Sunday, January 29, 2012

The intersection of Elvis and Capernaum...Sermon for Year B Epiphany 4

What have you to do with us?

If you go to Memphis, Tennessee
and you go to visit Graceland,
(and I can’t imagine why anyone would go to Memphis
and NOT visit Graceland),
in the Visitors’ Center you will see a film clip of Elvis Presley
right after he was drafted into the Army
and had arrived in Germany
where he was stationed.

A reporter asks Elvis,
“So what do you miss, Elvis?”
And Elvis says, “Memphis.”

“What is it you miss about Memphis?”asks the reporter.

Absolutely everything,” replies Elvis.

I thought about that question and Elvis’ answer
when I thought about that day in the synagogue in Capernaum.

I imagine you remember that day
as well as I do.
It seems like only yesterday.

Jesus walked in with his backpack slung over his shoulder.
He was wearing a pair of bluejeans
a faded purple polo shirt,
and his usual pair of Chaco sandals.
Who is this man a few of us pondered?
What’s he up to?

That was so early in Jesus’ ministry.
Most people didn’t know about him yet.
We had seen him and his friends around Capernaum
but we certainly didn’t know what we would know later.
No one had a clue about what was coming, who he really was.

But as soon as he started to speak,
we knew we were in the presence of someone unlike anyone
we had ever met before.

An undercurrent of whispering went around the crowd--
Who IS this man?
He speaks with such authority.

Many of us grew up in the era where the buzz phrase was
Don’t trust anyone over 30.

Jesus was over thirty.
(Just barely, but still...)
Could we trust this stranger?

Authority is not always a comfortable word for many of us.
We hear that word and we think bossy, judgemental, pompous, threatening.

But his authority was different.
Jesus didn’t seem interested in power or politics or success or position...
the only thing he ever seemed interested in was God.
He talked a lot about God (but so did a lot of other religious people).

But Jesus always brought everything--his words, his actions--
he brought everything back to love.
Love was everything.
Absolutely everything.

Not just loving God,
but how we are to love one another.
How we are called to see the “beloved” in each one of us.

Actually, most of us
don’t really remember exactly what he said
that day in the synagogue.
It was more how he said it.

There is another reason we remember that day in the synagogue.
The interruption.
That man who came bursting in, shouting,
What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?

There was only one of him.
Who is this us?

He was so loud.
I saw mothers clutching their children tightly.
I saw the faces of others hardening into a grimace.
If we hadn’t been so startled by his sudden arrival,
I am sure some would have tackled him and thrown him out--
it was so out of line to interrupt worship like that.

But Jesus was so calm.
I remember how he looked directly at that man.
It was as if he saw something
that none of the rest of us could see.

There was talk about unclean spirits, demons, evil.
What Luke Skywalker might call “the dark side of the Force.”

That day it was hard to tell if the man WANTED Jesus
to destroy his demons
or if he was afraid Jesus would destroy them--
and then what would he do without them?
We can get so dependent even on the negative and destructive.

But Jesus was having none of his fear or excuses--or were they threats?
Remember how the entire crowd just went completely silent
when Jesus said, “Be silent, and come out of him!”
Be silent.
We were.
We all were.
I think we were afraid to make a peep.

Maybe we were afraid that Jesus was talking to more of us
than that one possessed man.
Maybe we are all a little possessed of demons,
of unclean spirits.

I remember how the man convulsed
and the deep primal sound that erupted from his throat--
as he was freed from all that had been strangling him--
inside and out.

A peace came over that man that I have never seen before.
And suddenly we were silent no longer--
everyone was amazed and everyone began to talk at once,
“Who is this man? Who is this Jesus?”
This faithful Jew who came into the synagogue on the sabbath--
and spoke and taught and healed.
What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?

We were all so busy talking that day
I don’t remember seeing Jesus leave the synagogue.
But when I turned around he was gone.

We remember that day.
Something happened that we can’t really explain.
It didn't make rational sense
yet we understood that something amazing had happened.

The question that stays with me, that haunts me,
is what that frantic man said when he entered the synagogue.
Sometimes the most tortured people
are the most profound and honest truth tellers.

What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?

We need to keep asking ourselves that question.

We cannot keep Jesus trapped as our Christian poster boy--
nice, neat, well-scrubbed.
Jesus refuses to be kept at arms-length.

