October 31, 2007

You're Blessed

That is the title that Eugene Petersen gives Matthew's version of the Beatitudes. I preached on them several years ago and used the Message version of them in the pulpit. I think they are a great way to open our eyes again to a text that has become old hat to many of us. So there is no real reflection today, just my offering to you these words of Jesus from a "spirit of the text" translation.

1-2 When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

3"You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

4"You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

5"You're blessed when you're content with just who you are—no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought.

6"You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God. He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat.

7"You're blessed when you care. At the moment of being 'care-full,' you find yourselves cared for.

8"You're blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

9"You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family.

10"You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God's kingdom.

11-12"Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don't like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble. (The Message)

Diana Butler Bass on Willow Creek

I know that some of my readers don't like DBB. I know that some don't like that I like DBB. But her post on Jim Wallis' God Politics blog is worth a read! In it she reflects on Bill Hybles (of Willow Creek fame) recent statements that what they hoped would happen out of their programming, hasn't; namely for all the new folk walking through the doors, relationships to God and to neighbor haven't been deepened. A real eye opener I think, and DBB is fairly graceful in her post ;-)

Here's an excerpt:

"After an extensive study of their congregation (and several similar churches), Willow Creek's leaders concluded participation in programs did not inculcate Christian discipleship and that they had spent "millions of dollars" on programs thinking that they would help people grow—only to find that there was no real increase in parishioners' love for God or their neighbor.

"We made a mistake," says Hybels: "What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become 'self-feeders.' We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own."

Notice what Hybels says is missing: intentionality, practice, and vitality."

Read it all at God's Politics - Jim Wallis blog, faith blog, religion, christian, christianity, politics, values

October 30, 2007

My World View

I may have gotten myself in trouble with this one. My buddy, the rude armchair theologian, took this on his blog, and it got me interested. Now, I wonder what it means that I "shy away from organized religion" yet wear the dog collar of Anglicanism? Anyway, I enjoy these fun distractions, hope you do too.

What is Your World View?
created with QuizFarm.com
You scored as Cultural Creative

Cultural Creatives are probably the newest group to enter this realm. You are a modern thinker who tends to shy away from organized religion but still feels as if there is something greater than ourselves. You are very spiritual, even if you are not religious. Life has a meaning outside of the rational.

Cultural Creative
















Lectionary Group 26C/All Saints

After a vote the group decided to focus on the readings for All Saints rather than the Propers for Sunday. We also decided to focus on the Luke version from the RCL/BCP for All Saints II. I was happy because I think the Beatitudes should be read more often; though I do wish the story of poor Zacchaeus didn't get skipped with such regularity. Anyway, the conversation jumped all around today; literal rich/poor, spiritual rich/poor, blessings v. woes, etc. But what got me today was my typical All Saints rant; it isn't about the people who got it all right, no one has, but those of us who struggle each day to follow Jesus and fail. Then, Keith pointed out the Sirach reading for All Saints I from the BCP, which I really wish was maintained in the RCL.

It is a beautiful hymn to the faithful departed which begins by "singing the praises of famous men" but reminds us also of "others [of whom] there is no memory; they have perished as though they had never existed; they have become as though they had never been born, they and their children after them. But these also were godly men, whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten..." What a great way to celebrate All Saints, recalling those famous men and women who are our examples in the faith AND those who we know struggled and failed and flailed around trying to follow Jesus. Because in reality, it isn't about "doing it right." Sarah, Moses, David, Mary Magdeline, they all had their faults, but when it came down to it, they trusted in the Lord. That is the message of All Saints.

Reading for All Saints I

At. St. Paul's we are using the readings for All Saints I from the Book of Common Prayer. They can be found here.

Sermon for Proper 25, Year C

Did you do it? Did you fall into the trap this parable set up for you? Did you just mutter a prayer to yourself thanking God that you weren’t like that Pharisee? Did you become the audience to which Jesus is speaking? The dangerous thing about this parable is that as soon as we think we understand it, we are the reason for its being told. I mean, clearly this is a parable about pride and humility. The characters are emblematic of two of the many ways of approaching God. The Pharisee comes with a grateful heart but really only tells God how great he is. The tax collector comes with a humble heart begging for God’s mercy. Jesus gives us the obvious meaning when he sums up the parable with “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted”, but what lies beneath the obvious meaning?

The first thing we notice is that this parable is almost without context. All we know is that Jesus told it to some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else. It is tempting to think that by this Luke means Jesus told this parable to the Pharisees specifically and all the Jews who missed Jesus’ message generally, but that’s not exactly fair. As we have already come to realize, even those of us who get it, those who are striving to follow Jesus, fall into the camp of those who are confident in themselves and look down on others. Perhaps this parable is without context because of how universal it really is. Sure Jesus could have been talking directly to the Pharisees; we see no change of scene from the last set of context clues. Just as easily however, he could have been talking to his disciples as they wrangled for position in the kingdom. Remember how James and John thought themselves better than the rest of the twelve? Or, without much of a stretch, we can envision Jesus talking to us right here in this place as we have just looked down our noses as that smarmy Pharisee.

So then, Jesus begins the parable by introducing the scene, “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.” The Pharisee and the tax collector are two of Luke’s favorite characters; the Pharisee is always the bad guy and the tax collector is always good. For Luke they are typologies; in his telling of the good news of Jesus these characters represent the exact opposite of what they do in real life; the Pharisee is now the villain and the tax collector becomes the hero. The characters and the setting of this parable tell us that Jesus is going to teach something about how we should live. Real life is about to be turned right-side-up.

