this fear leads us to look out only for ourselves, making sure our wants are satisfied at the expense of those around us. Is it a wonder then why Jesus says so often, “do not be afraid?”

Abundance is about community and love and compassion, it is about giving not getting.

In today’s gospel story, we are shown how abundance and scarcity are lived. Jesus and the disciples, including the women who lived faithfully with Jesus despite their culture denying them the title ‘disciple’, are in the final part of their journey toward Jerusalem and Jesus’ death. Jesus has tried so diligently to prepare them for what is to come and yet they are unable to receive what he’s told them because they are too caught up in getting what they want and not losing what they have. Peter scolds Jesus for talking about his death. Others debate who will be the greatest and who’s turn it was to bring lunch. One plots how to gain financially. And one, Mary, has eyes to see and ears to hear and gives in abundance.

Mary, the one who sat at Jesus’ feet, was able to step into the anguish Jesus had to be feeling in anticipation of what was to come and instead of trying to talk him out of it, she was present to him, offering not only herself but the oil used for burial preparation as if to say, “I am with you in what you must do, I will not leave you.” Mary is living out the very life Jesus had been teaching his followers – a life shaped and guided by the doggedness of God’s love.

Judas, in contrast, is the epitome of all that Jesus had been trying to counter with his teaching. Judas tried to use his religious dogma to justify and coverup his own bad behavior. Life to Judas was a transactional way of getting the upper hand on everyone and every situation.

And we cannot ignore that Jesus had invited them both to be his followers and he will wash the feet of both of them. God’s gift of life and salvation and love is offered to all and when we receive the gift we are to do the same.

Living in the abundance of God’s Kingdom isn’t about getting for our own personal gain but receiving so that we can give with the wisdom that Mary shows. Mary had grown beyond the dogmatic checklist of right and wrong into the wisdom of righteousness, discerning with God’s help how to BE a beloved child of God’s Kingdom, living the abundant life we are created for.

Jesus sums up the entirety of the law with Loving God and our neighbor and ourselves. We can have the entire canon of scripture memorized and be known as a walking commentary but if we don’t love, we are not living in abundance. Jesus invites us to live in the doggedness of God’s love rather than under the dogma of the human interpretation of God’s rules.

When we keep our fists tightly closed around what we are holding onto for ourselves – not just stuff, but our attitudes and thoughts and way of seeing the world, we cannot receive. Love enables us to live abundantly, receiving and giving with open hands, wanting for others what we have received.

Yes, sometimes our giving looks like giving money to assist the poor among us; and sometimes giving looks like sitting with someone in pain and sorrow;
sometimes giving looks like rejoicing with those who are celebrating;
sometimes giving looks like walking together as we face the consequences of poor decisions;
sometimes it looks like cheering someone on as they face a challenging situation;
sometimes it looks like being happy for what someone else has even if we don’t have it, too.
sometimes it looks like serving in a worship service or leading a ministry group or hosting a bible study group and sometimes it looks like praying for those who serve and lead and host;
sometimes it looks like praying for people we don’t know in a country far away who are suffering the ravages of war and praying for those who started the war;
sometimes it looks like packing meals for strangers seeking a better life or backpacks for kids who might not have much to eat at home;
sometimes it looks like making a prayer shawl that will bring comfort to someone.
sometimes it looks like providing a family a safe space to eat and sleep;
sometimes it looks like crockpots of soup and fresh bread so we can fellowship and learn together;
sometimes it looks like giving someone a ride so they can participate in worship and fellowship and learning.
sometimes it looks like shared snacks and laughter on the deck;
sometimes it looks like cleaning the kitchen and taking out the trash;
sometimes it looks like finger sandwiches at a funeral reception as we mourn together as a community.

Giving can be as complex as funding a foundation that will provide for others long into the future and it can be as simple as a text message hug. And our giving must always look like being in relationship with God and each other. It is the wisdom we gain sitting at Jesus’ feet that enables us to discern how we are to give of what we have received.

Let me go back to what I said at the beginning – that abundance is not getting everything we want – perhaps in God’s kingdom when we truly live as Kingdom people, generous with ourselves and our gifts so that everyone has what they need, when we live with an attitude of abundance, we come to want what God wants. As Kingdom People we want everyone to know that they are beloved children of God. So, perhaps, in God’s Kingdom, and as Kingdom People we do get all that we want and more. Amen.