Jesus is often in our face.
Jesus stands before us to stare us down
just as he did with the unclean spirits that day.
Sometimes we do not like that one bit.
We hide.
We run.
We lie.
We make excuses.

What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?

What I have to do with you, says Jesus,
is to love you.
What I have to do with you, says Jesus,
is to shine the love of God so brightly upon you
that you are freed you from all that binds you.

Because God so loved the world
so that Jesus could come and so love us,
that we might go and love others,

What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?

Absolutely everything.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Bottle Trees

My husband Tom and I both love bottle trees. We have been collecting blue bottles to create our own for a long time. We probably have enough bottles now but need to either find the right tree or create a welded "tree". It's probably going to be the latter as we have selected a spot outside our kitchen window where it would be perfect but alas! No real tree there.

Tom was recently at a conference and another attendee argued that the bottles don't have to be blue. That's true--BUT it is more traditional that all the bottles are blue.

Here's a great link to a website that tells the history of the bottle tree and also affirms blue as the color that spirits prefer.There's also a great excerpt from a Eudora Welty story that mentions bottle trees Check this out

And here is another bottle tree--this one has bottles of many colors--at Camp McDowell in Alabama.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Casting the net...Sermon for Year B Epiphany 3

Our first reading today is from the book of Jonah.

Remember Jonah?
Swallowed by a big fish?
We usually hear the story as Jonah being swallowed by a whale
but the scripture text never really says “whale”--
it actually just says a big fish.
Indeed, whales would certainly qualify as big fish!

But our text today from Jonah
has skipped ahead--
we pick it up at the point where Jonah
has already been in the belly of the big fish
and has already been spewed up upon the beach.
And now,
God is calling Jonah a SECOND time.
God is persistent.
God is patient.
God will keep casting the net for us.

If you haven’t done much Bible reading,
Jonah is a great place to start.
Only 4 chapters long.
A narrative story.
A story full of the human condition.

You see God wants Jonah to do something,
to follow his direction to go to the city of Nineveh
and tell the NInevites they need to stop their wicked ways
and straighten up or else...

Or else...
It is never never good when God issues that kind of warning.

And Jonah,
unlike Simon and Andrew and James and John--
that we hear about in today’s gospel reading--
Jonah does not drop everything and follow.

In fact Jonah runs away.
Jonah thinks he can hide from God.
He gives it his best effort.

He gets on a ship heading AWAY from Nineveh.
Only there is a storm and everybody
is freaking out over the enormous waves
and the ship tipping this way and that way.

After seeing the photographs of the cruise ship
that ran aground off the coast of Italy this week,
I can truly understand more about how terrifying that would be.

The crew on the ship are terrified.
Jonah must be feeling pretty guilty because he says,
“It’s me. It’s my fault.”

“What are you talking about,”ask the men aboard the ship.

“Well, you see,” confesses Jonah,
“God asked me to do something and I didn’t do it
and somehow I think this storm is related to me not listening to God.”

Now maybe that was true and maybe it wasn’t.
The scripture does not say it was, it doesn’t say it wasn’t.
The crew on the ship don’t believe him.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Jonah.
You did not cause this storm.”

But Jonah keeps on moaning and groaning
and finally,
maybe because they start to believe him
or maybe because they are just tired of listening to him,
the ship’s crew does as Jonah asks them to do--
they toss him overboard into the sea.

And the storm stops.
maybe there was a connection.

Only things don’t get much better for Jonah.
This is when the big fish enters the scene
and swallows him whole.

This is where we get the expression “in the belly of the whale.”
It is not a place where any of us want to be--
but it is a place
where most of us have been or will be
(if only briefly--we hope)
at some time in our lives.

The belly of the whale---
(sorry, that just sounds better than the belly of the big fish)
is when life is at it’s darkest.
You aren’t going to find electricity inside that belly.

The belly of the whale
is when we feel swallowed up by doom and gloom.
The belly of the whale is that point
when we wish, we WISH we had done things differently,
lived life differently, made some different choices,
even just HAD a different life than the one were were given.
The belly of the whale is when we feel it’s over, pointless, hopeless. isn’t over you see.
Not even for Jonah. Not even when you are literally in the belly.
The big fish spits Jonah out onto the beach.

Not a pretty sight or sound BUT Jonah is freed.
Jonah is given another chance.
That’s what we all want--one more chance.