“The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” Between Luke use of typologies and “centuries of biblical interpretation we have been led to think of Pharisees as the bad guys, but this too is not exactly fair. They are often presented as Jesus’ opponents in the gospels, but we need to remember that they were society’s good people. They were dependable, honest, upright, good neighbors, contributors to the community. They were the type of people we would all like to have as members of St. Paul’s. The Pharisee is a man at home in the temple. He says his prayers. He gives more than he has to. Many people would have benefited from his generosity. He stands in the correct posture for prayer in the temple, arms raised and head lifted.”[1] Even the prayer the Pharisee offered, while offensive to our ears, was really nothing out of the ordinary. “Scholars suggest that the prayer that Jesus places onto the Pharisee’s lips was not a caricature of a prayer but appears to have been a standard Jewish prayer of thanksgiving at that time. To those who listened to Jesus' parable, this prayer was as familiar to them as "Now I lay me down to sleep" or "Our Father, who art in heaven" is familiar to most of us.”[2] So while we get all hacked off at the prayer the Pharisee offers, to the original audience, this is normal; Jesus is just telling a story about real life.

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” In Luke’s hero/villain motif, our tax collector fills the role of unlikely hero remarkably well. He is the despised of his culture. “He earned his living by working for a foreign government collecting taxes from his own people. For years he collected high taxes from his Jewish neighbors to give to the Roman government. He gave the Romans their flat rate on every head, and made his money by charging an excess and keeping it for himself. Basically, he is a crook, a traitor, and a lowlife. He is guilty and he knows it.”[3] Solely by virtue of his role as an outcast, this tax collector is our hero. He makes no promises to do better tomorrow; he only seeks God’s mercy. He no doubt saw the Pharisee offering his prayer standing arms outstretched and felt the pain of guilt stab a little more sharply. He was laid low in comparison to the icon of righteousness in his midst; the Pharisee; the man he placed on a pedestal.

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.” What? Wait! Why? How did this parable become a story about justification? How did this become a prayer competition? Jesus lulls his listeners into a false sense of security at tells them a trick parable. His original audience would have known the story; they saw it in the temple every morning, noon, and evening. The Pharisee didn’t come seeking justification, he just wanted to give God a heads up on how things were going. He was part of God’s chosen anyway, what did he need justification for? The tax collector, on the other hand, surely needed help; he beat his breast and begged for it. It wasn’t really a competition between two forms of prayer but Jesus utilized this real life story to turn the crystal around; to remind the puffed up that God rewards those who turn to him for help. He reminds us that all the good works we do are the result of God’s help and support anyway. C.S. Lewis describes it this way, “suppose a six-year-old little girl says, "Daddy, may I have $5 to buy you a Christmas present?" Well, any decent father will give the child the money and, come Christmas morning, will exclaim loudly and gleefully over whatever $5 gift the child bought. But only a fool would say that by virtue of the gift, the father came out $5 ahead on the deal! We do the things we do for God because he has slipped us the money in the first place.[4] The call, it seems to me, is to be at any given time both Pharisee and tax collector; confident of our own righteousness for it is promised by God AND fully aware of our need for God’s help. We are to approach life as the Pharisee, confident that God will front us the money, which in turn motivates us to approach life as the tax collector aware of our own failings, ready to ask God for help in the hopes that tomorrow we might be, well, a slightly better tax collector; justified as we are to become more and more like Jesus every day.

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” It is really in this sentence that our standard reading of this parable takes shape. This synopsis of the parable gives us its obvious meaning. But as I’ve said before parables are meant to challenge. They are meant to make us think. They are paradoxes and we are supposed to live in their uncomfortable middles. Yes, it is clear that Jesus wants us to change the way we look down on some and place others on a pedestal, but he wants so much more than that. He wants us to realize that gift that God gives those who recognize their need. He wants us to see that humility opens us up to growth. He wants disciples; men and women who refuse to live the way the world tells them, men and women who realize their own faults when they look up to the one who created us, men and women who in the midst of their own struggles can see that God loves them and wants to help them no matter what.

Let’s not look down at the Pharisee today. But, let’s not beat our breasts and cry out woe is me either. Instead, let’s look up toward God, arms outstretched ready to receive his mercy, and try to become slightly better tax collectors for tomorrow. Amen.

[1] http://www.episcopalchurch.org/82457_91273_ENG_HTM.htm

[3] http://www.episcopalchurch.org/82457_91273_ENG_HTM.htm

October 26, 2007

better is one day

As you might know, I am not a big fan of Christian music. Most of it is a poor imitation of popular culture with trite words and repetitive "I/me" language. I do, however, have a special place in my heart for songs of praise across the centuries; especially those with Biblical imagery that are singable for the masses. One of those songs which has had so many incarnations I can't find its original author is "Better is one day" It draws a lot of its imagery from Psalm 84, and done well (like Chris Tomlin's version [the first 4 minutes at least - I stand by my assertion that worship leaders should not be allowed to speak - in the video below) it is a great way to worship.

Anyway, it got me to thinking about that line that I have oft repeated in Young Life, Cornerstone, YS Conferences, etc., etc. "For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room, * and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of the wicked." What does it mean to say that standing in the threshold of God's realm is better than dwelling (living fully) in the tents of the wicked. Is the uncertainty of the threshold that much better than the certainty the world offers? To not be quite in means to be exposed to the harshness of the weather, but still that is better than the perceived comfort of the tents of the wicked. It is a hard concept for me to grasp as I switch back and forth from heat to a/c these days in my cushy office and newly constructed home. Where is the kingdom/reign of God in my luxury? Am I even near the threshold of God, or have I made my place in the tents of the wicked? Fun stuff to ponder on a Friday.

