Friday, June 27, 2008


Pray like your life depends upon it

The personnel department at a company’s head office
sent out a letter to all their branches
requesting a listing of their staff
“broken down by age and sex.”

One local office replied:
“Attached is a list of our staff.
We currently have no one broken down by age or sex.
However we do have a few alcoholics.”

It’s a funny story but I share it
because this month AA—Alcoholics Anonymous—
celebrates their 73rd anniversary.

It got started in Akron, Ohio
by two men who found out the best way to keep from drinking
was to spend time with other people
who wanted to keep from drinking and to talk about it.
No more dirty little secrets.

Working with an Episcopal priest,
these men developed the Twelve Steps
and the main traditions of AA—
anonymity, confession and mutual support.

AA is about as unorganized an organization
as one could ever imagine.
And that may be one of the reasons why it works.

The Church at our most hopeful
has much in common with AA.

We come together for weekly worship,
we confess our sins,
we offer mutual support to one another on our faith journeys.

We as people of faith have discovered
that the best way to develop a closer relationship with God
and with one another
is to spend time with those who also care
about their relationship with God,
their relationship with one another.

Our Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori
has called the Episcopal Church to a Day of Prayer on June 22.
That’s today.
She has called us to specifically pray
for this summer’s Lambeth Conference,
the gathering of our Anglican Communion bishops.

The Lambeth Conference is held once ever ten years
and this year
over 650 bishops are expected to attend the conference
from July 16 through August 3,
held at the University of Kent in Canterbury, England.
Bishop Taylor will be among those who gather.

In a letter sent to every Episcopal Church in the United States,
our Presiding Bishop writes to us with these words:
“I would bid your prayers
for openness of spirit,
vulnerability of heart,
and eagerness of mind
that we might all learn
to see the Spirit at work in the other.”

When I was in Wales just a few weeks ago,
I visited many, many churches.
And one thing I consistently found in every church
a posting, a bookmark, a flyer, something—
there was a bidding to the people in that congregation
of the Church of Wales
to pray for those preparing to gather
for the Lambeth Conference.

One gift of traveling is to become aware of how large, how diverse,
how truly beautiful
are the people of God.
We bind ourselves to God
And to one another
by prayer.

We are in some ways
a Church, a Communion, broken down by sex and gender.
I don’t believe that was or is God’s intent.

I believe we are called to be a church
bound together by prayer and worship.
I will tell you
I have a bookshelf filled with books about prayer.
But having books, even actually reading those books,
is not the same as taking time to pray.

I doubt any of us would say that prayer does not matter.
Indeed, I believe prayer may be the only thing that really matters.
But we have to take the time.
We have to make the time
To pray.

If I as your priest can encourage you in any way on your spiritual journey
My encouragement is really one word: pray.

Pray on your knees, pray as you stand in line at the post office,
Pray as you sit in traffic on I-40
or whatever I- you find yourself on this summer.

Pray as you make your toast and sip you coffee.
Pray as you hold the hand of someone you love.
Pray as you drift into your dreams at night.

We don’t need to worry about perfect prayers.
There’s no such thing.
Prayer is not a test or a literary exercise.

If you find you have no words,
you have a whole book of words
right here at your fingertips—
it’s the Book of Common Prayer.
If you don’t have a copy,
I can tell you how to order one.
If you can’t afford a copy,
come talk to me .

God is always present with us—
But we need to practice being present with God.
Prayer is practice.
Our lives are transformed.
The world is transformed.

God is always seeking us, always longing to be found
We, like Hagar and Ishmael in today’s reading from the book of Genesis,
we sometimes find ourselves cast out, lost in the wilderness,
dying of thirst and heartache.
Even when God does lead us immediately out of the wilderness,
God is present there with us,
even in our suffering.

Paul, Matthew, Jesus…their message is all the same in the scripture we hear today.
We each matter to God.
Each one of us.

God longs not to see us divided, broken down, disheartened.
God longs for our healing, for our wholeness.
God longs to hold us close.

Prayer is a way we freefall into God’s arms
and learn to open our own arms to others at the same time.

May we all pray for openness of spirit,
for vulnerability of heart,
for eagerness of mind,
May we all might learn to see the Spirit at work in the other.

I bid us now to sit in silence for five minutes
and offer our prayers.
Pray for those who will gather at Lambeth.
Pray for those who are gathered on your heart today.
Listen for God.
Know that you are God’s beloved.

