Monday, December 26, 2011

The Very Best Gift...a sermon for Christmas Day 2011

Merry Christmas!

It is Christmas Day and we are here to celebrate the birth of a baby.
But so much more than just that.
We are here to celebrate
the coming of God into the world in human form.
It’s called incarnation.

This day, this Jesus,
is all about love.
Unconditional and transforming love.

Thank you.
Thank you for coming out to celebrate Christmas Day
here at St. John’s.
As children of God--
and we all ARE children of God--
I want to tell you a story this morning,
as we are here,
surrounded by these glorious poinsettias.

Some of you may know this story
but the wonderful thing about stories
is they only get richer in their telling and re-telling.

There was a man named Dr. Joel Poinsett.

He was the first Ambassador to Mexico.
Actually he was called the American Minister to Mexico
because he was there in 1825
and the US did not have ambassadors until the late 1800’s.
One the things he brought back to the United States from Mexico
was this beautiful, bright red, star-shaped flower--
and there were only red ones at that time.

Some people called this plant “Flame Leaf”
or “Flower of the Holy Night.”
We of course call it the poinsettia--
named obviously after Dr. Joel Poinsett.

There is a legend connected to the poinsettia.
It is about two small children.
Their names are Maria and Pablo.
Maria is the older sister and Pablo is the little brother.

There once was a little girl named Maria
who had a little brother named Pablo.
Their family was poor.
Very poor.

They lived in a rural village and their family barely had enough food to eat,
much less any money for extras.

Christmas was approaching and their village was preparing for parties
and parades and lots of festivities.
Every year a large creche--a manger scene--
was set up in the village church.

All the children in the village were so excited
to go to visit the baby Jesus
and to present him with a very wonderful present.
All the children were thinking
about what gift their family would buy this year
to present to the baby Jesus.

Maria and Pablo knew
their family had no money to buy any gift at all.
Like the other children,
they wanted to give a really really wonderful gift to the Holy Child, too.
But sadly,
they knew they had nothing to bring as a gift.

But still,
still they wanted to go up to the village church
and see the baby Jesus in the manger
of the creche at the church.

And then, Maria and Pablo came up with a great idea!
Since they had no store-bought gift,
they decided to pluck some weeds growing beside the road.
They thought the weeds could make a soft bed for the baby.
They were very happy and excited that they would have something
to offer to the baby Jesus.

They arrived first and began placing their weeds in the manger,
all around the figure of the baby Jesus.
Just then the other children began arriving.

You know, sometimes children--well, sometimes adults--
can be unthinking and cruel.
The other children began teasing Maria and Pablo--
making fun of them and laughing at their weeds.

Maria and Pablo were so ashamed.
They were almost in tears.
And then suddenly--
the weeds burst into bright red petals
that looked like stars.
The flowers were so beautiful that everyone gasped,
in awe of their beauty.
The weeds had been transformed
into the bright red beautiful poinsettias.

The weeds had been transformed.

It doesn’t take a miracle
for us to realize that we are like those weeds.
We too can be transformed by love.

The gift of love is the only thing God really asks of us.
There is certainly nothing wrong with buying someone a gift,
nothing at all wrong with receiving a gift,
But the message of Christmas
is that God sent a baby because of love
and that baby came to remind us
of what love looks like with a human face
and it is love and only love
that can transform our scraggly, weedy selves
into flowers of such beauty.

Poinsettias are a wonderful reminder
that the best gift we will ever be able to offer anyone is love.

In our reading from Titus this morning we hear:
When the goodness and loving kindness of God our savior appeared,
he saved us,
not because of any works of righteousness that we had done,
but according to his mercy...

We do not have to earn God’s love.
True love is always pure gift.

May these poinsettias that surround us this Christmas Day
remind us of the love of God that surrounds us
every day of the year.


And Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Silent Night (NOT)...Sermon for Christmas Eve Midnight Mass 2011

There are two things that I especially love about this midnight mass.
The first is that it really is a midnight mass.
We will pass over from Christmas Eve into Christmas Day
as we celebrate the Eucharist.
It is so wonderfully counter-cultural to have church at midnight.
People are usually NOT at church at midnight.

I love this.
Because what it really says is
the Holy Spirit comes at odd and unusual times,
not necessarily prime time or convenient time.
What it says is that God is always doing the unexpected
and urging us to do the unexpected--
like come to church and stay past midnight.

It also reminds those of us who are usually in bed by 9 PM
that there are still some things
worthy of staying up late.
I do realize-- that for some of you,
midnight is hardly late--not late at all in fact--
but hopefully you too will admit
that midnight on Christmas eve
holds a magic for all ages,
for both night owls and early birds.

The other thing I love about this midnight mass is
after we have received communion,
the church lights are dimmed into darkness
and we each hold a lighted candle
as we sing.

We sing
the well-known
and much loved Christmas carol
"Silent Night."

Silent night, holy night....

Yet the truth is
it is unlikely that the night of Jesus’ birth was silent.
Holy, yes.
Silent, no.

Babies coming into the world generally don’t tend to be quiet affairs.

Think about the sounds.
Perhaps Mary crying out during the birth.
Joseph reaching for the child, whispering words of comfort,
to both baby and Mary.