A Sunday Reflection for the Fourth Sunday in Lent.
The lectionary readings are here.

Twenty-one years ago, the fourth Sunday in Lent was the first time I attended a Holy Eucharist service in an Episcopal church (I had attended my uncle’s funeral at an Episcopal cathedral eight years prior and the influence of my uncle on my current path is a whole story in and of itself). My son and I walked into the local Episcopal church and were so warmly welcomed by Fr. David James and others whose names I have regrettably forgotten of the years. It was a small congregation and it was obvious we were visitors but instead of being awkward, we felt at home, the love and hospitality evident without being overwhelming.

I didn’t choose this particular Sunday because I knew anything about which Gospel lesson would be read. I can’t say I chose this particular Sunday at all. It was God who prompted me to act on the thought planted first at my uncle’s funeral and again with this congregation reaching out to us as we moved into the community. But, I must say, the lesson gave me great pause and I felt God’s presence as I had never felt it in church before except at my uncle’s funeral … I am trying to keep this reflection short(ish) and not include that lengthy chapter of the story but obviously it is significant and I’ll write about it someday.

I had grown up in church and as a young adult I walked away from the denomination I had known my whole life because how I witnessed people being treated in this denomination had little to do with the life and love of Jesus that I read about in the Bible. There was no single event, but an accumulation of hurt and confusion through the years. And so, on the Sunday of my return to church, God gave me the gift of this story in a welcoming and loving community and I will always be so grateful. And every three years when it comes back around in the Lectionary, I discover something more in the story.

This year I decided to do a little research on the congregation that welcomed me that Sunday and it only took about five minutes on Google to discover that they had split and dissolved about the time I was leaving for seminary. And I grieved. This loving community who had welcomed this prodigal had later let themselves behave more like the son who stayed home and was no longer able to find joy in the inclusivity of God’s Kingdom.

St. Paul says that we are ambassadors for Christ because God chooses to make himself known in this world through those of us who follow Jesus. Jesus welcomes all into the Kingdom of God. And so must we do the same. When we distort Jesus’ teachings to exclude and to rank ‘special’ groups of people over others, we are doing just that – distorting the gospel message into our own message.

Jesus came to proclaim the Good News that all are beloved children of God, invited and welcomed into the Kingdom banquet to share in the abundance of God’s Love and Mercy. This is the message we are to proclaim with our lives, not only when folks walk through our church doors but every moment of every day. And when we stumble, and we’ve all been the prodigal at one time or another, and we’ve all been the one who stayed home, we are confident that when we recognize our bad behavior and ask God if we can return, we will be welcomed with love.

As ambassadors for God’s Kingdom we can do nothing less than proclaim the Good News by inviting and welcoming all into the Kingdom of Love. Amen.

Bearing Fruit

A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake, Canyon Lake, TX.
The Lectionary readings for the Third Sunday in Lent are here.

I am not much of a gardener. My mother was, though. We joke that she could take a dry stick an make it grow. Her flower beds and her house plants all thrived because of her care for them. And when one of her plants wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do, she tended it with extra care so it could grow.

I have two plants in my house: one is too new to know what it’s fate will be but I’m trying and one is a small cactus that was a party gift at the baby shower before my youngest granddaughter, who is now 3 and a half was born and I’m determined to keep it alive forever. I can’t actually say I ‘tend it with care’ but I make sure it gets sunlight and I water it when it’s dry and I’ve repotted it a couple of times as it’s grown. And the fruit that it bears is to make me smile as I think of my granddaughter each time I look at it.

Now, I don’t know much about fig trees but since Google knows everything, I found out it takes a fig tree 3-5 years to produce good fruit.

