Now You’re just Meddlin’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s peace, my friends.

Life & Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

They will know we are Christians by our Love.

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

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

God’s peace, my friends.

Be Still

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

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

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

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

Psalm 46

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

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

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

Peace be with you, my friends.

Like Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s peace be with you, my friends.

As We are Created

A Sunday reflection for Trinity Sunday.
The lectionary readings are here.

In my parish, we are reading through the Bible in a year using the reading plan from BibleProject (please, check out their videos, blog, and podcast!). We’ve talked about how our human desire for power and control is the same now as it was then. We’ve asked ourselves ‘how have we not learned that violence only brings about more violence?’ And we’ve had great conversations about why we’d rather look and be like the world than to walk with God, trusting that God’s Way is the better way. Our conclusions have been that we just have to keep trying to follow Jesus, recognizing that any act of ill-will or violence on any level (thought, word, or deed) is contrary to God’s Way.

The news shows us the great violent acts of our time; shows and networks masquerading as news reveals how violent we are when we attempt to manipulate people’s fear. Violent movies are blockbusters. We call bullying leaders strong and compassionate leaders weak. We use violent language to describe success (I killed it). We value individualism and have made ‘us vs. them’ our lifestyle, as if the only way to be ‘us’ is to define who our ‘them’ is. We struggle to express what we believe but we can sure enough tell you all that we don’t like about what they believe. And all of this is contrary to the teachings of Jesus.

The Trinity, One God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the image in which we are all created, is our ultimate model of community and unity. We are all created in the image of the Trinitarian God and are part of something so much bigger than ourselves. The early followers of Jesus spent much time and effort working out how One God can be three. The acceptance of this holy mystery is foundational to our faith. The acceptance of violence in our culture is the result of years and decades and centuries of humans losing this theology. The “rugged individualism” that we preach in this country is the antithesis of the Trinity. Individualism creates a world of constant competition: “I have to fight for what’s mine. I have to be better than everyone else. I have to push others down to lift myself up. My life/possessions/ideas/beliefs are threatened by your very existence.”

Living into our trinitarian theology says we are all in this together, seeking the greater good for every human being. Trinitarian theology says life is a companionable journey, not a competitive fight to the death. We each make the Body of Christ whole. We are most fully human when we live in community and unity as God created us to live. We are most like Jesus when we see the pain and hurt in other people and are moved to help alleviate it. This is the very meaning of compassion.

Compassion requires us to see and be present to other people. Compassion requires us to seek to understand the other person’s circumstance. Compassion requires us to acknowledge the Image of God in every person. Compassion isn’t about deciding whose “side” we are on. Compassion is seeing all through the eyes of Jesus so that there aren’t any more “sides” but instead we see human beings created in the Image of God.

Deepening our compassion requires us to look at our own responses to the situations we find ourselves in and ask ourselves some tough questions: is my response self-serving or for the greater good, why do I respond that way, why do I think that way? When we catch ourselves defending the way things are, we need to ask ourselves why am I engaging in this debate, what am I afraid I’ll lose if things change? When we want to stay in the comfort of silence or the selfishness of neutrality, we must remind ourselves that Jesus calls us to take a stand and speak the truth of God’s love. When this work of ‘self’ is done within a loving and compassionate community of Jesus Followers so that we shine God’s Love into this hurting world, we are living as we are created to live.

A Spirit of Adoption

A Sunday reflection on the Day of Pentecost. The lectionary readings for today are here.

All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ– if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Romans 8:14-17

On this day of Pentecost, you may be wondering why I’m choosing to write on the reading form Paul’s letter to the Romans instead of the story of the Holy Spirit descending upon the followers of Jesus. I have a few things to say about my choice, mainly that there will be a plethora of Holy Spirit, Birthday of the Church, Flames and Tongues type sermons today, and since I’m not actually preaching I thought I’d use Paul’s words about fear and adoption and belonging to continue to conversation we started here.