Silence for 5 minutes


+ + +
The information about AA in this sermon came from the GERANIUM FARM webpage.

Sermon for Year A Proper 6

See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
---Matthew 10:16

Uniquely Unqualified

Dear Sir:

Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for managerial positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests. We have not only run the result through our computer, but have also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychological and vocational aptitude consultant….
It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, educational, and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the team concept. We would recommend that you continue to search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.

Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale. We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew has been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau. James the son of Alphaeus and Thaddaeus have radical leanings and registered high manic-depressive scores.

Only one of the candidates shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness who meets people well and has a keen business mind. He has contacts in high places and is highly motivated, ambitious and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right hand man. All the other profiles are self-explanatory.

We wish you every success in your new venture.

Sincerely yours,
Jordan Management Consultants
Jerusalem, Judea

God seems to have a special gift
for picking people who are uniquely unqualified.
And then these uniquely unqualified people
go out into the world and do amazing work.

That is incredibly good news for many of us!

God seems especially drawn to the uniquely unqualified
Sarah was much too old to have a baby--
yet God picked her.
Sarah was ninety years old and childless.
Yes, uniquely unqualified!
But chosen.
She laughed—but she said yes.

Jesus was only 30 years old when he began his ministry.
We won’t even let a person run for President in this country
until they are at least 35 years old!
Jesus’ ministry lasted only three years.
There are an estimated 2.1 billion Christians today.
Pretty good results
from a young uniquely unqualified carpenter’s apprentice.
Uniquely unqualified.

I am not suggesting that because I have never been to medical school
and am uniquely unqualified to be a surgeon
that you should stop by my office
and let me perform your gall bladder surgery
after our worship service.

That would not be good news.
God would be first in line to say, “What kind of crazy person are you?!!”

But I think the reason we have these stories in scripture
is to remind us that God may have a dream for us
even though we believe we are in no way capable or qualified
to live that dream.
We must not strangle the dream of God
with our own fears and uncertainties.

I think the reason we have these stories in scripture
is to remind us that we do not always know the best way.
But if we can surrender,
if we can be the sheep that is willing to go out into the field
even when the wolves are lurking,
God will open the way.

These stories also remind us
that we often may not know what our real work is in the world.

We may have a “job” and a “job description”
but our real work may be the way we parent our children
or the way we take care of our parents
or the kindness we offer our neighbors—or our enemies.

Our real work may be speaking up
for those who cannot speak for themselves
or for those who speak but no one seems to listen.

Our real work may be learning to keep quiet and listen,
to grow a heart filled with compassion
instead of loosing a tongue
quick to judge and criticize.

It is really really hard to do the right thing sometimes.
I think Jesus knew that.
I think when he says to his disciples,
… I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves…
Jesus knows.
There is nothing easy about trying to follow Jesus.

We are a culture that is addicted to achievement and success.
We try hard to be “pleasers.”
to make everyone around us happy.,
to make others think, “Wow! What a great person he is or she is.”
We want others to think we are super qualified.
We don’t want to be a loser.

But God seems to have a very special place in God’s enormous heart
for those who are willing to lose themselves
for the love of God.
Those uniquely unqualified people
who are willing to proclaim the gospel
in the way they choose to live their lives.

We need to stop playing it safe.
We need to let go of our own agendas,
our own “my way or the highway” mindsets,
to be willing to trust the love of God—
but also to be wise.

We are encouraged to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves”—
even though some say that snakes are not all that smart
and that doves are just a variation of pigeons --
but wisdom has it’s roots in being able to recognize
and proclaim what is true.
We start by telling the truth about our own lives.

Maybe our family is a lot more like the Simpsons than the Waltons.
Maybe we are scared to death
with what we face in our lives right now.
Maybe what we do to make a “living” is actually killing us—
shaving off little pieces, one day at a time.
Maybe we are so caught up in the image we want others to have of us,
that we forget to look for the real human being
God has created us to be.

We start by telling the truth about our own lives.
Wisdom comes when we face, through the grace of God,
what needs to change.

When we begin to tell the truth about our own lives,
our demons are cast out,
and we and the whole world move closer
to the kingdom of heaven
becoming real and alive
here on earth.

The good news is--
no matter how many wolves lurk at the edge of the forest,
God is always present.

The good news is ---
that the love of the Shepherd never deserts the sheep.