October 25, 2007

OuT of practice

Dr. Cook would not be happy with me. It has been a long, long time since I preached on the Old Testament lesson. In our lectionary group we are a mix of BCP, RCL, and non-lectionary preachers so we avoid places where we know our readings aren't the same, namely the Old Testament lesson. I read the lesson during my Morning Prayer every day, but to be honest, I have found that I am very much OuT of practice with the theology of the OT scriptures. Dr. Cook, if you are reading this, I am very sorry.

But today rather than being struck by Paul's pride or Jesus' condemnation of pride I was comforted by the audacity of the people of Israel. They have made me wonder if I trust my relationship with God enough to call him to the carpet the way they do.

Jeremiah's oracle concerning the drought makes an interesting change of language - which our lectionary folk noticed by making the first part optional - from "they" to "we".

I love the way in which the people speak to God. They know that God has used signs to remind himself of the various terms of their covenants, and so they insist that God remember.

I love this line in particular, "Do not spurn us, for your name's sake; do not dishonor your glorious throne; remember and do not break your covenant with us." You can't do this God; it isn't you! By punishing us the only thing you do is make our neighbors question your grace, your mercy, your sovereignty. They admit screwing up, are ready for reconciliation, and expect - in fact, know - that God will respond with grace. I'm not sure I know God well enough to make the claims they do. I trust him and his decisions, and am probably too scared to call him to the carpet when I don't think his response is congruent with his promises. What does that say about me I wonder? I can't be the only one. Would it preach to call my congregation to do what I don't do; to remind God of his promises like the people of Israel? Or should I wait until I get it straight to present such a topic?

Lots to think about in the OT lesson this week. Maybe it'll get me back into shape to tackle it next time I preach.

October 24, 2007

together, yet alone

What strikes me today about the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector is the description of the two men's locations.

Two men went up to the temple to pray,

The temple was a bustling place, full of people, animals, vendors, full of life. I imagine it somewhat like the Washington National Cathedral - constantly something going on; tour groups wandering, docents talking, the faithful praying, homeless seeking shelter, communities worshiping, lectures happening, pilgrims seeking - never a dull moment

The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying

And yet, somehow we find the Pharisee standing by himself. Is this perhaps a metaphor for his place in society; above all others Is this perhaps a metaphor for his posture at this time of prayer; nose pointing toward heaven aware only of himself? Is this perhaps a physical reality; he would be allowed where others weren't, was he actually alone as he uttered his prayer to the god of himself?

the tax collector, standing far off,

And yet, somehow we find the tax collector standing at a distance. Why does he stay away? Is he afraid to get too close to the holiness that flows from the Temple? Does he know that the Pharisee is thanking God that he is not like the tax collector? Is he that ashamed of himself that he can't even get close?

In this story we have two examples of a life lived in community, yet completely alone. So often we think that this is a new, western, phenomenon, but as the saying goes, "there is nothing new under the sun." We are still walking around feeling alone in this big world; some because our pride refuses to allow us to engage the messiness and some because our guilt and self-loathing won't allow us to recognize the goodness within us. It isn't new. But God is a lot more understanding of the second sort of loneliness; he'll help us and heal us and exalt us out of our funk. The first, well, that's a different story.

A Church for Starving Artists: "Teeter's" - Yesterday & Today

This is a bad ass post from a pastor with her pulse on the changing landscape of Church and world. Based in the DC metro area her insight on the ability of the Teeter grocery chain to evolve over and above the church is fresh. Please, please, please check this out and give it some thought!

A Church for Starving Artists: "Teeter's" - Yesterday & Today

October 23, 2007

Lectionary Group 25C

Small group this morning as two of our number were off to the Lutheran, Episcopal, Catholic dialog in Montgomery, but still a good conversation surrounding the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.

As I've said before pride is an area of expertise for clergy; myself especially, and so this morning was spent dealing with it face to face. So often we hear and say, "I came to this church and it was bad. I did this, that, and the other things, and now its good." And in the silence that follows we think "Aren't I great?!?" Clergy are emblematic of the larger problem with doing God's work in the world. When we are doing it, it feels an awful lot like our work; and trying to remember whose work it is gets harder and harder the more successful the program becomes.

Pastor Jay came up with a neat teaching exercise. Have everyone write down their top ten accomplishments in life. Then have them write down the ten greatest things God has done in their lives. Compare the lists. Is God a part of our successes, or is God at work somewhere else; maybe inside us doing the work of sanctification? It seems like an interesting endeavor.

The other main topic of conversation was the fine line between pride and humility and the step up from pride to self-righteousness. I was proud this weekend to officiate at a wedding for an old friend. As I processed in with the groomsmen a lady leaned over and said, "the minister is 15." I looked the same as the wedding party, and I thought that was cool. I was proud to be in the midst of such a humbling experience as I know that the only reason I was there is God's work in my life. The groom and I had fallen out of touch long ago, but because of my usefulness I was asked to be a part of the service. Sounds harsh, but it is really the truth, but my usefulness comes from God alone. I am 27 years-old and ordained not because of my own special merit, but because God has allowed it. That's all. That is humbling to realize. What could have happened, and my yet, is a move from being proud of what God has done, to being self-righteous; thinking I can do it on my own by taking all the praise I received as something I deserve; which is totally not the case. The ceremony was from the Prayer Book, the homily came from the Spirit, and the beauty of the day was God's own doing. I just showed up; God did the work. But oh, it is tempting to make that move from toeing the fine line between pride and humility up the steps toward "trusting in myself that I am righteous and regarding others with contempt."

More humility to come; I know it.