So God speaks to Jonah a second time--
you see God DOES give us more than one chance--
God speaks and Jonah listens and this time,
Jonah follows what God asks.

He goes to Nineveh and tells those people--THOSE PEOPLE--
to shape up!
He tells them that God is none too happy with them
and they better watch out.

And you know what?
They do.
They hear Jonah.
They believe Jonah.
And they change.
They repent.
They turn their lives around.

From the high king to the lowliest person in the city of Nineveh.
They listen, they hear, they change.
Every single one of them.
(Jonah must have been some preacher is all I can say!)

The Ninevites change
and God is pleased and God forgives them
and loves them and cancels any and all plans for destruction.

This is where we might think the ending of the book of Jonah would be
“And they all lived happily ever after.”


But you know why they all didn’t live happily ever after?
Because Jonah was ticked off.

Jonah could not believe that God was going to forgive--much less LOVE--

Jonah goes off to pout.
He really does.
He wanted God to let the Ninevites have it!

Jonah is angry with God.
He goes and sits down and pouts.
God, you are SO unfair!!

And what does God do?
God makes a bush grow--this bush grows SO fast that it gives Jonah shade from the hot sun almost instantaneously.
(God must have invented the original MIRACLE GRO!!)

And then God creates and sends a worm
to attack the bush and make it die.
And Jonah throws another little fit.

Oh great!
I get thrown overboard.
I get swallowed alive by a big fish.
I get puked up on the beach.
You forgive the Ninevites
and now my bush dies, too!
Just kill me now, God!

But God says,
Hold on there Jonah!
You’re missing the point.
You had nothing to do with the growth of that bush.
You didn’t create it.
You didn’t water it or nurture it or care for it.
You have no right to be angry that it died.

You had nothing to do with the creation of the Ninevites--
they are my people.
You have no authority over them.

I can love whom I choose to love, Jonah.
There are one hundred and twenty thousand people in Nineveh, Jonah.
And they are all--they are ALL--my beloved children.

We are ALL God's beloved children.

I think we need to remember the whole story from the book of Jonah.
We need to be mindful of how forgiving
and how loving God really is.

Sometimes some of us will hear God calling us the first time around.
The gospel reading today is an example of that.
Simon and James and John and Andrew?
All Jesus had to do was walk by
and they listened and they heard
and they dropped everything and followed.
And I say, good for them!
That’s awesome.

But here is the truth in the real world.
Often God will call us and we don’t hear a word of it.
Often God will call us and we are too busy or too distracted
or too involved in our own self-destruction to pay attention to God.
Often God will call us and we will run the other way.

But God will call us again.
And God will rescue us from the darkness of the belly of the fish
that has eaten us alive.
God will give us a second chance and a third chance and more.
Because God wants us to change.
God wants us to be transformed
and become the best we can possibly be.

God will save us from ourselves--
if we are open to being saved.
We may be miserly and angry and in a snit--
but God is full of grace and mercy and compassion and love
and God prays
that we might learn to treat others that way, too.

To God there are no THOSE people.
We are all God’s people.
Every one of us--every living person on this planet--is a child of God.

We don’t get to pick who is in and who is out.
We are not the Creator.

What we do get to do is to learn to say thank you.
We get to say thank you,God
for loving me even when I am really unloveable.
Even when I am mean as a snake.
Even when I run the other direction.
Even when I keep making the same mistakes over and over.

Thank you God for loving all of us.
Thank you for walking by again and again
and calling our names.

Thank you for being patient.
Thank you for being persistent.

Each of us has our days
when we are as faithful and attentive
as Simon or James or John or Andrew.
We are spot on and follow as quickly and easily as we draw breath.

And each of us has our days when we are Jonah--
running away, lost in darkness,
longing for a God who cares more about being right
than being compassionate.

And each of us has our days when we are Ninevites--
in trouble and making trouble--and then...
through the grace and love of God,
we change.
We truly and honestly change.
And we do better.

And God is well-pleased.
God is patient. God is persistent.
God loves us more than we can ask or imagine.
That is the good news.

But life is short.
That is the not so good news.

Our call is to not throw away our lives or waste our days,
but to make ourselves ready,
ready to follow, ready to love,
ready to claim our place as one of God’s children.
Ready to cast our nets widely--just as God does--
and welcome all to join us.
Come on in!
The water's fine.


Monday, January 16, 2012

Where are you?