The good news is—
God still continues to believe
in a bunch of uniquely unqualified human beings.

+ + +

The "letter" regarding the disciples being unqualified was adapted from Pulpit Helps, AMG International, Chattanooga, TN as found in SYNTHESIS, June 15, 2008.

The comment about snakes and doves comes from Barbara Crafton’s “The Almost Daily EMo from the Geranium Farm”, June 13, 2008.

Sermon for Year A Proper 4

I am not ashamed of the gospel

I am not ashamed of the gospel.
These are the words we hear from Paul
in his letter to his Christian friends in Rome.
I am not ashamed of the gospel.

Out of all the readings today,
that sentence is the one that was instantly—
and has been continuously with me:
I am not ashamed of the gospel.

We can read that or hear that and think,
“Well, of course not.
What’s there to be ashamed of?
It’s the gospel! The good news.”

But the truth is, we are sometimes, by our own admission and proclamation, we are Christian “buts.”
That’s B-U-T.

I’m a Christian but I don’t think homosexuals are evil.
I’m a Christian but I care about this fragile earth, our island home.
I’m a Christian but I believe women are equal to men.
I’m a Christian but I don’t think people who believe differently from me
will fry in hell for all eternity.

Some of us have friends who-- when we tell people we go to church--
get a shocked look on their face.
When people I meet for the first time find out I am a priest,
They take a step back as if I am radioactive.
We are often Christian”buts”.

For the next 15 weeks in our scripture readings,
we will continue to hear from Paul and his correspondence
with his friends in Rome.
The heart of his message is this: “justification by faith.”

This was radical thinking when he wrote that letter to the Romans,
And it is still very difficult for us to get our minds around this.

Paul is saying is this:
To God,
It is not what we do,
it is not our good works,
that earn the love of God.
God’s love is there regardless.

God loves us because we are God’s beloved children.

The theology of Paul, and the Christian church,
is not justification by works
but justification by faith.

That does not mean we should stop doing good things.
It just means that our good things are in no way required for God to love us.
I believe it is God’s dream that because of God’s love for us
We will do those good works—in thanksgiving, with gratitude.

The heart of our faith
is believing that God really loves us.
Loves you.
Loves me.
Loves each one of us as a unique and cherished individual.

This again sounds so simple==
Yet it can raise those Christian “buts” again.
I believe God really loves me,
BUT I’m not totally convinced God loves you…
or him…or her…or those people.

It’s like the bumper sticker I saw on a car recently—
God loves you—but I’m his favorite.

There are no BUTS when it comes to God’s love.
That is what it means to not be ashamed of the gospel.
To really believe in God’s unconditional
and always there and amazingly abundant love for all of us,
for each one of us.

Some of us don’t respond well to love.
Some of us have life experiences that make us skeptical of love,
make us distrust those who are crazy enough to love us,
make us believe that love only comes with strings attached.

Faith is believing in that unconditional, abundant, always there love of God.

In the midst of one of my recent periodic worry-fests,
someone this week asked me, “Where’s your faith?”
I rather quickly dismissed the question at the time
but that question stayed with me

Where’s our faith
when life isn’t going like we want?
Where’s our faith
when things aren’t moving as fast as we believe they should?
Where’s our faith
when people we love are hurting?
Where’s our faith
when we don’t have the money to pay the bills?
Where’s our faith
when we feel lost, abandoned, discarded?

Faith is not about achievement or success or accomplishment.
Faith is our response to the Divine, our response to God.

Faith is trusting God more than we trust ourselves.
(oh so much easier said than done!!).

Faith is walking the daily journey,
living into the words:
All shall be well
and all shall be well
and all manner of things shall be well.

Faith is recognizing that none of us really know the mind of God.
Faith is accepting that our ways are not necessarily the ways of God.

Faith is living with the core belief that God loves us—no matter what.
Faith is linked arm in arm with hope.

If God is the highway then faith is our car.
Worship and prayer are our fuel.

To live in faith, we need to keep driving.
We need to spend time with God.
We don’t want to hear those words, even metaphorically speaking,
that are spoken in Matthew’s gospel today,
“I never knew you.’

God longs and hungers to know us.

But that means letting go
of the illusion
that we are the ones in control.
That means letting go because we trust that God is always there.

I am not ashamed of the Gospel.
Then we must stop hiding.
We must be willing to keep going,
to keep trusting,
to keep loving,
to keep hoping—
to keep letting go.
Let go and let God.