Readings for Proper 25, Year C

as usual are here

October 17, 2007

Risky Business

I was three when the Tom Cruise "classic" came out, so it is safe to assume I'm not talking about the tale of " A Chicago teenager [who] is looking for fun at home while his parents are away, but the situation quickly gets out of hand" (more info on the film here).

What I'm referring to is the overwhelming theme in the BCP lessons for Sunday that this prayer stuff is risky business. In the course of my life I've been taught a variety of "prayer techniques." From the earliest age I can remember being taught to pray the Lord's Prayer; which if we really listen to what we are asking is a radically life changing proposition, but as a 5 year-old kid it just meant that I prayed what Jesus prayed (and maybe it still means that). Then, in High School somebody taught me the ACTS way of praying; Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. I'm still not sure what the difference between adoration and thanksgiving is, but having confession in there is really really helpful some days (and a supreme downer on others). Still it was like writing an Email to God --
God -
You rock!
I'm a sinner.
Thanks for the rain.
Please heal Joey.

During my freshman year of college I got good at the yelling at God form of prayer.
As time went on I came to learn that sitting silently could be a form of prayer. This was the first time that I found prayer to be dangerous. Of course I was aware of the "be careful what you wish for (er. pray for)" dangers, but for the first time as I listened for God to respond; actually giving God a chance to type an Email back, that I realized prayer can really screw things up. Sitting silently with God lead to me transferring schools, changing majors, finding my wife, and being called to ordained ministry; all great blessings now, but at the time, boy were they scary.

And now, with this weeks lessons there are more examples of the dangers of prayer.

You might end up wrestling with God all night only to have him pop your hip at daybreak.

You might end up rebuking false teachers with a divinely inspired Word.

You might end up humiliated like a 1st century widow; no family, no friends; no status what-so-ever crying out to the only one with the power and authority to make a difference.

Be it the all-too-well-known words of the Lord's Prayer or the silence of waiting or the crying out for justice of the lowliest prayer can change things; and when we allow it the freedom to do so, prayer is a risky business.

October 16, 2007

lectionary group

not much time to post today, but i wanted to let y'all in on the great discussion we had today in our lectionary group. as usual we were all over the map, but one thing that stands out to me is the way Jesus turns it all right-side-up. he is clear that prayer is like seeking justice against an adversary. what does that look like? not the to-do list for God that so many of us pray, but instead it looks like beating down God's door asking for faith enough to overcome temptation; to destroy the evil one who constantly tries to turn us away from God.

it was a great conversation this morning; sorry you couldn't be there.

October 15, 2007

an interesting book

I've only read the excerpt found at MSNBC, but kudos to a Draughting Theology friend for pointing me to The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible.

You can find it on Amazon here

we're praying for miracles

This being my first foray into full-time ministry, I find myself constantly learning. For instance, I have never been a part of a community where I was privy to the end result of prayers (to be honest, I've never been a part of a community where I was privy to what people were praying for). It is fascinating to be in such a privileged position. And, while I don't have experience anywhere else, it seems like there are plenty of miracles going on here at St. Paul's.

We've had people who should be dead back on their feet in days.

We've had people who should be paralyzed slowly regaining their full faculties.

We've had people who couldn't come to grips with a loved one dying, find solace in God's grace.

We've had people who couldn't find God see him in the asking of their tough questions.

It is truly an amazing thing to see a miracle happen. And we keep praying for them; for healing, for wholeness, for strength, for discernment, for God to make himself known; we just keep praying. Sometimes it is hard to keep praying; it is exhausting to ask God over and over again. It gets to where I want to give up (or at least take a break from it all). And then another miracle happens. Paul tells Timothy that "all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work." Then Jesus tells his disciples to stick with it; God has to be more willing to listen than the unjust judge. I'm sufficiently reproved, thank you!

We're still praying for miracles here. And we will continue to do so, despite set backs and exhaustion because we want to be proficient in this thing called faith.

Readings for Proper 24

are here

Readings for A Wedding

I'm officiating a wedding this weekend, woo-hoo, and am working on a homily for these lessons.

A Reading from Genesis

By the seventh day God had finished his work. On the seventh day he rested from all his work. God blessed the seventh day. He made it a Holy Day because on that day he rested from his work, all the creating God had done.
This is the story of how it all started, of Heaven and Earth when they were created. At the time God made Earth and Heaven, before any grasses or shrubs had sprouted from the ground—God hadn't yet sent rain on Earth, nor was there anyone around to work the ground (the whole Earth was watered by underground springs)—God formed Man out of dirt from the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life. The Man came alive—a living soul!

Then God planted a garden in Eden, in the east. He put the Man he had just made in it. God made all kinds of trees grow from the ground, trees beautiful to look at and good to eat. The Tree-of-Life was in the middle of the garden, also the Tree-of-Knowledge-of-Good-and-Evil.

God took the Man and set him down in the Garden of Eden to work the ground and keep it in order. God commanded the Man, "You can eat from any tree in the garden, except from the Tree-of-Knowledge-of-Good-and-Evil. Don't eat from it. The moment you eat from that tree, you're dead."

God said, "It's not good for the Man to be alone; I'll make him a helper, a companion." So God formed from the dirt of the ground all the animals of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the Man to see what he would name them. Whatever the Man called each living creature, that was its name. The Man named the cattle, named the birds of the air, named the wild animals; but he didn't find a suitable companion.

God put the Man into a deep sleep. As he slept he removed one of his ribs and replaced it with flesh. God then used the rib that he had taken from the Man to make Woman and presented her to the Man.
The Man said, "Finally! Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh! Name her Woman for she was made from Man." Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife. They become one flesh. The two of them, the Man and his Wife, were naked, but they felt no shame.