Our theology teaches us that Jesus was fully divine and fully human.
I imagine that fully human baby
came into the world
not with uplifted hands in the orans position of blessing,
but wailing at the top of his little very human lungs.

Perhaps there were others there as well.
Joseph may have sent for help--
there may have been women from that Bethlehem neighborhood
that came to assist with the birth--
or if they weren’t there for the birth,
surely they came not long after--
bringing food, chattering, cooing,---
word of a new baby spreads quickly.

Tradition tells us there were animals--
lambs bleating, donkeys braying, a cow or two mooing--
perhaps even a crowing rooster and a clucking hen or two.

There may have been noises from the town streets-
a heated argument spilling out from one of the overly-full inns,
people chopping wood for fires,
peddlers calling out in the wee morning hours.

What a world of noise it must have been
for the newly-born Jesus.
Merry Chaos, little one!
Happy not-so-silent night!

Our culture today tends to make the Christmas story
a Hallmark special of sentimentality.
There’s nothing wrong with sentimental,
but it’s highly unlikely that this first century birth
was a Charlie Brown sort of Christmas.

There were noises and smells--
some not too pleasant no doubt.
I don’t think Mary--or Joseph-- was baking sugar cookies that night.

Mary, like most mothers who have just given birth,
was probably exhausted.
And like any new parents,
both she and Joseph probably can’t take their eyes off this baby.
They already know that God will use this child
in ways they cannot really imagine.
That in itself is both wonderful and terrifying.

Jesus is entering the world in a time of strife and terror.

There was no doubt great tension throughout the city--
everyone having to report for the census.
Be counted, be registered and then be taxed.
Not showing up was not an option.

Though surely at least one or two
thought of starting an Occupy Bethlehem movement.
Risky probably to even THINK such thoughts
under that regime.

Herod was not known as a good and generous ruler.
He was known as an executioner, a slaughterer.

The world was in desperate need of good news.

The baby is born and immediately the angels go out to tell the world.
They go out into the fields to tell the shepherds.
The good news did not go first to the wealthy and the privileged.
The news came first to the poor, these rural laborers--shepherds.

Can you imagine-- there you are living outdoors,
sitting beneath the night sky
and an angel shows up and says,
“Guess what? God’s Messiah, has been born--
just up the road! Come and see!”

At first the shepherds are afraid.
Surely there must have been at least a few moments of unbelief!

The Messiah? Just up the road? Really?!!
(Whoa! Angels, get a grip!)

But regardless of what the shepherds were thinking
or muttering under their breath,
Luke’s gospel says they went.
They went to see for themselves.

How important it is to go and see for ourselves.
How easy it is to discount even good news,
to scoff it away.
But the shepherds went.

You have to wonder--
if the news had gone first to the wealthy and the privileged--
would they have gone to see for themselves?
Would we?

The shepherds went with haste.

And what do you know?!!
There was a baby--a child lying in the feed trough, the manger--
and there was the mother, Mary
and the father, Joseph.

The shepherds heard, they went, they saw, they were stunned--
they worshipped--and they went out and told others.
Today we would call that model evangelism!

What does this story mean for us today?
How do we find light in the darkness
in a world today
which also seems in desperate need for good news?

Repeatedly God calls us to pay attention to “babies in mangers.”
I don’t mean that literally.
I mean we are called to pay attention
when we see God at work in the world in unexpected,
in surprising ways.
We are called to not expect God
to fit neatly into our or the world’s little box of expectations.

We are called to pay attention when love comes down
in unexpected places at unexpected moments.

We EXPECT (though it doesn’t always happen)
that we will meet God in church.
Isn’t church where God lives?
Yes and no.
Yes, I hope God lives here.
But God is not confined to church or to one place or to one people.

If we pay attention,
we might hear God speak to us
in the voice of the cashier at CVS
when she shares about the Christmas it snowed and
they lost their electricity
and their house was full of family
and they couldn’t cook the big meal they planned
and they couldn’t even shower
but how her granddaughter who was four years old at the time
remembers that “as the best Christmas ever.”
Sometimes what seems like a disaster
eliminates some of the busy-ness that fills our holidays
and just makes us treasure the being together,
being present with one another is the gift.
Love comes down.

If we listen
we may hear the voice of angels in a prison
or at a hospice bedside or in a school classroom
or in a parking lot.

A friend with three small children
recently shared that her middle daughter told her,
“Every night when Papa comes in to tell me good night,
he always tells me he loves me
and he tells me that I am important.”
Love comes down.

If we push aside our dark tendencies to blame others
or to lament the hard knocks that life has dealt us
(and life can wield some knockout punches),
we might rediscover hope--and even joy.
Love comes down.

When we feel we are too small,
too insignificant to make a difference
we might remember that we have been given immense power.

Last year Americans spent $ 450 billion on Christmas.
Clean water for the whole world--
including every single poor person on the planet,
would cost about $ 20 billion.
We are not without power.
We are just sometimes lost in the darkness
on how to best use that power.
We need to open our eyes and see the baby in the manger.

Coming out of the darkness and noise and conflict
and seeing a newly born baby,
is not the END of the story.

Kneeling or standing in silence
with one small lighted candle
is not the END of our service.