This week I got a very intriguing piece of junk mail.
I rarely ever open junk mail—
I toss it directly into the garbage can.
But this envelope was lumpy.
So I opened it.

The first thing that fell out was this little card that said:
Well, that got my attention.
And the next thing that fell out—the lumpy part of the envelope—
was a ballpoint pen.

The pen had St. John’s Episcopal Church printed upon the shaft.
(This piece of mail was a sales pitch to get us to purchase pens—
we’re not).

But I did read the other line written on that pen—
after all, I was looking for that WORD OF ADVICE—
And here’s what I found:
With God, all things are possible.

Where’s your faith?

I don’t want to be a Christian BUT.
I want to be a Christian AND.

I am a Christian AND I know that God loves each one of us—even me.
I am a Christian AND I know that with God all things are possible.
I am a Christian
AND I know that God can do more than I can ask or imagine.

Robert Benson writes these words in his book A Good Life:

If Christ is in us,
and if Christ is present in the others that we meet,
acknowledged or not,
then there are no moments when Christ is not present…
One does not have to go far to find Jesus.
What one has to do is adopt a posture that allows us to see him.
My father used to say that when we get to heaven and see Jesus,
our first thought is not going to be
that we have never seen him before.
Instead, we will grin and say,
“It’s you, it’s you. I have seen you everywhere.”

I am not ashamed of the gospel.

Sermon for Trinity Sunday 2008

It’s a mystery

Some of you may remember the line that is repeated over and over again
in the movie Shakespeare in Love.
The line is this:
I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

When the character Philip Henslowe is asked what someone should do
or why something has happened
or how something worked out as it did,
Philip Henslowe simply replies:
I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

Perhaps the character in this film just uses the line
to slip out of sticky situations,
but in truth it is a very good line,
an absolutely honest response,
that often describes parts of our faith journey.

In our reading from Genesis we have the magnificently beautiful account
of God creating the world.
Is this story true? Did it happen just this way?
I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

People of faith and people of science,
people of no faith and people of imagination,
have struggled and continue to struggle with how the world began,
with how we as human beings began, too.
Does anyone really know?
It’s a mystery.

In our reading from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians,
we get a small but pungent helping of advice
on how to say goodbye:

Put things in order, listen,
Agree with one another (ooh! There’s a hard one!)
live in peace.

Good solid advice.
But brother Paul, how on earth are we supposed to do
even those few things?

Now Paul is not a person who is likely to ever respond,
I don’t know--
but he certainly understands mystery
as part of his own faith journey.
Try to rationally explain how a rock-hard, full of hate heart
belonging to a man named Saul
could be so transformed into the compassionate Paul.
It’s a mystery.
God’s mystery.

And then we have Matthew’s gospel.
We are told that even though they show up for worship,
even though they have been the eleven faithful disciples,
even though they have seen Jesus face to face, broken bread together,
followed and followed and followed…
Even so :…some doubted.

Jesus does not step in and criticize their doubts.
Jesus steps in and tells them what to do right now, right in the moment.
Not what to believe,
but what to do.

Go and make other disciples.
Go and baptize.
Go into all the world.
Go in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Go with your doubts.
Go with your enthusiasm.
Go with your belief and your unbelief.

And one last thing, Jesus says.
Remember I am with you always, to the end of the age.

How is it possible that you, Jesus, will be with us always,
the doubters question?
Doubters are not bad people, friends.
They are honest people who are not afraid to ask questions.

When the news is of devastation and destruction and disease—
cyclones, earthquakes, floods, wars, cancer--
when good and innocent people die—
sometimes by the thousands,
doubts bubble up,
we may discover ourselves asking: “Where is God?”

It is so easy to see God in the face of a newborn baby.
It is so easy to see God as the sun rises over the mountains
on a Spring morning.
It’s so easy to see God when everything is zipadee doodah
and going our way.
When our checking account is full,
when our children and our parents are all well and happy,
praise for God just flows from our tongues.

But we must remember:
God is present in terrible things, in horrible times, too.
Not as the one who causes these things,
but as the one who urges us to go and to come and to remember.

Go and help.
Go in person.
Go in your checkbook.
Go in your prayers.

Come fall into the arms of God.
Come fall into the arms of a friend.
Come to God in your prayers.