In case you were thinking I might have been taken up in the Rapture, no such luck. I haven't posted sermons for the last two Sundays simply because I haven't written sermons for the past two weeks. This is quite an unusual situation for me since I usually preach every Sunday.Even though I truly enjoy the study and preparation of a sermon, as well as the preaching itself, it has been good to have a break. To listen to other voices.

Two weeks ago I was away with our vestry on a planning retreat. It's become a tradition that we share a very informal but meaningful Eucharist together on Sunday morning to close our retreat time together. It's also part of this tradition that the vestry "preach" the sermon. This year, since the Sunday was the Baptism of Christ, each person at the retreat spoke briefly about what they remembered (or did not remember) about the day of their baptism. I also shared a brief reading about baptism from the old classic O YE JIGS AND JULEPS. (I know I have had this book for a long, long time because the cost printed on the cover is 60 cents!!)

Yesterday the Rev. Canon Jeff Batkin (who facilitated our vestry retreat this year) preached at St. John's, sharing some of what we talked about on the vestry retreat, specifically about discovering and celebrating our gifts as a parish and getting away from negative language. We have actually been doing this for awhile now at St. John's--focusing on the blessings.

I'll be back in the pulpit this Sunday, but for now, count your blessings.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Pleasant words are like a honeycomb...

Pleasant words are like a honeycomb,
sweetness to the soul and health to the body...

Proverbs 16: 24

Kind words are indeed sweet. But I'm not really writing about words today (regardless of the title of this post), I am writing about honey. The honey we eat.

Now you may be wondering, why on a blog titled REMEMBER YOUR BAPTISM am I writing about honey? A lot of reasons. One reason is honey is mentioned in the Bible 61 times. Moses is heading to a "land flowing with milk and honey" (Exodus 3:6-8), John the Baptizer lives off "locusts and wild honey" (Matthew 3:4)) and there are quite a few other places in the Bible (especially Proverbs) that tell us that honey is good food, good medicine and a valued possession. We don't have any info (at least I don't) that ancient people kept domestic bees but we do know that wild honey was both treasured and a treat.

I don't know that I have ever had wild honey, but since I was a child, honey has been part of my life. My great uncle Crawford was a bee keeper and he always kept us well supplied with honey--the kind with the comb in the jar (which I loved to chew--the comb, not the jar). He lived a very long life and credited his long life and good health to having a few spoonfuls of honey each day. A pretty tasty practice.

If you go to the NC State Fair (an awesome event that happens every October in Raleigh) you should definitely check out the North Carolina State Beekeepers Association booth. You can buy honey that is jarred based on the region of the state where it was collected. This is not your pale, supermarket honey (though I admit, I like even that)--this is really robust honey in a diversity of colors and tastes.

I have no scientific proof whatsoever but I have found that if I feel a cold coming on, if I mix a drink of hot water, honey and lemon, it seems to chase the cold away. I've never tried "milk and honey" (guess I haven't made it to the promised land yet) but I like feeling connected to the people (and bees) throughout time and across land boundaries.

If you live in or near Asheville you know Laurey Masterton. Maybe you don't know her personally, but you have probably eaten at Laurey's in downtown Asheville (Biltmore Avenue across from the French Broad Food Co-op) or ordered one of their awesome take-home dinners or lasagnas. Her food never disappoints (if I could just get her to stop cooking with onions--but that's another story for another day). Laurey is not only a great chef and caterer, she is also a bee-keeper. And she's having a special honey tasting on January 26. Here's the scoop:

A Taste of Honey is happening here (at Laurey's) at 6pm on Thursday, January 26th. A fundraiser for ASAP (Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Projects), who do so much for local produce in our area, it is a chance to do the following:

1) Help ASAP
2) meet some local beekeepers
3) Help Laurey(by tasting the honeys that she will feature in her book and helping describe them)
4) taste some honey-inspired foods and some foods that need bees for pollination
5) be part of the kickoff to a whole year of ASAP events
6) have fun!

The event is just $35.00 which gives you all of the above. They are even serving honey-lemonade (or if you'd like wine or beer, they'll have that for sale. Call 828-252-1500 to save your spots.

So if you want to taste the honey and support a great cause, call and go and eat honey. You might want to check out Proverbs 25:16 before you go---just to keep yourself in check!

The Bible says two thumbs up for honey!
Winnie-the-Pooh says two paws up--and one head in the jar!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

What's wrong with the world and what can we do about it?