Christmas is the BEGINNING of our story.
Every year we hear the story once again
and every year we are given another chance to begin again.
To embrace the love that comes down.

Yes, we live in a noisy world,
a chaotic world, a troubling world.

But we still hold our candle in the darkness
to remind us of the words of the prophet Isaiah:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness
on them light has shined.

Christmas is our beginning.
Love comes down and love goes out.

From here we go out into the world
to give voice and vision
to those who have been pushed aside to the harsh margins.

The work of Christmas begins,
but does not end, tonight.

Howard Thurman puts it this way in his poem “The Work of Christmas”:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers [and sisters]
To make music in the heart.

Love comes down.
Christmas is the beginning of the story.

Silent night, holy night...
love’s pure light....

Love’s pure light.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Advent is like a Beatles song....

Advent is like a Beatles song....
Sermon for Year B Advent 4 2011

Today we celebrate the fourth Sunday of Advent.
Today sets us on the home stretch towards Christmas.
Christ’s- mass.

On Advent 1
I said that Advent is like an alarm clock.
And thanks to Michael Rhodes and a very loud drum,
we all WOKE UP (at least for a few moments).

On Advent 2
I said that Advent is like chocolate.
And thanks to Hershey’s and the story of St. Nicholas
we all got a TASTE of Advent.

On Advent 3, just last week,
I said that Advent is like a joy ride.
And a number of you have told me this week
that you needed to be reminded
that God wants us to en-JOY life--
in Advent-- and beyond Advent.

So...I have to continue the tradition, right?
Today I would like to say
that Advent 4 is like a Beatles song.
That’s right.
A Beatles song...this is a pretty obvious one---
think Let it be.

When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom,
let it be.

You see Mary, the mother-to-be of Jesus,
certainly knew a thing or two about times of trouble.

From the moment the angel Gabriel shows up on her doorstep
the times of trouble have begun.
Pregnant before married?
Having to face her family, the neighbors--AND tell Joseph!?
Exposing herself to the disapproval--or worse---
of the society in which she lived?
She finds herself
in times of trouble-- indeed!!

And yet, and yet...
there is something different about Mary.
She does have a wisdom that seems beyond her years.
She does have a willingness to be vulnerable
that seems to come right from her heart.

Mary is not without her fears--
remember, the angel says to her almost immediately,
Do not be afraid.

Her face, her eyes, her body posture must have told the angel Gabriel
that she is terrified.
Which also leads us to believe that having an angel show up
and speak to you
was not a common every day occurrence
even in the first century.

Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.

You have found favor with God.
Well, that sounds a little better doesn’t it?
What might Mary first imagine though?
Oh, maybe God is going to give Joseph and I a fine house to live in
after we are married.
Maybe God is going to bless us with flocks of sheep and herds of cattle!
Perhaps the angel has come to tell me
that God is going to bless all our days together
so that we will live to a healthy, happy old old age.

Favor with God! This is great! careful about trying to fit God into the box
of your own imagination.

And then the angel hits her with the real news.
You’re going to have a baby, Mary.
A really really special baby.

I think Mary blanks out right after she hears that she is to bear a son.
Right after she gets the instruction to name this baby Jesus.
I don’t think she even hears--at least not initially--
all those things
about how great this baby will be
and how this son of hers
is really the Son of God
and as great their ancestor King David.

I think Mary stops breathing or hearing anything
right after the angel says... will conceive in your womb...

What!!!? How can that be?
I’m so young. I’m a virgin. What are you saying?!!!
(News like this might have been the beginning
of people posting NO SOLICITORS (OR ANGELS)
next to their front doors!)

But Mary does not slam the door on the angel
or push him out into the street
or run and hide under her bed.

She is shocked.
She is stunned.
But she keeps listening.
Let all those who have ears hear.

She starts to turn those words over in her head and in her heart.. have found favor with God
...The Lord is with you
...The Holy Spirit will come upon you
...the child to be born will be holy
...For nothing will be impossible with God.

She stops jumping to conclusions.
and listens.

NOTHING will be impossible with God.

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be...”

Let it be.

Not "let it be" as in let it go;
but "let it be" as in let it become.

Let all you have told me happen.
Let everything God has promised become possible.
Let it be.

Advent is like a Beatles song...

When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
Let it be, let it be.
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.

And when the broken hearted people
Living in the world agree,
There will be an answer, let it be.
For though they may be parted there is
Still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be.
Let it be, let it be. Yeah
There will be an answer, let it be.

And when the night is cloudy,
There is still a light that shines on me,
Shine on until tomorrow, let it be.
I wake up to the sound of music
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
Let it be, let it be.
There will be an answer, let it be.
Let it be, let it be,
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.

I cannot in any way confirm
that Paul McCartney
wrote this song thinking about the Annunciation.

But I can confirm that when the night is cloudy
when our lives seem lost in darkness
God is with us
and there is a light that tries to break through--
even against what may seem impossible odds.
There will be an answer.
It may not be the answer we expect,
but there will be an answer.

Remember how we started this season?
With me telling you that the word “advent”
is from the Latin word adventus
which means “come” or “coming”?

We are coming to the end of Advent.
We are coming to Christmas.
Mary has said YES!