A reading from the Gospel according to John

"I've loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you'll remain intimately at home in my love. That's what I've done—kept my Father's commands and made myself at home in his love.

"I've told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I'm no longer calling you servants because servants don't understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I've named you friends because I've let you in on everything I've heard from the Father.

[The Message]

Sermon for Proper 23, Year C

Mark Dyer is the retired bishop of the diocese of Bethlehem and a professor emeritus at Virginia Theological Seminary. In a class called The Holy Spirit and the Church he shared this story. “I received a phone call not long ago from a man who knew me back when I was the bishop in Bethlehem. He was calling to ask a theological question. ‘I’m joining the pagan church and I’d like to undo my Christian baptism from when I was a baby, how do I do that?’ ‘You can’t,’ Bishop Mark replied, ‘our Prayer Book and our theology clearly state, “the bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble.”[1] It can’t be undone.’ Needless to say the man on the line was not convinced and not very happy, but he couldn’t offer the man anything else.”[2]

This morning we formally welcome Halle ___ _______ into the family of St. Paul’s, the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast, the Episcopal Church, and most importantly, we welcome her into the Church Universal, the Body of Christ. As Bishop Dyer alluded to in his story, we, as Episcopalians, have a theology of baptism that says, “Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church. The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble.”[3] The vows taken by her parents and God-parents state that they will raise her as a part of the Body, so that she might come to know Jesus Christ and follow Him in due time.[4] As a part of the Body of Christ, we too, take a vow, that we will “do all in our power to support her in her life in Christ.”[5] We all have a part; parents, God parents, family, friends, ministers, fellow 7:30 people, and yes, even the 10 o’clock crowd has a part to play as Halle is initiated into the Body of Christ.

But as the story from Bishop Mark reminds us, life is full of surprises, that faith is a lifelong journey. How many of us can claim a spotless record from our baptism on? How many of us can say that our faith has been perfect and that we have followed Jesus each and every step along the way? None of us can make that claim. It is impossible; we will stumble and we will fail. Paul, writing to Timothy is keenly aware of this, and offers Timothy a reminder: “The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful-- for he cannot deny himself.” This is one of the first Christian hymns still in existence. It was most likely sung in some of the earliest baptismal services; a way of sharing the hope of Christ; God’s ever-present faithfulness in times of trouble.

This hymn was used by Paul in a time of persecution. Paul writes to Timothy from a Roman prison in the midst of a particularly harsh persecution by Emperor Nero. Some Christians are being slaughtered for their commitment to Jesus while others are running away, denying Jesus as their Lord. Paul takes a strong stand against those who deny Jesus to avoid punishment, “he will also deny us”, but is very aware the ups and downs of the long journey of faith, “If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.” It seems as though there is something “about denial [that] is so powerful as to forfeit God's favor, [but] faithlessness just produces more and more and more divine compassion”[6] Or as Tom Wright puts it, “There is a world of difference between being blown off the ship’s deck by a hurricane and voluntarily diving into the sea to avoid having to stay at the helm.”[7] For Paul, by using this hymn, it is clear that doubt is not a deal breaker.

Which brings us back to Halle, it brings us back to the man who called up Bishop Dyer, but perhaps more aptly, it brings us back to ourselves, for doubt stands on the shoulder of each of us. The indissoluble bond of baptism seems, from time to time, to at least be diluted. Faith is hard to come by. At times it feels like God has forgotten us, or we have forgotten God, which way it goes, it doesn’t matter. We are not denying God in the midst of persecution, but our faith is lacking. It happens for an infinite number of reasons; for me it happens when I read stories like the gospel lesson for today. I’ve spent the whole week struggling with miracles; why some get them and some don’t. As I dug deeper, I found that it wasn’t miracles I was struggling with, but faith; why did Jesus have to say, “Your faith has made you well?”

It brought back to me my greatest “what if?” My longest-lingering missed opportunity. At my field education site, I led a class for seekers. We came up with some fancy name like, Finding God in Spite of the Church, and the church, God bless them, got really excited about it. Many long time parishioners came to see who would show up. Others came to learn how to speak the language of a seeker. They hung up flyers at the grocery store and the post office; even sent a press release to the local newspaper. One seeker showed up. [it seems as though no one actually invited anyone] She was the product of a Catholic mother and a Zoroastrian father; to say she was a little confused is a gross understatement. She came asking one simple question, one that sat heavy on her heart for a long time, one that I'm afraid still sits there, "how do I find faith?"

"It is a free gift, you don't need to find it, it is given freely," came the response from our knowledgeable group.

"Isn't that the arrogance of having it?" She replied, "I've been searching for it and it hasn't been offered to me as a free gift.”

We fumbled around for a suitable answer, but never found one. In light of her situation, faith seemed so easy for the rest of us, and try as we might, we couldn’t explain to her where it had come from.

She never came back.

I’ve spent this past week struggling with faithlessness. I’ve found it hard to face a God who, seemingly arbitrarily offers the free gift to some and not to others, who gives healing and wholeness to some but not to others. It has been a tough week. But, as Paul promises, in the midst of my faithlessness, God was faithful. By the grace of God we are privileged to join God in welcoming Halle into the Body of Christ this morning. By the grace of God I was reminded of those hours of lecture and debate that shaped my theology of baptism. By the grace of God Bishop Dyer’s story popped back into my mind and the indissoluble bond between God and humanity by way of the Holy Spirit flooded my consciousness. I was reminded that even to the point of taking vows in a pagan faith, God will not leave us. The Holy Spirit whose work begins at baptism (or even before) hangs on despite failure after failure; faithful despite our faithlessness.