Our vestry is on retreat at the beautiful Valle Crucis Conference Center. We have been working with the Rev. Canon Jeff Batkin in an Appreciative Inquiry process. We finished that work this afternoon (or should I say we came to a stopping point in the beginning of this work), took a break and then gathered again tonight for supper. After supper we had some fun activities planned by Roberta Rhodes our Commissioner of Joy (there's a longer story behind this position but essentially it evolved out of a sermon where I pondered the need for a Committee of Joy in all churches). After the joy, we gathered to watch the documentary film I AM by Tom Shadyac.

Here's what the film's official blog has to say:

I AM is an utterly engaging and entertaining non-fiction film that poses two practical and provocative questions: what’s wrong with our world, and what can we do to make it better? The filmmaker behind the inquiry is Tom Shadyac, one of Hollywood’s leading comedy practitioners and the creative force behind such blockbusters as “Ace Ventura,” “Liar Liar,” “The Nutty Professor,” and “Bruce Almighty.” However, in I AM, Shadyac steps in front of the camera to recount what happened to him after a cycling accident left him incapacitated, possibly for good. Though he ultimately recovered, he emerged with a new sense of purpose, determined to share his own awakening to his prior life of excess and greed, and to investigate how he as an individual, and we as a race, could improve the way we live and walk in the world.

This fit right in to all we have been talking about at our retreat as we have explored what gives St. John's life and how we can make a difference in the world in a positive way. I can't recommend this film highly enough. It is not only engaging and entertaining it is challenging as well. There are some fascinating intersections between science and religion highlighted. The film includes interviews with everyone from Desmond Tutu to Coleman Barks (yes, he quotes Rumi, so you know I liked it!)to Norm Chomsky to Howard Zinn.

The bottom line is how incredibly connected we are with every living being and thing (even yogurt--you'll have to watch the film to get that one!)and how we all can make a difference. In fact we are making a difference already in every action, every word, every thought--so we want to make it count for the good.

I purchased the film on DVD (it was just released on January 3). Don't know if it is available for rental or streaming yet but it's worth owning. I would have loved to have seen it on the big screen when it was playing in theaters. But I'm happy to own it because I will probably watch it multiple times, as well as share it with others.

When all your desires are distilled
You will cast just two votes
To love more
And be happy


Friday, January 6, 2012

If the Wise Men were from North Carolina...

Something light today to reveal and release a little laughter into the world.

This photo was posted on my friend David Umphlett's FACEBOOK page this morning with the heading,"..and the Wise Men said, 'Hi, Y'all!'". (David is the awesome priest at St. Mary's Episcopal Church in High Point, NC).

Actually, from where I'm from in North Carolina, they probably would have arrived and said, "Well, hey there!"

If you were to set out following a star, who would you ask to be your traveling companions? What three gifts would you offer? What would you say when you arrived?

Epiphany blessings to all!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

What would you do??

What would you do if you knew you couldn't fail?

What would I do if I knew I couldn't fail?

It seems like this is a very good question to ask ourselves
as a step towards exploring our heart's desire.

This is also a good question to ask
as a step towards thinking about failure
and what that means to each of us.
What does failure look like, feel like?

I have several friends who recently lost their jobs.
In some ways I know this makes them feel like they have failed--
even though the truth is they were just collateral damage
in a wave of economic nips and tucks
or inconveniently in the path of someone's personal panic or professional jealousy.
Suddenly, even though they had no choice in the matter,
they are faced with trying to decide what to do.

The initial panic often, understandably, centers around money.
How will I live?
How will I pay my bills?
I'm too young to retire.
What's going to happen to me now? What will happen to my children?
What if I get sick and no longer have health insurance?

It's not surprising that Jesus talked about money so much and so often,
because our lives often revolve around a desire for financial stability.
Even for those of us who don't lust after wealth,
few of us want to follow the steps of St. Francis
and let go of all our possessions, all our security.

It is fine to "consider the lilies of the field"
until suddenly the possibility of any spinning and toiling
have been removed as options.
Losing your job and your salary and benefits
(if you were fortunate enough to have them)
is not theoretical;
it is real and often terrifying.
So I do not make light of finding oneself
(and it could happen to any of us)
without an obvious way to make a living,
with no continuing source of income.

But the question being posed here
is not what would you attempt to do
if money were no object.
The question here is what would you attempt to do
if you knew you could not fail?