This world we live in, and by ‘world’ I don’t mean God’s amazing creation but the ‘princes and principalities,’ the people, governments, institutions, and societal groups that seek our attention so they can shape us to their will (aka discipleship) that are absolutely contrary if not actually deliberately opposing God’s Way and Will, this world we live in wants to control us through fear. At the most simple level, look at the advertising we encounter every day. Companies use phrases like ‘must have,’ ‘everyone is getting it,’ and ‘the life you want’ to get us to buy or buy into whatever it is. They play on our fear of not belonging, of missing out, of someone having something we don’t.

We are told to be afraid of being manipulated as we are being manipulated by the group we are listening to. We are told to fear others having what we have incase there isn’t ‘enough.’ We are told to fear being afraid and whatever they are selling will make us feel safer. We are told to fear those who are different than us because accepting them means we have to change and we should definitely be afraid of changing.

Almost as often as Jesus tells us about Love, he tells us to not be afraid. And although there is much to fear in this world, I can confidently assure you that if you are following a leader or a group or any institution that teaches you to be afraid, you are absolutely not following Jesus, nor are they (even if they claim they are). Jesus knew all too well the manipulative power of fear. The Roman controlled world he lived in were experts at it. The Pax Romana wasn’t an idealistic society, it was a society brutally ruled by fear. There was an artificial peace because no one was brave enough to stand against the leadership. Except Jesus.

As Children of God, as Followers of Jesus, we are taught (discipled) to let God’s Love be the foundation of our living. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we are adopted into God’s family (we call the outward act of this baptism). This is the belonging we are created for. There is absolutely nothing in this world that can take away our belonging to God. When we find our true identity in God our Creator, we have the courage and strength even in the worst of times to not be afraid, to not let fear govern us.

Jesus has shown us, in flesh and blood, the Love of God. He has invited us to follow him, to let compassion, kindness, forgiveness, and mercy shape us to God’s Way and will as we live in this world so that others know Love as we do. God’s Way and will is Love, that everyone should flourish and thrive as beloved children of our Creator. Following Jesus means participating with God in working out this purpose and plan for all people, making it on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

A Better Question

It’s been awhile since we sat together with a cup of coffee. Can I start us off today with a story?

At one of the parish’s I’ve served that had a school, I would go and read to the preschool classes each week. This particular day I was in the three year-old-room and we were sitting on the floor (soooo much easier to get off the floor in those days) in the reading circle when an announcement came over the intercom. Nothing scary, just a normal sounding announcement about something the teachers needed to bring to the office. Immediately the teacher and every one of these precious little humans stood without saying a word and began moving quickly to the corner and huddling down. The teacher motioned for me to follow, with her finger on her lips in a silent ‘shhh’ as she turned out the lights and locked the door. Confused, I did as requested and as I got to her she whispered in my ear ‘it’s a drill, an intruder drill” and she and I squatted down and circled our arms around the children who remained motionless and silent. And when the all-clear announcement came the children returned to the reading circle AS IF THIS WERE JUST A NORMAL DAY. I finished the story, said goodbye, and left the room as they went to their tables for snack time.

As I walked into the church office, I looked at the Parish Administrator and burst into tears. “That was normal for them, they knew exactly what to do,” I sobbed. She looked very confused (we didn’t hear the school announcements in the church office, only the fire alarm bell) and in between sobs I told her what happened. No child should have to live in a world where intruder drills are necessary.

In my role as a Disaster Preparedness and Response coordinator, I’ve done active shooter training and drills with parishes and clergy. And as I’ve witnessed the looks of fear and confusion on the faces of grown-ups as we talk about someone combing in with a gun, I think of that day with the three year olds. No child of God, regardless of age, should have to live in a world where intruder drills are necessary.

And yet we do. And I want to know why we have crafted this world for ourselves? Why has our primary focus been on preventing injury and death WHEN an active shooter appears on school campuses and church grounds rather than preventing the violent act to begin with? Why have we allowed such heinous acts against the immeasurable value of human life to become a normal part of our lives in this country? And I know that these are immensely complicated and complex questions and that there are no simple answers.