The light of the world is breaking through the darkness.
The Word is about to be made flesh
and come.

And our response?

Let it be.
Let it be.
Let it be.

Monday, December 19, 2011


Sermon for the Ordination to the Transitional Diaconate
for Chris Cole, Sam Tallman, Ginny Wilder and Matthew Wright
December 17, 2011
The Catherdral of All Souls, Asheville, NC


That’s what I have written at the top of my sermon----deep breath!
In gigantic, big letters.
I know that message is for me
and probably good advice for you four who are about to be ordained--
and probably for this entire gathering of God’s people this morning.

Because ordinations ARE deep breath moments.

Look at all these people!!
(I think I heard they were putting in a live feed across the street at Starbucks!)

All these people--
your families, your friends--
all these people
are here because they love you--WE love you!!
We are also here because you give us hope for the Church.

Ordinations ARE futuristic in the best sense of the word.

I look at the four of you--Chris and Sam and Ginny and Matthew--
and all I can really think is WOW!

Here you are today--at the Cathedral--and you’re all wearing COLLARS!!
It’s happening.

You listened and heard and responded to God’s holy call.
You hopped in this little car
on the Episcopal roller coaster
of discernment--

This journey has no doubt felt distinctly uphill much of the time---
yet you are here today,
soon to say in response to the Bishop and to the Church,
“I believe I am so called.”

Ordinations are like being in the front car of the roller coaster
and you have been going what feels like up up up up up
for such a long time....
and now you have crested the hill...
and you can't see anything!!!!
It feels like there is nothing out there.. suddenly feels like the world
has dropped away from beneath you
and you are going over the edge!

There’s only one thing to do:
(That’s the colloquial version of your ordination vows!

This is in not the end of your wild ride.
There will be more ups and downs to come.

Even before today, you have probably let loose
a scream or two in this process.
Perhaps even an occasional shout
to stop the ride and let you off--

you DIDN’T get off.
You DIDN’T stop.

Nor did God.

Your collective journeys
have led you to interesting and diverse places--
an ashram in India,
the hallowed halls of the Biltmore Estate,
pilgrimages to Turkey, to Wales,
to the Holy Land,
to our companion diocese of Durgapur,
to CPE and Camp Kanuga
and the Appalachian Trail.

You have brokered financial deals, bagged groceries,
written songs, whirled with the Sufis,
trained employees, been employees,
played with the Fighting Friars, prayed with the monks,
and more. Much more.

You have worshipped with incense and with praise music.
You have prayed in chapels and beside the ruins of chapels.
You have seen God’s face in your classmates
and in people living on the streets.
I hope you have become very, very aware of the saints in your lives
who have made sacrifices
so that you can be where you are today.

Alll this and more has led you to this day.
December 17, 2011.

On this day in history
the poet Rumi died
the Aztec calendar stone was excavated
the US Government closed their official study of UFOs--
and the first episode of the Simpsons aired.

The Simpsons is the longest running animated series ever.
The creator Matt Groening has described the characters as
“creatures of consumption and envy,
laziness and opportunity,
stubborness and redemption.

Matt Groening says, “The Simpsons are just like the rest of us.
Only exaggerated.”

Just like the rest of us.

A dispute arose among the apostles
as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest.

These are the words we heard in Luke’s gospel this morning.

We don’t have to be in the process of ordination
to get all tied up in disputes among the apostles.

It is easy to waste a lot of time worrying about who is the greatest--
trying to over-work and “out-holy” our brothers and sisters in Christ.
But the instructions Jesus gives to all of us is simple:

Our work, our call is not to be regarded as “the greatest”--
our part is to serve. Our PART is to serve.
When the whole community of disciples are called together,
as told in the Acts of the Apostles,
the instructions are
to devote ourselves to prayer and to serving.

Matt Groening is right--
we ARE like the Simpsons.
We live in a world obsessed with being the greatest,
having the most, beating out the other guy or girl,

Even in the first century,
Jesus notes that there are
those who are much admired
for wielding their power
and their position and their prestige over others.

Jesus notes that yes,
most people believe
that to sit at the table and be waited on
makes you special, makes you great,
makes you important.

But Jesus is never one to do the expected.

Here in Luke’s gospel,
Jesus says, ...I am among you as one who serves.
I am AMONG you as one who serves.

That is OUR call.
Not just the call for Matthew and Ginny and Sam and Chris.
We are all called to serve.

Not for reward or recognition
or promotion to a position of power.
Not to show the world how great we are or how important we are
or how holy we are.

Our vocation is to serve and to love.

We are called to live and to be
among our beautifully diverse brothers and sisters
on this beautifully diverse planet,
to love and serve one another
because we were all formed,
we were all consecrated
in the womb of God’s love.

On this day, December 17, 2011,
Ginny and Sam and Chris and Matthew
you will be ordained.
You will continue on the journey of your call to the priesthood.

Let go of any thoughts of being the greatest
and just be truly present with God’s people, with us,
among us.

In your diaconal call to serve,
may you breathe deeply,
love broadly
and live joyfully.


(Thanks to Tom Whittington for the above two photographs!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Advent is like a joy ride...

Advent is a like a joy ride....
Sermon for Year B Advent 3

Now on Advent 1
I said that Advent was like an alarm clock.