And, I’m thinking at least some of the folks who heard Jesus tell this peculiar story of a fig tree in response to their quest to understand why bad things happen would be reminded of the rule God gave to the Israelites as recorded in the book of Leviticus:
“When you enter the land and plant any fruit tree, you must consider its fruit off-limits. For three years it will be off-limits to you; it must not be eaten. In the fourth year, all of the tree’s fruit will be holy, a celebration for the LORD. In the fifth year you can eat the fruit. This is so as to increase its produce for you; I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:23-25 CEB)

So the man in the story wasn’t completely out of line expecting fruit in three years but he was only looking to satisfy his own wants. The gardener in the parable knew a better way, a way that honors God and creation, keeps things in proper order, and provides an abundance of fruit for all to benefit from.

It would be so much easier, don’t you think, if Jesus would just tell us plainly what he wants us to know instead of planting the meaning in a parable. But Jesus knows that if he were to just give us a simplified list of dos and don’ts, we’d most likely just file them away as a piece of knowledge to reference when we think we need it. But when we have to wrestle with what he says, really ponder what it means for us, then the lesson becomes part of who we are and we are able to apply it as wisdom to our whole and holy life.

The folks who are listening to Jesus on this particular occasion are looking to validate their own goodness by other people’s perceived ‘badness,’ bringing up a situation in which some were murdered while offering sacrifices. We aren’t told exactly what they ask Jesus but it seems apparent from Jesus’ response that they are going on the assumption that God smited, smote, smoot, whatever the past tense for smite is, them for some abhorrent sin. It must have been pretty bad if God took them out while in the middle of a sacrifice, right? And what about the group crushed by the tower of Siloam? They must have been super-duper bad.

But Jesus turns the conversation back around to them, so that they have to wrestle with what he’s saying and bump it up against their own thoughts, provoking such questions as “why do we assume that these folks had done something so horrific that God somehow caused their death? And why do we want to make God the bad-guy when something bad happens? The first group were victims of a politically motivated murder – isn’t it Pilate who is the bad guy? The second group were victims of a terrible accident. There is no bad guy.

And a final pondering: Why do we want to make others more bad than we are? Someone else being ‘more bad’ than we are doesn’t make us good. We are all sinners and need to repent in some way or another.

And then, as he gets them to really pondering all of this, Jesus follows up with a parable about an immature fig tree and a compassionate gardener who wants to care for the fig tree so it can live into what it is, a tree that produces figs for the benefit of others.

I think many of us want to make the owner of the fig tree out to be God in this parable. But what if the owner is us, demanding instant gratification for the work we’ve done. We plant a tree and demand it bear fruit for our own satisfaction. Look what I did! I can enjoy the fruit of the tree I planted. And if the tree doesn’t do what I think it should I can just get rid of it.

And Jesus comes along and tells us of a better way: a Way of Living in which we wait on God’s time and do life God’s way. In God’s time and with God’s way all of creation can be as it is created to be. Fig trees get to be fig trees, God is honored as Creator of all, and we and so many others get to enjoy and benefit from the abundance of fruit. When we try to do life on our own we are the one who planted the tree. When we seek to live life with Jesus, we are the tree being carefully tended to by the Gardener.

And in this Way of Living that Jesus teaches, also known as God’s Kingdom, we discover that life and death isn’t just physical but also spiritual. Life and death involve our whole being, body&soul. When we ignore the spiritual side, we are not fully alive. When we live only for our own ego and satisfaction, we are partially dead. We are created to be in communion with God and each other and, yes, all of creation. This is God’s Way, the purpose and plan of God’s Kingdom on earth as in heaven: all of us working in partnership with the Gardener.

And, so, with this peculiar story of a fig tree, Jesus addressed the people’s understanding of who God is and who we are in relationship with God. God isn’t some autocrat sitting in someplace called Heaven waiting for us mess up so he can make a divine point by smiting us. God is The God of relationship, reconciliation, and redemption, offering to us these divine, life-giving gifts and waiting for us to receive them with our repentance, with the changing of our hearts and minds to God’s Way and be tended to and nurtured by the Gardener so that we can bear the fruit we are created to bear.

And this is where the theology can get tricky and we have to choose our words carefully. We don’t earn God’s forgiveness by repenting. God’s forgiveness is a gracious gift ready for our acceptance when we can admit we need it. But our admission, our repentance, doesn’t create God’s forgiveness. God’s forgiveness is a gift available to all.