And I know that these are the questions Jesus would be asking, that he does ask of us, just as he asked the man at the healing pool, “do you want to be made well.” Just as he spoke to the the men who accused a woman of adultery, “let the one who is without sin throw the first stone.” Just as he spoke with the woman at the well and the woman whose daughter was tormented by a demon and John’s disciples and Nicodemus and Peter and Martha. Life isn’t about the easy way or simplistic answers. Life is complex and complicated and when we choose to follow Jesus we face these questions in the confidence and hope of God’s promise to restore and redeem all things.

We are the instruments God has chosen to work out the divine plan of ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ We are to bear the image of God in the pain and suffering. And we reveal the Divine Image to others in the way we Love as Jesus loves. So, perhaps, the better question is, “How do we love better?”
By growing our skills in civil discourse so that we can model how to respect others’ views?
By increasing our own knowledge of mental wellness?
By offering our facilities as places of learning for both Civil Discourse and Mental Health Awareness?
By working with our government leaders to craft and enact sensible and safe gun legislation?
By hosting holy conversations about our communal responsibility toward others as our fellow human beings?
By partnering with our local schools and youth clubs as mentors?
By deepening our own spiritual growth so we see more clearly the image of God in all people?

Life isn’t simple questions or simple answers. Loving better is a challenging, lifelong journey, following Jesus for the greater good of all people. What does loving better look like in your community?

Prayer Action

A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake, Canyon Lake, Texas.
The readings for the seventh Sunday of Easter are here.

We’ve said and witnessed a lot of prayer this week. In the wake of the horrific tragedy in Uvalde – and so many others like it – we pray. We bring our emotions to God in in our need for comfort and guidance. And we should do this, it is the right, first response as we follow Jesus. And we keep in mind that prayer is not passive. Prayer is an action of love. In our prayer we are drawn closer in relationship with God our Creator. And the fruit of this relationship is how we love the world – actively seeking the greater good of all, working together to reveal God’s love in the midst of pain and suffering.

The purpose of prayer is to deepen our communion with God. 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 even to get God to change or punish others.

Prayer is entering into honest and authentic communion with God. It is both speaking what it on our hearts, the good, the anger, the joy, the sorrow, the pain, whatever it is we are experiencing, AND then listening in the silence, aware of God’s presence with us. 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.

In our gospel reading today we hear a portion of the prayer Jesus prays for his disciples and us in the last moments before his arrest and crucifixion. It is a prayer full of anguish, urgency, and active love.

In the words of his prayer, Jesus reminds us that we are in this world but we do not belong to this world. We belong to God. That we have a purpose in this world – to reveal the love of God to the world, to be united as one force of love in the name of Jesus so that all come to know God. And that those who claim allegiance to this world rather than God will hate those of us who claim allegiance to God.

Following Jesus isn’t about leaving this world or transcending it but living in it in the name of Love so that we participate with God in making it on earth as it is in heaven. Love is stronger that hate. Love is stronger than fear. When we pray seeking deeper communion with God, our capacity to love grows so that we can counter the hate and fear in this world with all that we are and all that we do.

As we come together each week to collect all of our prayers together and raise our voice as one to God we are living into the unity that Jesus speaks of. Our Eucharist is framed as a prayer. We ask God to make real in us the purpose for which Jesus lived and died and rose again.

Prayers and Action are not separate options. For Christians, they must be used together. We thoughtfully consider the value of all human life and pray for God’s power and strength to reveal to us where we need to change so that everything we think, say, and do reflects God’s love for all people and a hurting world. We pray that our city, state, and country leaders will thoughtfully consider which policies will best serve the people and the common good and not their own political agendas or power trips. We speak the truth of Love against the fear and hate in this world. We use our votes to elect people of good character not to support a particular party.

We pray and we act. We participate with God to reveal the power of Love in this world.