Last week, on Advent 2,
I said that Advent was like chocolate.
But today--Advent 3--
I am saying Advent is like a joy ride.

Not the kind of joy ride where you steal a car
and go careening out of the parking lot on two wheels,
laying rubber.
But the kind of joy ride
like the first time you ever rode your two wheeler without training wheels,
or your first motorcycle ride
or just a ride in the car with someone you love,
going no place in particular,
just riding for the joy of going for a ride.

Today is the third Sunday of Advent
and today we have three candles lighted on our Advent Wretath.
Today we lit the pink--or the rose--colored candled.

If you remember we have a rose colored candle today
because this is known as Gaudete Sunday.

Gaudete is the Latin for “rejoice.”
If we were doing the mass in Latin we would say,
Gaudete in Domino semper
Rejoice in the Lord always.

Some churches even have special vestments for this Sunday--
rose colored vestments.
These rose colored vestments are only worn twice in the liturgical year--
once on the third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday)
and once on the fourth Sunday of Lent (Laetere Sunday)
(remember our Laughter Sunday dinner on Laetere Sunday this past Lent?)

Both of these Sundays are seen as special times of refreshment,
feasting and joy.

Today we “officially” celebrate the joy of the coming birth of Christ.
Some people even call the pink candle the joy candle.

Some of you know that I have been away part of this week.
I was helping lead an Advent retreat up in Valle Crucis.
I offered several meditations about Advent.
One of those meditations was about joy.

Even though I know there are several of you who were at the retreat,
I want to share some of those same thoughts with you here today.

I think joy is so important.
We can tend to think that being religious or pious
is only about being somber and serious and holy holy holy
in a rather fierce sort of way.

I have been part of a clergy group this fall
that has meant a great deal to me.
One of the others in that group is a woman named Joyce Hollyday.
Some of you may know Joyce--
she is active in prison ministry
and especially active in the opposition of the death penalty.
She is a UCC minister
and was the associate editor of SOJOURNERS magazine,
as well as the author of several books.

Joyce shared this story with our group one morning.
A friend of hers has been a church worker
in a Salvadoran refugee camp in Honduras.
She said that one of the refugee women
asked her why she always looked so sad.

Yvonne, the relief worker, talked about the grief she felt
over all the suffering she was seeing in the refugee camp.
She told the refugee woman that she was committed to give all of herself
to the struggle of the refugees.

The woman gently confronted Yvonne, saying,
“Only people who expect to go back to North America in a year
work the way you do.
You cannot be serious about our struggle
unless you play and celebrate
and do those things that make it possible
for you to really give a lifetime to it.”

Every time the refugees were displaced and had to build a new camp,
they immediately formed three committees:
a construction committee
an education committee
and “the committee of joy” (comite de alegria).

Celebration was as basic to the life of the refugees
as digging latrines
or teaching their children to read.

We must not forget joy.

Can you imagine how our churches might change
if we had a Committee of Joy?

Yes, that’s right--
what if we had the outreach committee,
the altar guild, the stewardship committee
and the committee of joy?

Imagine how our country might change
if the most powerful committee in congress
was not the Committee on Appropriations
or the Ways and Means Committee
but the Committee of Joy.

The Committee of Joy that makes sure we celebrate, play, laugh, rejoice.

Maybe Advent is a good time
to not only install a committee of joy in our churches
or our Congress
but to install one in our own lives.

Look in the mirror tomorrow morning
and say to yourself.
"Happy Advent!
I am now appointing you a member of your very own
Committee of Joy."

Imagine waking up each morning
and sitting down at the breakfast table with your cup of coffee
or your glass of orange juice
and making your to-do list---
...pick up milk at Harris Teeter, about an appointment
to get snow tires tires on the Honda,
...write the first draft of my sermon---
...and oh yes!
What would the Committee of Joy like to do today?
What rejoicing and silliness and laughter and play
and celebration of life
should be on our list today?

Maybe we need to reserve the FIRST place on our to do list each day
for the Committee of Joy.
Maybe we all ought to go out this afternoon
and buy a great big pink candle
and put it right in the center of our tables at home!

We must never forget how short life really is.
We must never forget to enjoy life,
to allow ourselves to be happy.

Our scriptures all sing out this message of joy today.

Isaiah speaks of the “oil of gladness”.
Our psalm tells us that we will “reap with songs of joy.”
Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians, writes,
“Rejoice always...”
And the heart of the message in the gospel of John
is one of good news, of great joy--
John is giving testimony to the One who is coming,
the One for whom we will soon stand and sing,
“Joy to the World.”

I know it is almost a mortal sin
for an Episcopalian to sing Christmas carols
before the end of Advent,
but you know the Christmas carol,
“God rest ye merry gentlemen”?

I was shocked when I discovered the placement of the comma.
That’s right --the comma.

You see it is not God rest ye, merry gentlemen.
Instead it is God rest ye merry, gentlemen.

You could cross out the word gentlemen
and still have the true meaning of that joyful carol.

It is a perfect prayer for a holy Advent.
Especially a holy Advent 3.
God rest ye merry.

Here’s to pink candles!
Here’s to joy rides!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"It is what it is...."