But then, knowing God will forgive us whenever we ask, doesn’t mean we can use that as a free pass to do whatever we please. God’s forgiveness is a gift wasted if we don’t accept it and learn to live a life worthy of the gift we’ve received.

Our repentance, the changing of our hearts and lives, is the mindful choice to turn from doing life our way and learning to live life God’s way, to give ourselves over to the transformative power of the Holy Spirit in a life-long journey of discipleship as we follow Jesus.

From the beginning, God told Adam and Eve that to do the one thing he forbade meant death for them. But not just physical death, because as God created us, physical death is always a part of our everlasting life, but the true consequence of sin is living death – living not as we are created to live, in relationship with our Creator. God’s forgiveness and our repentance is so that we can live fully into the human beings God created us to be, to live fully now, honoring God, bearing fruit for the benefit of God’s Kingdom on earth.

Jesus teaches us that we can’t just put a stick in the ground and hope for the best, that we have to allow the gardener tend to us with care. To live fully as we are created to live takes intentionality, daily cultivating our relationship with God so that all of our human relationships grow and thrive.

So, on this first day of spring, how can the Gardener tend to you so you can bear Kingdom fruit? What can you learn from the Gardener about how to plant and cultivate and live life in God’s Kingdom? Amen.

Are We Willing?

A Sunday Reflection for the Second Sunday in Lent.
The lectionary readings for today are here.

On this second Sunday in Lent, I’m drawn back to the invitation to Lent we read on Ash Wednesday: “I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” (Book of Common Prayer, pg. 265).

In our weekly Bible Study group*, we’ve been reading through Genesis and Exodus and inevitably our conversation turns to all the things God does that we label as ‘bad’ or ‘angry’ or ‘mean’. As we look at these ancient texts through our 21st century lens, it makes us uncomfortable to watch others face the consequences of their chosen behavior. In an attempt to make ourselves feel better we get upset with God rather than taking an honest look at what the people have done. In looking at how God’s people behave we have to then turn the examination on ourselves and ask how do we behave in the same way? How do we choose to do our own thing and just expect God to be available to us when life gets difficult or when we get into more trouble than we can handle or when it’s convenient to us?

Self-examination is difficult work. I can’t say I really did any serious self-examination before my early 40s. And because of the circumstance in which I found myself, I’ve spent a lot of the last two years in self-examination (some folks took up bread making in the pandemic, I did self-reflection, I’m just kinda odd that way). I’ve discovered somethings about my behavior I’ve been working with God to change and I’ve discovered a lot of ‘me’ that is good. And, most importantly, I’ve grown more deeply into my relationship with God. For me this is the greatest benefit – and perhaps even the intended purpose – growing into the command to love God with all of our being and to love our neighbors as ourselves, and coming to know that it is what we are created for.

In our gospel reading for today, Jesus laments, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” He’s talking to the people of Jerusalem. He’s talking to all people throughout history. He’s talking to us. I say it over and over again, God’s greatest desire is US. God seeks us, came to us as one of us, so that we can choose to be in right relationship with God and live as we are created to live. Are we willing?

Are we willing to practice the activities we are invited to in Lent (self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word) not just for 6 weeks a year but always? Are we willing to risk discovering somethings about ourselves we want to change for the benefit of others? Are we willing to risk discovering all that is good within us? Are we willing to accept that God is God and we are not? Are we willing to experience being loved fully and unconditionally by God so that we can learn to love others and ourselves better?

Lent isn’t about obsessing over how bad we are, it is about discovering Whose and who we are as God’s beloved children and growing deeper into our relationship with God, each other, and ourselves. Are we willing to step into the most exciting and amazing journey of our life?

*If you don’t yet know of, I highly encourage you to check them out! I know you’ll be glad you did. We are having a lot of amazing conversations around the parish (not only during the scheduled Bible study time either!) about the stories and meaning and application of our holy scriptures.

Wilderness Time

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

What does the word wilderness conjure up for you? Fear, anticipation, peace? A week from tomorrow, Jim and I are heading out to our favorite wilderness: Terlingua Ranch, near Big Bend. We have no other plans than to set up the camper on our desert property and just BE. I’ll read and write, he’ll take photographs, we’ll walk with the dogs, and just be, no agenda, no schedule, no ‘to-do’ lists. Unfortunately there is cell phone service but no internet connection or cable tv, just us and the incredible beauty and peacefulness of God’s creation.