And so, after a week of struggle, I feel like the tenth leper today. I’m aware that God has restored me again this week; that he has, once again, remained faithful while I wandered for a while. Like one sheep out of ninety-nine or one coin out of ten he sought me out; stood with me in my doubt, and welcomed me back with open arms and a party! I know that I am not the only one whose faith has waivered this week. I know that I am not the only one who, like the tenth leper is here today to offer thanksgiving to the one who remains faithful, to the one who heals us despite our faithlessness, to the one who while we were still sinners came to save us. And I know that I am not the only one who is excited to sing praises with the rest of the body of Christ as we welcome the newest member of Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church who one day too, we are assured, will come to know God’s faithfulness. Thanks be to God!

[1] Book of Common Prayer 1979, p. 298.

[2] This is from my memory and gets to the gist of the story, so let’s call it a paraphrase of class notes from ST1C Fall Semester, 2006.

[3] BCP, p. 298.

[4] Ibid., p. 859.

[5] Ibid., p. 303.

[6] Patrick Hall AIM Conversation 11 October 2007.

[7] Paul For Everyone: The Pastoral Letters, p. 104.

October 12, 2007

grace that precedes and follows

As you've no doubt noticed, I've had a tough time with the readings, especially the gospel, for this week. As CJ so aptly noted in her comment to Teusday's post, "Sometimes we go to the Temple and the priests because we have faith, and sometimes we find faith because we turn around to go the Temple."

I think that's what the collect for this week is getting at when it prays for God's grace to always precede and follow us. For the lepers the grace was ahead of them; it is what motivated them to ask for mercy. For me the grace came following; in the midst of doubt I asked and God showed me his faithfulness in my faithlessness. Ideally, we are like the tenth leper for whom grace both preceded him (in his asking) and followed him (in this return to offer thanks). Those are the best days, I think, and the days in which we are most capable of the second half of the prayer; to be continually given to good works. When there is nothing to worry about because of our awareness of God's grace surrounding us on every side, then can good works flow. Otherwise, like Maslow's hierarchy shows, we've got other stuff to worry about. May your day be filled with the awareness of God's grace surrounding you, and may that set you free to do the good works which God so greatly appreciates.

October 11, 2007

except this foreigner

Jesus had an amazing way of turning life on its ear. This line that is immortalized in the story of the ten lepers gets me everytime, "Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" It is always the unexpected result that Jesus shines a light on. Here, for instance, he points out that the Jews didn't get it, but the outsiders did. Subtle it is not, but it is certainly unexpected.

There are lots of tidy reasons the commentators have found for why the Samaritan is the only one to return; he wouldn't be accepted at the temple, the others were seeking restoration to community (which is oh so important these days), the others were following the Torah, and on and on. All the excuses aside, the fact remains that 10 were healed and only 1 returned to praise the one who healed them; God/Jesus. The one who returned is the least expected to come and praise God; he is the outsider, only a part of this group of Jews because of a common ailment. Again, good old Luke is reminding his Jewish audience that they had missed it once, but they had another chance to repent (return) and praise God for the salvation of Jesus Christ.

It is another not so subtle reminder from Luke that those of us who think we are in, may not be, and better pay attention to the world around us, praising God at all times for everything we have is a gift from Him. Thanks Luke, I needed the reminder.

October 10, 2007

if we are faithless, he remains faithful--

Do you ever feel like your prayers are hitting the ceiling and crashing back down upon your head? I have. It is by far the worst feeling in the world. There are various reasons for it that I have found; I don't feel worthy of God hearing me OR I'm not sure that God is going to make a difference this time OR I can't stop my mind long enough to get complete prayers out OR... There are lots of reasons why I feel like my prayers are worthless; lots of times when I, like the lady in yesterday's post, can't find that free gift of faith.

Paul gets that. He tells Timothy what Paul knows to be true, even when we lose our faith for while, God remains faithful to us. The prayers that feel like they are crashing back down to earth have made their way to God because, quite honestly, he isn't just above us in the sky. God hears the prayers that hit the ceiling. Hears them as they hit the floor. He hears them as they bounce around in the empty space. He hears them even when they go unsaid. That is how faithful God is.

Finding the free gift can be hard, but I'm not so sure it is even necessary. Maybe just searching for it is enough. Hell, faith the size of mustard seed can move a Mulberry tree; why wouldn't faith the size of a search for faith move us further along that path toward faith (whoo - convoluted)? What I'm trying to say, I think, is that figuring it all out isn't gonna happen. If full intellectual assent is what we are after to affirm our faith, we are never going to have it. If God is always faithful, always make our faith complete, then maybe just opening the door to faith is enough, at least to start.

October 9, 2007

yet another new name

despite sammy's great shortening of my blog name from "digging up my own foundation" to "dig. up. m.o. fo." i've decided i don't like how long and complicated it is. so, i've changed it again. i'm now using the name SHW created for theology on tap becuase the Roman Catholics have a copyright on it. st. paul's is now holding a weekly draughting theology at big daddy's and i really dig the name. it sorta wraps up what i feel like we do in those meetings as well as what i do here; i draft (or draught) a theology weekly as i wrestle with the weekly lectionary. so there, that's the new name. i'm a lot happier with it.

your faith has made you well

The gospel lesson for this week brings back memories of what is quite possibly my most grievous 'left undone"; my long-lingering missed opportunity. At my field ed site I led a class for seekers. The church, God bless them, was so excited about it. Many long time people came to see who showed up. Some came to see how they could speak the language of a seeker. And only one seeker showed up. She was the product of a Catholic mother and a Zoroastrian father; to say she was a little confused is a gross understatement. Unfortunately we screwed up. She came only once and asked a simple question, one that sat heavy on her heart for a long time, one that I'm afraid still sits there, "how do I find faith?"