My friend Diana forwarded an email message to me recently. It came from her friend (and mine) Barb. The message is written by Barb's good friend Dave Trout. I was so moved by the message that I wrote to Dave and asked him if I might share it on my blog. I told him that his words are words that so many need but cannot express as beautifully as he has done here. He graciously said yes. Dave has cancer. You'll figure that out rather immediately. He also has wisdom and abundant grace. So take a few minutes. Realize how short and precious and beautiful life is. And put Dave Trout on your prayer list. Wrap this man and his family in prayers. And thanks, Dave, for letting me share this. The quilt shown here is made from a pattern called the "Patience Nine Patch." If I could quilt, Dave, I would make this for you. Since I can't quilt, I just put it here on this blog with prayers for you.


This cancer journey has been a learning experience for me.
For instance, I’m learning the difference between patience and waiting.
Patience is when the nurse tries to draw blood twice
out of one arm and fails,
then finally draws it out of the other arm
on the third try—
and I don’t get frustrated.

Waiting is when there is nothing at all happening
but I have to stay because I “have an appointment.”

Over an hour after the appointment time,
I finally get in.
Then I wait for the doctor
who’s “running late.”
I’m just thankful he’s not “walking late!”
Now I’m waiting for my beard to grow back.
(Maybe it will be black and curly!)

Oh yes – I’m learning.

As most of you already know
I had to wait weeks for the Plan A surgery.
Finally, the day came
and I was ready. Let’s GO!

Afterward Dr. Nichols, the surgeon,
came to me and explained
that even though the tumor had shrunk,
the cancer had spread
and he couldn’t do what he had planned to do.

He was very apologetic and compassionate.
I was patient. (Pun intended!)

I’m learning that to ignore or dislike the facts
doesn’t change the facts.
(This is where I insert that contemporary phrase, “It is what it is!”)

The nursing staff at Riverside was terrific.
They were competent and sympathetic.
But when the doctor came in at 9:00 am two days later
and asked me if I wanted to go home or stay another day,
I impatiently said, “I WANT OUTTA HERE.”

Then, we waited until 5:00 pm
for all the dismissal “red tape” to be completed.
I was reminded of the young boy
who was on a trip with his dad and kept asking him,
“How long before we get there.”
The answer was always,” A long time yet.”
Finally, the boy asked,
“Daddy, will I still be four years old when we get there?”

I’m learning
that even when it seems like nothing is happening,
progress is being made.
We met with Dr. Moore, the oncologist, this week.
Now we’re on Plan B, Phase one.
He said the next thing for me is an even stronger chemo treatment.
I will have to have an infusion port inserted next week as an outpatient at Riverside.

Beginning Dec 19 I will have periodic infusions
at Zangmeister Center, but will also have to have a portable device
that will infuse the chemo for 24 hours five days a week
for up to 18 weeks, depending on my body’s reaction.

When he reviewed all the side effects of this particular treatment
(nausea, vomiting, depression, etc)
I was about ready to ask,
“Will it kill me?” but thought that might be tacky.

I am going to need patience!
I will have to trust progress is being made.

However, if you ask me how I am,
I will tell you what I told a surprised nurse
at the hospital when she asked:
“I am a man with cancer. Apart from that, I’m doing fine.”

My body is falling apart!
I’m inflicted with a vicious, aggressive disease.
I’m facing some very difficult days and weeks ahead physically
and an uncertain future.

I’m not happy or upbeat all the time.
Some days I just want to stay in bed.
But as for me and my spirit, I am doing just fine, thank you.

Like Abraham Lincoln said,
“The best thing about the future
is that it comes only one day at a time!”

I’m learning to be thankful in a whole new context.
Thank God for Pat.
Without her I would find this journey overwhelmingly difficult to face.

And thank God for you. Your calls, cards, and emails brighten my spirit
just knowing you are continuing to pray for me and Pat
as we move ahead.
We pray for you, too.

And thank God, with all the uncertainty,
I’m still learning many things.

I’m learning (perhaps too late in my career)
to ask someone with a serious illness not “How are you?”
but rather “How is your spirit?”

I’m learning the wisdom in the words,
“Hold everything loosely, except your faith.”

I’m learning the term “wait and see”
can be filled with hope as well as fear.

I’m learning by experience that the gracious gift of God’s Spirit is available for everyone to infuse us 24/7 with His grace to both wait and be patient for His will to be done—whatever that may be.

I’m learning even when it seems like God is not working; He IS working in our lives.

I’m learning to “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.”
(Psalm 37:7 NKJV)

I’ll keep you updated, but in the meantime,
remember God loves you and me.
That’s what this Christmas thing is all about.

He asked me to remind you.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

One-third cup of rice....

I am a fan of the work that BREAD FOR THE WORLD does in fighting hunger. I became aware of their work when my friend Sarah worked there not long after we both graduated from seminary. Through a blog link from BREAD, I recently became aware of a "challenge" issued by the Rev. Jerry Hill of Buncombe Street United Methodist Church in Greenville, SC. He issued a "rice challenge"-- asking people to live on one-third cup of rice for one day. That is the typical amount of nourishment that 1 billion hungry people in the world receive each day.