Maybe Jesus wanted us to understand that there are times
when we are not held back because of lack of money or work.
There are times when we hold ourselves back because of our fears.

My husband has often said how much he would love to be a cartoonist.
He doesn't believe he has the artistic skills to do this.
Would he try it if he knew he could not fail?

I have often lamented how much I wish I had more time for writing.
Is it fear of failure that holds me back?

If we can free ourselves from fear of failure,what might we attempt?
What is it that really binds us from following our heart's desire?

What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?
What might you attempt to do even if you could fail?

What does a life lived without fears look like, feel like?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Ten things we can do if we really want to change the church...

Ten things we can do if we really want to change the Church

We talk a lot about transformation and change in the Church. Are these just idle words or are we really serious about change? Do we enjoy patting ourselves on the backs more than we enjoy risking real change? Here are a few suggestions that might jumpstart change in our Church.

1. Under 40. Pass a resolution in your Diocese to only elect those younger than 40 to attend General Convention (or whatever it is you call your national gathering). Who does your diocese send to General Convention? Often it's the same lay and clergy deputies year after year after year? How many are under 40 years old? We say we care about the youth and that young people are the future of the Church. Let’s give them a tangible opportunity to shape the future of the Church. I would suggest that we use the same “under 40” guideline for our Diocesan Conventions, but we all know that some of our parishes would have no one to send from their congregations. Think about that, too.
(Full disclosure: I am 62 years old and, even though the "under 40" rule of thumb certainly excludes me, I love the idea of giving young people real voice and the vote).

2. Women only. Only allow female candidates for bishop for the next 250 years or so (that’s about how long only male candidates were on the ballots—and still are). If we had a more gender-balanced voice in the House of Bishops we might really change the Church. The last time we elected a bishop here in my Diocese, there was not even a woman on the ballot. When a member of the Search Committee was asked "Why?," his response was, "We couldn't find any women who were qualified." This was only seven years ago. Wow. Not a single qualified woman. I wonder how hard they looked?
(Full disclosure: I am a woman but harbor no personal call to the episcopacy. However, there are many gifted and qualified women who do feel called. Let’s elect them.)

3. Let retirement mean reinvention. Prevent parishes from hiring retired clergy for vacancies or even to assist. This is not to diminish the gifts of retired clergy, but they have had their time, they have their pension and they have the experience to open new opportunities for themselves. I know so many young clergy who are passed over for positions because there is a retired priest whom the parish can get on the cheap. Or there is a gaggle of retired clergy willing to serve for free. By inviting retired clergy to come back into parish ministry after retirement, we remove opportunities for young and newly ordained clergy and we also remove opportunities for retired clergy to go into the world and reinvent their ministry. Ever considered mission work? Ever considered how your presence as a volunteer at a food bank could change you and others? Ever considered how wearing a Wal-Mart blue vest or working on a grounds crew at a golf course might ripple the love of Christ into a hungry world? Celebrate the long ministry you have already enjoyed. Step aside so that young clergy can find jobs and begin to create their own ministry. Tent for God in new ways.
(Full disclosure: I am not retired yet but look forward to reinventing myself in a few years.)

4. Diversity: Ask questions. Take action. Don’t attend conferences that have only male speakers (or a single token female) or only white people on their agenda. Look at most homiletics conferences. Wow! Is Barbara Brown Taylor the only woman who has found her preaching voice? Question why your Bishop’s staff looks like the men’s locker room at the Country Club (AKA older white men). Where are God’s people of color? Diversity is a commitment not a buzz word.
(Full disclosure: I am white, beyond middle-aged—probably some would say old—female.)

5. Stop bargain shopping. Live and model being a community. Do the right thing, not the "cheap" thing. Episcopal Conference Centers exist to serve our Church. So why do we shop around for the cheapest deal? Oh, our college young adults don’t have enough money to have their retreat at our Diocesan Conference Centers—hmm…so then how do they drive those shiny new SUVs? Surely we can’t expect the Executive Committee—or Bishops—to stay in some rustic cabins? Stay with Church Health Insurance instead of getting your 29 year-old rector the cheapest insurance. Are we out for ourselves or are we here to be a Christian community? Stop balancing the budget on the backs of our staff and clergy. Women associates/assistants and women staff members are usually the first to be eliminated in a budget crunch or the infamous "reorganization." When will we lose the mentality of “she doesn’t really need a job”? We say the church is not a building but people; yet we preserve our buildings at all cost and eliminate people instead. Severance pay for a few measly months doesn’t make it right, Shame on us.
(Full-disclosure: My husband is the director of an Episcopal Conference Center. Incredible clergy and church staff I know have been “laid off” with little thought of the pain this causes. Those doing the laying off always use the phrase “after much prayer…” when making such an announcement. Just so you know--no one will ever believe you again when you talk about prayer.)