I think it’s so appropriate that we are taking this time away in the season of Lent, a time when all of us are to focus on letting go of the obstacles we’ve placed between us and our relationship with God; clearing out things that distract us from Whose we are; asking God to reveal to us how we can grow deeper into who God created us to be. Spending regular time in what many would call the wilderness of Texas, for both Jim and me, helps us with all of this. And whether wilderness time be a locational, emotional, or spiritual wilderness, I can look back and say I’ve always come out of the wilderness a little wiser than when I entered.

Time in the wilderness throughout our holy scriptures is a description of time in which people are given the opportunity to step rightly into relationship with God, to develop the understanding that God is God and we are not, to be humbled, not humiliated, and strengthened, not beaten down, and in general they come out of the wilderness a little bit wiser than when they entered.

The Israelites’ time in the wilderness after being freed from slavery in Egypt was a time for them to learn dependence on God, to discover that God is the source of their goodness and righteousness, their strength and wellbeing.

Immediately after Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit leads him into the wilderness, but why? Jesus doesn’t need to be reminded of Who he is. Because Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, came to show us what it looks like in flesh and blood how to live as we are created to live, whose and who we really are.

In this story, the devil is asking Jesus to deny the very act of his Baptism, to forget that he is God’s beloved, to create a new image for himself rather than claiming the Image of God. And as we read and imagine this story, the temptations the devil presents to Jesus are questions for us.

You are so very hungry, the devil says, turn these stones into bread. Put your own comfort above your relationship with God. Ignore God’s created order, don’t trust God to provide anything.

Do we know who really provides for us? All that we are and all that we have comes from God. Yes, we work to earn money to pay for our ‘bread’ but it is God who gives us the skills and talents and abilities to do what we do. It is God who created our magnificent bodies with the ability to take bread and sustain life. The lesson of this temptation isn’t about our physical comfort but about knowing that everything is a gracious gift of God. God is the source of all things, both stones and bread.

This lesson goes against the world telling us we must be self-sufficient. The temptation is to ignore or deny the gift of relationship both with God and others. We aren’t created to do this thing called life alone or autonomously or individualistically. We can only be fully human as God created us to be when we live in healthy relationship with God and each other. Remember we aren’t created to live by bread alone, we also need nourishment for our souls.

The devil says to Jesus, there’s no need to wait, take what you want, take the whole world and do with it as you please, you don’t need God. In other words, worship not the God of Creation but who and what God created.

This temptation asks the question why do we do what we do? For our own glory or to reveal the glory of God to the world, to shine God’s light from within us or to seek the spotlight for ourselves? And turned another way, who do we let influence us more, celebrities or saints? The world says celebrities have way more credibility than the saints. Do we seek to serve who the world says are powerful or the One God who created all people? Remember we are created to worship and serve God.

The devil tries one more time – since you are the Son of God, prove God loves you by intentionally putting yourself in harm’s way.

And so we ask ourselves, do we take this gift of life for granted, not caring for ourselves or being intentionally careless with any part of creation, individually and collectively, expecting God to clean up the messes we make? Remember God is with us, we don’t need to test that reality. But we do need to continually cultivate our awareness of God, spending intentional time each day opening ourselves up to God’s transforming love.

These temptations came immediately after Jesus’ baptism, and are an assault on his identity. Jesus is God’s beloved child, created for a life lived in humble relationship with God, Do we live in the confident knowing that God is with us, in us, around us always? Do we live believing that God really does love us?

God is the true source of all good gifts, those things which sustain the life God gave us, our ‘original’ gift. Do we proclaim “God is Good” even in times of scarcity and suffering? Or can we only see goodness when we get what we want?

The ideologies of the temptations reveal the difference between taking and receiving. We receive God’s blessings and it is God’s desire to give us good gifts, not so we can claim God loves us more than some other group but so that we can share God’s blessings with others, revealing God as the source of all.