In this holiday season when so many of our shopping carts are overflowing with abundance--and much of what is in our carts is not abundantly good for us (candy, cookies, peppermint ice cream...),it is hard to fathom only having one-third cup of rice for one meal, much less one day.

I have been haunted by this ever since I read those statistics--one BILLION hungry people who live on less than one-third cup of rice each day. Sometimes we have to look in the mirror and see that WE are the 1% and even when we think we have so little, we have so much.

This morning I measured out one-third cup of rice and put it in a zip-lock bag. Just a reminder. Just a reminder.

Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:8-9)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

I see the moon...

Part of my morning prayers includes reading a poem. Right now I am reading the poetry of Lisel Mueller in her book ALIVE TOGETHER. The poem I read this morning is Eyes and Ears. I was very struck by these lines:

I don't think the sun bothers
with us; it is too full
of its own radiance. But the moon,
that silent all-night cruiser,
wants to connect with us noisy breathers
and lets itself into the house
to keep us awake.

I love this image of the moon letting itself into the house. And indeed, I know too well this moon that keeps us awake. In the past I have not felt like the moon is much of a friend--making sleep impossible when sleep is what I want so desperately. When the moon is supposed to be full, I draw the shades, pull the curtains tightly and dream-mutter, "Go away, you big bright moon" as I crawl into bed longing for the darkness that brings sleep. Upon reading this poem by Lisel Mueller I think I may need to work to make friends with this "all-night cruiser" and wonder where its radiance is drawing me.

This morning I went outside to see if I could see the lunar eclipse. The news reports say the moon will be "super sized and blood red." At this point, all I am seeing are clouds. I don't think the east coast is the best place to see the eclipse so I may have to just marvel at the photographs.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Holy Advent, Bidden Blessings

The Advent Retreat ended today and all went on their way. It was a wonderful time together. I may post some of the meditations I wrote for the retreat a little later, but for now wanted to post some of the beaded prayer pockets that were created during the retreat. Danby Ludgate, friend and artist, guided us through the design, sewing and beading process. You pray as your create one of these and then you place a prayer inside the pocket. You can either sew the prayer pocket closed after placing the prayer inside or you can leave one side open so the prayer can be removed and read. These are created to give to someone or to use yourself for holding prayers. The diversity and beauty of what the women on this retreat created was astounding. These beaded blessings so reflect the diversity and the beauty of the women themselves.

Take a look...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Holy Advent, Bidden Blessings

I am at the Valle Crucis Conference Center this week with my friend and amazing artist Danby Ludate. We are leading an Advent Retreat which began last evening as fifteen of us gathered around the fireplace in the Inn. This morning will begin with a time of centering prayer around the labyrinth. Such a lovely way to begin the morning--sitting in silence with others. Our retreat follows a week-long silent centering prayer retreat. Even our gentle chatter must be waking up the walls here after that long and lovely soaking of deep silence.

This is third year that Danby and I have offered an Advent retreat here. Some people return each year and others arrive for the first time. The gathered group is the true blessing of these retreats. The meditations, the art project, the poems, the prayers, the song...all that surrounds this time weaves us together into this holy season, but the people...ah, the people! They are the true joy.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Advent is like chocolate.....

Advent is like chocolate....
Sermon for Year B Advent 2

Advent is like chocolate.
Yes, you heard correctly--like chocolate.

This was confirmed for me on a recent trip to CVS---
Look at these Hershey kisses!
Wrapped in Advent purple!
Dark chocolate Hershey kisses.
So Advent!

Christmas is probably milk chocolate--
sweet, yummy, and loved by almost everyone.
But Advent is more like dark chocolate--
exceptionally rich,
a bit spicy
and definitely a touch of mystery.

In today’s gospel we meet John.
John the Baptizer.

If ever there were a mystery man, it is John.
Dressed in camel hair.
Eating locusts and wild honey.
John is a man with a message--
and he wants to be sure
that everyone gets an ear full.

It is interesting to note how Mark’s gospel begins.
We hear these words:
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ...

Mark’s gospel does not tell us one word about the baby Jesus
or shepherds or angels or Mary or Joseph--

The gospel of Mark just jumps in
with a full grown Jesus
being announced to the world
by a full blown prophetic mystery man.

Now remember--John and Jesus are cousins.
We don’t know how close they were
but John is clear
that he sees Jesus
as way more qualified that he himself is--
I can baptize you with water, says John--
but the One who is coming,
oh my!
The One who is coming is going to baptize you with the Spirit
and trust me--
nothing in your life will ever be the same.

John is crystal clear that he is the messenger.
John is crystal clear that he is NOT the Messiah.

It is unusual for someone to want to give all the credit,
all the glory. to someone else.
Most of us want to claim at least a little piece of the fame, right?

John is crystal clear that he is only preparing the way.
John is crystal clear that is not THE way.

This second Sunday in Advent is a good time to remember
all those who have gone before us
and prepared the way.
All those who let us have the credit
when they have done a great deal of the work.

But it is also a Sunday to remember that it is really not about us.
John is such a good reminder of this.
All of this--everything in our life--is really about God.
That is the message of Advent:
Everything is holy--open your eyes--prepare the way--be ready---
look! wait! watch!
prepare! hope! expect!
O come O come Emmanuel.
Emmanuel. God with us.