"Its a free gift, you don't need to find it, it is given freely," came the response from our knowledgeable group.

"Isn't that the arrogance of having it?" She replied, "I've been searching for it and it hasn't been offered to me as a free gift."

She never came back.

This story, with the tenth leper being sent off healed and whole because of his faith is hard for me. Its hard for me because faith is so easy for me; its been there for as long as I can remember. But what about those who never had it? What about those who had it, and when it didn't heal them or a person they loved, lost it? What does Jesus have to say to those people?

In our group this morning we came up with two great outlines for a sermon.

How can we know if we don't go and ask and then go and do?
Jesus meets us where we are; he leads us as we ask, and he heals us as we act.

But I'm still left with the what if. For the people in the congregation who hear this lesson read and remember when something they wanted didn't happen will they hear the grace in this story or will they only know that their faith, in fact, had not made things right? Or what about the person who is having a hard time finding that free gift, will they hear, again, that they've failed to find what is so easy for so many. This is my trouble with the text. Here's where I will have to sit for a while, wondering if I need to address this, out of pastoral concerns, or can I just gloss over it as I walk with those lucky ones who have received the gift to find where the call to action is in this story.

If you have any thoughts or suggestions, I'd love to hear them!

Readings for Proper 23, Year C

Thanks to the Lectionary Page are here.

October 5, 2007


Did you know that the tradition says that because of God's sovereignty intercessory prayer doesn't matter? I know, I don't much care for that either. Why was Moses able to abate God's vengeance on more than one occasion? Why would Jesus have prayed intercessory prayers if he knew they didn't matter? Why would Paul call us to pray without ceasing if it wouldn't make a darn bit of difference? I just don't know.

Which brings me to my reflection for today, a collect in the school of collects that I love; a collect about prayer.

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I think this collect teaching us four things about prayer.

1 - God is always ready to have a conversation with us. I know it says God is more ready to hear, but despite what I said at my psych evaluation, I've heard God talk back to me; and I don't think I'm crazy. God is always ready to hear AND expects us to be in the same ready state.

2 - God is willing to give us what we desire... when it is in our best interest. This is the trick part. Why is healing my friend not in my best interest? Why is getting into the right college not in my best interest? It is tough, on the front end, to see it. To be quite honest, it may never make sense, but being faithful means trusting that ultimately when God decides whether or not to intervene in a situation it is for the greater good.

3 - God knows when we are holding back. There are lots of things with which I choose not to bother God. There are times when I feel as though I'm not worthy to offer up a prayer. God knows I'm holding back; God knows what it is I need, that which I would be praying for if I trusted Him or myself enough. God forgives me for my lack of faith and hears those prayers that go unsaid.

4 - Jesus Christ makes us worthy to pray. As Christians, God hears our prayers in the name of Jesus through the advocacy of the Holy Spirit. We have part of the Godhead working with/for us in prayer. This is not to say that God doesn't hear the prayers of others; for the Jews, God hears their voices out of their chosen status. For those who don't know Him, I believe, the Holy Spirit is still at work. But for us, as Christians, it is Jesus Christ alone who makes our prayers worthy of being heard. Having been washed of our sins we can approach the holiness of God with boldness because of Jesus.

There are several collects about prayer through the course of the church year. I commend them to you to "read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest" as they can teach us a lot about what we, as Anglicans, believe about prayer.

October 4, 2007

increase our faith

The lessons over the past two weeks have led me back to my love of the Epistle of James; especially chapter 2 with is "faith without works is dead." It has reminded me that there is a balance between a spiritual laziness that comes with the absolute assurance of salvation (and Jesus is comin' soon) and the heresy of work's righteousness.

I found that especially this morning as my rector and I thought about James 2 in the context of our lectionary readings. "Works are the exercise for faith" is what we came up with. When the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith, they aren't asking that they could have more faith, because, well frankly, I don't believe that's possible. Instead, they are asking for it to be strengthened; and boy will it be.

My rector put it like this. Faith is like the muscles we have in our body; they are static and finite in number. When we exercise them we don't add muscles per se, but we cause them to grow and tone. So "works are the exercise for faith" says to me that faith will not increase quantitatively, but is toned and grown by becoming more Christlike.

Too much caffeine today - this gets a rambling label for sure.

October 3, 2007

reflection of a different sort

Today I'm not reflecting on the lectionary for this week. I feel called instead to reflect, finally, on the HoB Communique to the Anglican Communion, and in light of the week I've had since its publication, I've determined that it really doesn't matter.

I take a lot of pride in being a centrist. I enjoy the fence. I take a lot of pride in being an Anglican/Episcopalian. I enjoy the historic episcopate; I like Canterbury; I love that our demographic center is now in the Global South.

BUT, as I've sat in hospital rooms, talked with widowers and those who have lost children, and worked to give a down-and-out couple a way out of their meth infested trailer park, I've realized that the Communique that came out of the HoB that really mattered came with no fanfare; as an afterthought as ELO (Episcopal Life Online) tried to fill their evening email. It was the story of how the HoB, their spouses, their partners, and their guests worked side by side regular joe's and jane's to help rebuild New Orleans. They paid attention to Lazarus at their gate, and then, when the time came to write about it, they said, in effect, "we are worthless slaves, we did only what were supposed to do."

Those who know me, know that I believe in the virgin birth, I believe in the empty tomb, I believe in the miracles stories. I have not given up on the doctrine, but I'm growing to appreciate the discipline. Following Jesus means doing that which we are called to do, despite what the world around us might say, and that, to me, is why the first Communique in all its well crafted language matters less than the work done for those in need.