Our method of worship help us to remember the lessons of the temptation. The way we arrange the space: with God’s table in the center. The readers and yes, the preacher, stand to the side, what we do isn’t about our own glorification but to point everyone to God. It’s why we dress alike up here, it’s why we preach constrained by the pulpit and the lectionary, it’s why we use the liturgy given us by the Book of Common Prayer instead of just making it up as we go along. It’s not my show or Fr. David’s show, but the humble act of coming before God, all of us together, to be reminded of Whose and who we are.

We see this in the way we come forward to receive the bread and the wine, the body and blood of Jesus. We approach humbly and confident that God will provide our nourishment, with empty hands and humble hearts. We open our hands to receive the blessing of communion, the outward sign of physical nourishment revealing the inner nourishment of our souls, the core of our being as God’s beloved children.

In this Lenten season, in our imaginings of wilderness time, how do we each deny Whose and who we are? How do we take instead of receive? What obstacles have we put in the way of deepening our relationship with God and with each other?

When we pray “give us this day our daily bread” are we voicing our complete reliance on God’s good gifts or stating what we feel entitled to?

When we pray “they kingdom come on earth as in heaven” are we giving ourselves over to serve God and reveal God’s glory in this world or seeking our own power over others?

When we pray “lead us not into temptation” are we really acknowledging our full trust in God or just voicing an expectation that God will clean up our messes?

All that we do and say in our corporate worship is intended to shape and transform us so that we live into the full humanness of our selves as God’s beloved children every moment of every day in between. Our worship time isn’t the goal, but a means to better equip us to follow Jesus into the world, filled with the Spirit, in right relationship with God our Loving Creator, on a continuous life-long journey of discovering and remembering Whose and who we are. Amen.

War Prayers and Baby Voices

A reflection for Ash Wednesday.

This past Sunday, after serving communion and before we wrapped up our worship time, Fr. David prayed a prayer for a time of war. Our parish, as do so many I’m sure, has a personal connection to Ukraine with one of our folks having hosted an exchange student from Ukraine several years ago. They had been texting with her and learning of the fear and danger they were experiencing first hand. As Fr. David prayed a young boy was asking his mom, in the not-quiet-stage-whisper of a two year old, a question. And in my head and soul, the violence of war and the sweet and innocent voice of a child collided and created an eruption of emotion I was not prepared for. I did my professional best to pull myself together and complete the post-communion prayer and final blessing, but my voice was breaking.

In years past, as I served in parishes that also had a school, we would do ashes with the children in chapel on Ash Wednesday and I think the most difficult thing I have ever have to say as a priest is to look these sweet children in the face as I marked their forehead with the ashes and say, “remember you are dust and to dust you will return.” I have never been able to do it without my voice breaking. I don’t know that I’ll place ashes on any child’s forehead this year, but I certainly hope that I do.

Did you expect that last statement? Do you find it harsh that I hope to say this to children? Let me explain myself. Yes, this statement is to remind us of our mortality. Yes, it is heartbreaking to imagine the death of any child. But what we observe, what we celebrate, on Ash Wednesday isn’t death but life, the very life breathed into us from God our Creator, the gift of life offered us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. God chose to create us, all human beings, out of the dust of the earth, to give us a special place within God’s creation, to call us beloved children, to bestow on us the gift of relationship and love, grace and compassion, intellect and will. Saying we are dust and to dust we will return isn’t a degrading statement of our value but a reminder of just how valuable God made each and every one of us.

Ash Wednesday is both a reminder of our mortality – God is God and we are not – and an invitation to return to God here and now, to let God restore and redeem us to the full life we are created to live in relationship with God, to remind us to teach our children they are God’s beloved children, too. We experience both joy and suffering in this amazing life God has given us. It is something I cannot fully comprehend. But I do know that the true joy of knowing Whose we are isn’t upended by suffering; the full meaning of Easter can only be realized by experiencing Maundy Thursday and Good Friday as well.

I hope and pray that I never become so callused by the violence in this world that my heart doesn’t hurt when I witness it. I’m grateful that folks hear the breaking of my heart in my voice. In the darkness, a light shines; in the midst of a prayer about war, an innocent voice breaks forth, reminding us to live and to love as God intends.

Remember Whose and who you are this day. And then remind someone else who may have forgotten.