Advent is a time of waiting.
A time of expecting the coming of God.

A time when we can wonder and ponder the mystery of a God
who comes into the world
as a helpless, powerless, vulnerable baby.

This is not the Messiah people were expecting--
they were expecting a king, a soldier,
a man (yes, they were definitely expecting a MAN)--
a person of power and strength and control.
A person who will immediately right all the wrongs.
And then the Messiah shows up wearing a diaper!

God is full of surprises!
That still holds true today!

Tuesday, December 6 is the Feast day for St. Nicholas.
We may think of St. Nicholas
as just another name for Santa Claus.
But I want you to know the real story of St. Nicholas--
at least the story that is part of our tradition.

St. Nicholas was a Bishop.
That’s right--one of those fellows with the pointy hats (miters)
and a staff (crozier) in his hand.
He was the Bishop of Myra
which is now in modern day Turkey.
St. Nicholas lived in the 4th century.

There are many stories about St. Nicholas--
some of them almost Stephen King gruesome--
but the one I want to tell you today is this:

Now Nicholas did not start out as saint--
he started out as a regular person just like you or me.
When Nicholas was a teenager his parents died
and his parents left him a lot of money
which made him a very rich young man.
Nicholas went to live with his uncle who was a priest.

Now sometimes people who are hungry or worried or hurting
come to visit their priest.
One day Nicholas overheard a man talking to his uncle
about how difficult things were for him and his family.

The man had lost all his money.
The only treasure he had was his three daughters.
His daughters were old enough to get married
but in those days, in order for a young woman to get married,
they had to have some money or property to offer--
called a “dowry” to help the new family get started.

This poor man did not have any dowry money
so this meant his daughters would never be able to marry.
The man was very sad about this
and he felt that he had failed his family.

But it was more than just not having a dowry.
This family was so poor and so desperate that they had nothing to eat.
The truth is they were almost starving.
The man was faced with the only choice he felt he had:
to sell his daughters as slaves.

He could not feed them,
he could not imagine a future for them,
so he felt he had to do something to make sure they would at least live.
There were so many people overwhelmed by poverty
that the priest nor the church had the resources to help.

The night before the oldest daughter was to be sold as a slave,
she washed her stockings
(people wore cloth stockings in those days--
more what we would call knee-high socks)--
she washed her stockings
and hung them by the fireplace to dry overnight.

Then they all went to sleep--
the father and the three daughters.

When they woke up the next morning,
the oldest daughter noticed a lump in one of her stockings.
She reached in and found a small, heavy bag.
When she opened the bag,
it had gold inside!
That’s right--gold coins!!!

Enough to buy food for their family,
enough so that she would not have to be sold as a slave--
even enough for her dowry!

The family was so happy!

The next morning another bag of gold was found.
Two of the daughters could now be saved.
It was all so wonderful
yet all so mysterious.

Now the next night,
the father decided he was going to stay awake.
He dozed off but when he heard a small “clink”--
the sound of the gold coins in the little bag
as they were being dropped into the stocking--
he jolted awake!
And what did he see?

He saw a young man running out of the room
and the father jumped up and chased after him,
reached out and grabbed his coat.
It was Nicholas!
The young man who lived with his uncle the priest.

“Nicholas!” said the father. “It’s you!
Thank you!
Thank you so much for helping us!.”

But Nicholas said,
“Please do not thank me.
Thank God that your prayers have been answered.
And please--do not tell others about me,
because I deserve no credit for this.
It is only through the grace of God
that I can give to others.”

The father told no one
and Nicholas continued helping people.
He wanted no attention or thanks.
He knew he had much
and he did not want others to go hungry. Or worse.

It was later that Nicholas was made a Bishop--
because a Bishop’s role is that of a shepherd--
one who looks after his people.
God’s people.

So it is because of Nicholas that we hang stockings by the fireplace
and awake in the morning to find little gifts.
When I was a child,
my brother and sister and I
always got a little mesh bag filled with gold wrapped
chocolate coins.
But it was not until I was an adult that I discovered
the history of this tradition.

You see Nicholas was like John the Baptizer in many ways.
He knew that he was not the source of abundance or blessing.
Both John and Nicholas knew
that there was someone
far greater than they could ever hope or imagine to be.

They wanted to share the good news with others.
They wanted to prepare the way for others to come to know God.

We are all potential John the Baptizers,
potential Saint Nicholases.
Every day we are sent out into the world
with an opportunity to share our abundance.
Sharing our wealth--
both our financial wealth and our spiritual wealth--
prepares the way
for others to receive and to know
the unconditional love of God.

The more unloveable or cynical or hard-hearted someone appears
the more they need this good news.

Every day we are sent as messengers, as angels,
to cry out in the wilderness--
but to also listen and look and pay attention
to those who are lost in the wilderness.
We are called to point the way to hope
and to the One who brings hope.

When you leave this worship service,
I will be at the door with my basket.
Adults get the dark chocolate.
Children get a gold coin milk chocolate.

But please do not thank me.
Take the piece of chocolate and say,
“Thanks be to God.
Thanks be to God.”
Then go out into the world and share the good news.
The mysterious, delicious good news.