All the help that comes when a disaster hits--
either in the world or in our own lives--
is the living reality of the love of God.

We are all created in the image of God,
so how can our actions be anything but the work of God?

Why do terrible things happen>
I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

Why do people reach out and help people they don’t even know?
I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

How is Jesus with us even to the end of the age?
Look in the mirror.
Listen for God’s voice calling your name.

Today we celebrate Trinity Sunday.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.

No matter the words we choose,
we as Episcopalians believe in a Trinitarian God.
And yes, how exactly God can be three in one and one in three
is a bit of a mystery, too.

No where in the Bible do we find the word “trinity,”
yet there is a strong and pervasive pattern
throughout the New Testament.
of a trinitarian god,
both in how God is revealed
And in how God acts in the world.

The Bible affirms, both in the Old and the New Testament,
that there is but one God.

Yet in the New Testament,
three distinct centers of God’s activity come clear:

The love of God originally comes from the one called “the Father”.
The love of God is then humanly enacted for the world
by the one called “the Son”
And finally the love of God
becomes a present, right here and now, reality
by the one called the Spirit.
Three in one. One in three.

A God who is not a lone ranger,
But a God who is the essence of community and relationship.

A God who is not simple
but wonderfully complicated and multi-dimensional.
A God who is not easy to understand
but infinitely more complex and immense
than we can ask or imagine.

What exactly is the Holy Trinity?
It’s a mystery.

A mystery that celebrates community, relationship, and love.
The power of the triune God is not force, but love;
not coercive but creative.
The Trinitarian God does not dominate others
but shares life with others.

It is not the differences between Father, Son and Holy Spirit that matter.
It is the sameness, their interconnectedness
which binds them to one another.

It is not our differences that matter.
It is our sameness, our relatedness,
those holy places in our selves, our lives
that we share, that are morphed together into one.

Theologican Daniel Migliore defines the Trinitarian God as
“self-sharing, other-regarding, community-forming love.”
The New Testament puts it far more simply:
God is love.

Father, Son, Holy Spirit—
No matter which direction we turn--God is love.

Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer—
No matter where or when or even if
we dive into the holy mystery--God is love.

God’s love is with us always—even until the end of the age.

out of the wilderness

Okay. Sometimes we just find ourselves lost in the wilderness. Sometimes it is wandering in the wilderness. Sometimes it is cast out like Hagar and Ishmael. But wilderness is wilderness. dark, cold, miserable. the only good news is when we wander our ways out or suddenly open our eyes and see that all along manna has been falling from heaven but our eyes were so tightly shut we didn't even notice. and then we are out. free. at least for awhile.
so this is a way of saying this blog is not going to disappear in the middle of the night. or even in the middle of the day. maybe no one needs it or reads it but me. but it is a good compass for my journey. so let's see if I can post some of those missing sermons....

Sunday, June 22, 2008

last post (maybe)

This may be my last post before this blog disappears. I'm not sure the world needs more words. I thought I should just zap this little blog and be done. But I'm too weary tonight to figure out how you delete your entire blog. I am feeling disheartened and for that there are no words.

Saturday, June 7, 2008


I am in Wales right now. Up in North Wales in the Snowdonia area. If I was more saavy I could post photos but words are all I have to offer right now....having an amazing time. Such a beautiful country. The landscape is spectacular and the people are incredibly kind and friendly.

I feel re-energized to complete the work for my degree program and also have made some great contacts for the pilgrimage in September. When I am here in this beautiful country, I think, "How could anyone be so crazy as to not come here?" My whole being is moved by the beauty and spirituality of this place.

Today I visited two churches I had never seen before. One was Rug Chapel near Corwen. The other was St. Collen's in Llangollen. The ceiling in Llangollen is beautifully carved--tradition thought it was taken from Valle Crucis Abbey (to hide/protect it during the Reformation/Dissolution of the abbeys). Later conservation/restoration seems to believe that it has always been in place here at this church.

Rug Chapel was built as a private chapel. The decorative painting inside is incredible. Built in the mid-17th century--very reminiscent of American Folk Art (or vice versa, I supppose).

Working on my Welsh pronunciation this trip. Finally feeling more confident about trying to at least pronounce place names and offer a few greetings. People are helpful.

Pondering what I might select as a dissertation topic but still have multiple papers to write before that...and miles to go before I sleep.

Tomorrow I head down to St. David's stopping at places along the way.