We pray for the victims of gun violence and those who inflict it. And we act to prevent it happening again. We can join in with the group Episcopalians Against Gun Violence. We can participate in both Mental Health Awareness and Civil Discourse programs or organize and offer them in our community. We can donate to reputable victims groups. We can help groups like turn weapons in the gardening tools.

We pray for those who are sick and we help them get what they need to recover. We pray for those who are struggling, financially, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and help them locate the resources they need. We pray for those who are hungry in our community and help to relieve their hunger.

Mother Teresa said, “I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that, but now I pray that he will guide me to do whatever I’m supposed to do, what I can do. I used to pray for answers, but now I’m praying for strength. I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.”

It is ours, as Jesus Followers, to reveal God’s love in this world. We vow to do so in our baptismal covenant, claiming we will, with God’s help, persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord; proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves; and strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.

We follow Jesus in prayer and in action, doing what unites and builds up, what puts the greater good of all over and above our personal desires, what reveals the power of God’s love even in the darkest of times.

I’d like to close this sermon on prayer with a prayer and then at the end of our worship I invite you to pick up the printed prayers and resources for action and make use of them. We pray and we act.

Let us pray for the community of Uvalde in the words of Bishop David Reed:
O God our Father, whose beloved Son took children into his arms and blessed them: Give us grace to entrust your beloved children of Uvalde to your everlasting care and love, and bring them fully into your heavenly kingdom. Pour out your grace and loving-kindness on all who grieve; surround them with your love; and restore their trust in your goodness. We lift up to you our weary, wounded souls and ask you to send your Holy Spirit to take away the anger and violence that infects our hearts, and make us instruments of your peace and children of the light. In the Name of Christ who is our hope, we pray. Amen.

Love is.

As I have been carefully crafting the outline for what I plan to do with this blog, the very thing that prompted me to start it continues: violent events cutting short the lives of God’s beloved children. People doing their shopping shot by a man whose only motive is hate. Children shot by a man in the classrooms that are supposed to be places of growth and development. What is it going to take for the human race to learn that violence only breeds more violence. Hate breeds hate. Love is the only thing more powerful than hate and violence.

The answers are not simple. I know that it will take more than just changing our laws. The true nature of the matter is the value we place on human life. Some stand up and scream about saving the lives of unborn babies but do they scream as loudly and passionately about saving the lives of children sitting in a classroom? We put metal detectors in school doors and train our children with intruder drills and develop bulletproof backpacks and arm our teachers. But what can we do so we don’t have to treat our school campuses like war zones?

The one thing Jesus said almost as often as he talked about love, is “do not be afraid.” He didn’t mean that there aren’t many events in this world that are frightening. He didn’t mean we should ignore that which is dangerous. He isn’t telling us to pretend we aren’t afraid. Jesus means that fear is not what we let guide our behavior. Love is.

Fear prevents us from seeing the greater good of all. Love works for the greater good so that all are able to flourish in God’s Kingdom. Fear excludes. Love includes. Fear is about self-preservation. Love is about the abundance of life in God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven. Fear paralyzes. Love empowers.

Love is the answer. And I don’t mean the hallmark version. Active love that respects the dignity of all people, wants the best for the greater good, and seeks actively to ensure every single human being flourishes in this world. Living in a posture of defense and fear is the opposite of love.

There are so many ways to love each other in the aftermath of tragedy. Donate blood. Give to reputable agencies that will help the survivors. Volunteer with these agencies. Pray together. Learn about how to offer mental health awareness training in your parishes and public places. Write your congresspersons and other officials. Support organizations like that turns guns into garden tools. Host a civic discourse workshop in your community.

Together, as we follow Jesus, we learn to love better and better each day. We are created by the God of Love in Love and for Love.

Holy and Loving God, you seek us and we speak your name in praise and honor. Love is how we reveal you and your Kingdom to the world you have given us. Give us what we need for this day; we trust your faithfulness to provide for us tomorrow. Help us to follow you in Love so that we are not misdirected by fear; your love is stronger than evil. Amen.