6. Tithe. Yes, that means 10% of our income. We each get to decide gross or net but a 10% minimum is where we need to be. Regardless. Wonder why our churches can’t afford a full time priest or a youth minister or to build a second Habitat House each year? Imagine what we could do if everyone tithed. Yes, do give time and talent but cough up some cash too. The mandate to tithe is not to build the coffers of the church, it's to do God's work in the world and to do it abundantly.
(Full disclosure: I do tithe, but hey! I grew up in the Baptist Church; and yes, it is really hard but I can't imagine doing otherwise now.)

7. Wear the hat and heart of a visitor. If you didn’t already know where to park or where the bathrooms are or in what remote nook you hold coffee hour after the service, could you find your way? Think about how frustrated you have felt wandering the maze in a hospital or other unfamiliar building. Being physically lost is not what makes us want to return. Signage helps. Welcoming people help more. Thinks about how easy it is to find everything in a Starbucks—and to find the Starbucks itself!
(Full disclosure: I like feeling welcome in strange places. I don’t like feeling stupid. My son works for Starbucks.)

8. Welcome Babies. Can’t afford a nursery or nursery workers? Consider adding a designated space to welcome young children right in the worship space itself. They do this in churches all over Wales and England. A soft carpet, a few rocking chairs, and quiet toys (this is not the space to add a xylophone unless you need a music program as well) create a space which includes parents and children in worship.
(Full disclosure: I am the parent of two adult children and four grandchildren. I have no problem praying or praising God with the accompanying sounds of children.)

9. Pray. Every day. Prayer--it's not just for Sundays. We can get so busy “doing” that we forget to take time for stillness and quiet and to keep some empty space open for God. I would like to have put this as number 1 for what we can do to really change the church, but I was rather afraid folks wouldn't keep reading.
(Full disclosure: If I have time to brush my teeth each morning, I have time to pray.)

10. Be church. Be the people of God for the world not just a chapel where the only purpose of your existence is to get warm and cozy with one another and provide for your own. We are called to change the world. If we are really going to set free the gospel into the world, we need to step out of our own comfort zones and let go of using the church as a social club instead of a place to grow the kingdom of God.
(Full disclosure: Like you, I'm trying.Maybe we just need to try a little harder. )

Okay, so maybe you think these suggestions are a little overboard. People were locked in the Tower of London for less. But these thoughts were not written to hurt or condemn, but simply to try to look at church with a new vision. I wrote this to challenge myself. We talk a lot about transformation and change in the Church, but talk is so cheap. Perhaps the first step is to take an honest glance to see if the Emperor Church is naked and then to start looking for some clothes in our own closets.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

At the name of Jesus....

Sermon for the Feast of the Holy Name
January 1, 2012

Today--January 1st-- is a Feast Day in the Episcopal Church.
No, we don’t mark New Year’s Day as a Feast Day.
Today is the Feast of the Holy Name.

It wasn't too long ago in the Episcopal Church
that this was known as the Feast of the Circumcision.
I think they decided to rename the day
because they must have noticed
that when folks came into church on this day
and saw the word CIRCUMCISION at the top of the hymn boards,
some folks just turned around and went out the door!

We're a little more comfortable
with Holy Name than Circumcision!
But both are accurate.

Scripture tells us that it has been 8 days
since Jesus was born
and scripture tells us
that his family kept Jewish tradition
by circumcising and naming the baby on the eighth day.
This was the event that made a child officially one of God’s people.
Even though the angel already told Mary what to name this baby,
it is this eighth day after birth that will make it official.

This is a difficult concept for most of us.
To not name a baby for eight days.

Many of us had our names selected long before we were born.
Sometimes, even before we were conceived.

I know when our daughter was a little girl
she planned to have twelve children--all girls, of course--
and all were going to be named after flowers--
Rose, Daisy, Dahlia, Petunia....

Well, over the years, plans change.
I think our daughter eliminated having 12 children
long before she was married
and she and her husband Jeff selected the name Penelope
for our youngest granddaughter--their only child.

But they had the name picked out weeks--
maybe even months--- before Penelope was born.

But names--whether you wait or whether you are ready--
are important.

Names are important.
Around Christmas a friend told me that her youngest son
asked her if “Christ” was the last name for Mary, Joseph and Jesus.

When I shared this with a parishioner here,
she wittily responded,
“No, their last name was Davidson.”
Remember in the scripture from Christmas Eve
we were told that Joseph was descended from the House of David.
Get it?

Many of our names do have significant meaning.
Sometimes it is just to carry on a family tradition.
But sometimes it is done because a name has a deep meaning.

The angel Gabriel had already instructed Mary
she is to name the child Jesus.

The name Jesus is a Greek derivative
of the Hebrew Joshua or Yeshua--
and the name means
“the Lord helps” or “the Lord saves”.
The name tells us that Jesus is the one God has sent
to love, embrace, help and save the world.

Even though he is just a wee baby,
even though he hasn’t preached or healed or done any miracles,
even though Jesus is only eight days old
God is saying,
this baby is here to change the world.
This baby is here to help you, save you, change you.

Being named is being claimed.
Our parents give us a name
but for us as Christians, when our name is spoken at our baptism,
when the sign of the cross is made on our forehead
and the priest says,
“You are marked as Christ’s own forever,”
then we have been claimed as one of God’s children--forever.

It does not matter if we are baptized as a baby or as an adult,
God loves us
and believes and sees
that we are each full of possibility and promise.
No matter what, God knows our name
and God will never forget our name.

There is power in a name.

When I was a young child and had just moved into a bedroom by myself
(my brother and I shared a room for years--
him on the top bunk, me on the bottom)
then we built an addition on to our house
and our older sister moved into the new bedroom off the new den
and I moved into my sister’s old room
and my brother--well, you know,
the youngest always gets what is left.
He stayed in what had been “our” room.

So I had a room to myself.
And that is wonderful--but also lonely.
I can remember waking up in the middle of the night.
It was dark.
I was alone.
Then I heard a sound or saw a shadow that looked threatening
and so I would call out the name of the one I knew who would come:
It started quietly and calmly
but the volume and passion would increase as needed:

And I had a blessed childhood--
because when I called MOMMY,
Mommy always came, always showed up, always comforted,
always turned on the light .

There is power in a name.

Think about all the names we hear in scripture.
Some of you who serve as lectors know
that the Bible is sometimes full--overly full--
of lists of names
(many of them challenging to pronounce!).

From the very beginning, in the book of Genesis,
Adam is given a name.
And then Adam is given--by God--the gift
of being allowed to name other things.

Knowing someone’s name gives you have a connection to that person.
We all know how much it means to us
when someone remembers our name.

Remember the old television show CHEERS--the theme song---
where everybody knows your name....
We all want a place like that.
My prayer is that church, our church, can be one of those places.

The Feast of the Holy Name
reminds us to remember the name of Jesus.
Knowing this name
we have access to someone all the time.
We can call on him--
when we are in trouble, when we are overjoyed,
when we are worried, when we are sad,
when we wake in the middle of a dark night
and there is no longer a “mommy” to come to our rescue.

We have been given the name of one we can call on.
We should not use it loosely or profanely or lightly.
We should use it often
to remind us who has claimed us,
who loves us,
who walks with us.

There is a prayer, known as the Jesus prayer--
it is a very simple prayer--
and there are numerous variations--
but here is one version--

Lord Jesus Christ
Son of the Living God
have mercy upon me.

In a book titled The Way of the Pilgrim,
a book you can still read today,
a book written in the 1850’s,
this prayer is described in this way:

The continuous interior Prayer of Jesus
is a constant uninterrupted calling upon the divine Name of Jesus
with the lips, in the spirit, in the heart;
while forming a mental picture of his constant presence,
and imploring his grace, during every occupation,
at all times, in all places, even during sleep.

I love that image of praying "even during sleep."
Imagine that.
Knowing and calling for Jesus--even during sleep.

We know the name.
We have been given the gift of knowing the name of Jesus.
As we start our journey into the new year,
this is the name we may pray without ceasing,
this is the name that will always be there to help us.

This is the name of the one who knows us
and knows our name, too.

Jesus is the one who never forgets us.
May we never forget him either.