October 2, 2007

a very lutheran sunday

Our Lectionary group met this morning, and, to my surprise, it was the Lutheran's in our midst who were having trouble finding meat in the gospel passage (Luke 17.5-10 which we expanded to 17.1-10). As I previewed the lessons yesterday I thought to myself, "this has to be the ideal Lutheran passage."

After weeks and weeks and weeks of Jesus telling us to DO stuff, we finally have a set of verses that are "by grace alone." The seed of faith that is planted in me isn't even big enough to tell the Mulberry tree to move, but it is sufficient. The work I do for the gospel is "only what I am supposed to do anyway," but God looks with favor upon me anyway. It is only by grace that there is good news in this weeks gospel lesson; which is why I was so surprised that the Lutheran's were having trouble finding something to preach on this week.

Ultimately where we landed this week was a very pomo place; that Christianity is not propositional in nature, but is relational and experiential in nature. We can explain faith to people, but like the mustard seed story, it isn't going to make any sense, but if we help them to experience faith, to know the joy of Jesus Christ, if we help them get out of their own way, then we have moved a Mulberry tree; and given life where life should not be.

I'm realizing how hard it is to articulate where we were this morning, but I hope this is somewhat clear. Anyway, where I am is rejoicing that God loves me even though my faith is even smaller than a mustard seed.

Readings for Proper 22

are HERE

Sermon for Proper 21, Year C

“There was a rich man… and at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus.” As I began to think about this parable I got to feeling guilty. “Woe is me,” I thought, “for I ignore the poor man at my gate almost daily.” I sank deeper and deeper into this cycle of guilt as I found my favorite sermon research sites telling me over and over again that this passage tells us the rich will find themselves in hell while the poor will inherit the Kingdom of God. Ultimately, I came to the bottom of my pit of guilt when I went to the Global Rich List website and found that I am in the richest 1.4% of people in the world based on my annual income. “Woe is me! I am the nameless rich man! There is no hope for me!”

Maybe you feel the same way. When you hear a passage of scripture like this do you shut down? Did you turn off your ears before I got to the dogs licking Lazarus’ sores? Are you hoping that I will preach on the Lord’s Prayer today? Oh man, do I understand where you’re coming from. I sure feel guilty.

As if that wasn’t enough, Jesus goes on to talk about Hell. He doesn’t talk about Hell very often, so it piqued my interest and I quit feeling guilty long enough to pay attention for a little bit. “In Hell, where [Lazarus] was in torment…” Oh no, here it comes. Just as I got up and out of my pit of guilt, fear begins to overtake me. “I don’t want to find myself in torment, without a sip of water, in the midst of the burning fire.” And so again, for the second time in five verses I find myself turning it off, not wanting to hear anymore of this tough talk from Jesus. He’s supposed to be soft and cuddly. He’s supposed to be all about love; love for me, specifically, and how I choose to live my life.

And so I sit. I sit in my guilt. I sit in my fear. And I don’t do anything. I begin by saying “I can’t do what you’re asking me, God, but I do feel bad about it. Will you settle for that?”[1] And then I move to a paralyzing fear that keeps me from hearing and more importantly, it keeps me from doing.[2] I think I’ll dig myself a nice hole, or a chasm, if you will, and just sit.

But Jesus didn’t come to earth to make us feel guilty. He didn’t come to paralyze us with fear of doing something wrong and writing my own ticket to hell. Jesus came to give us a life of abundance. Jesus came to proclaim the truth that will set us free. Jesus came to tell us that the Kingdom of God is near, and we can play a part in its inauguration. That is why he tells this story; not to help us dig our own chasms, but to help us fill them in and get to doing the work of God in the world. You see, with every parable that Jesus tells there are layers upon layers of meaning. It is like the layers of an onion, we can peel away layer upon layer. The first layer, like the skin, is the clear and obvious meaning; the one that we have to get through to find the flavor of the onion. It points us there by its color, but we can’t be sure until we dig in.

Here the obvious lesson to learn is that God cares about the poor and we should too. Does the rich man go to hell because he is rich? No. Does the rich man go to hell because he ignores Lazarus? Ehh, that’s not so clear. But does Lazarus go to heaven because he is poor? No. The skin of this onion tells us that we can not ignore the call throughout the scriptures to take care of the poor, the needy, the sick, the widows, the orphans, and those without a place to call home. It is in this first layer that we find our guilt rising and our fear paralyzing, but let’s not stop here, let’s get to peeling.

Peel away the skin and ask a question. For example, here we might ask why Jesus is so exaggerated with his descriptions of the rich man’s riches and Lazarus’ poverty. The rich man is so rich as to dress as the king would dress; in purple cloth and fine silks and linens. He is so rich that he is able to gorge himself at every meal, every day. Lazarus on the other hand is so poor that his hunger is never satisfied. He is so weak from hunger and disease that someone has to place him at the rich man’s gate, he can not make it there by himself. Does it make a difference that the rich man is rich and Lazarus is poor? What if the story involved two neighbors; one with a garage full of tools and the other desperate to build a ramp for his wheelchair bound child? Is this story just about the rich and the poor or is it instead another call to a life of discipleship? Can we be true followers of Jesus and not seek to do good works? Paul says no, “those who in the present age are rich… are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share…”

We see at this layer that Jesus is directing this parable to the Pharisees “who loved money… and were sneering at Jesus.” He spoke to them in terms of rich and poor because the immediate context was one of money. The Pharisees had adopted a bootstrap theology of wealth; God helps those who help themselves, and Jesus is calling that into question. From the parable it seems clear that God helps those who either can’t help themselves or those who help others ahead of themselves. It was the Pharisees’ understanding that wealth was a sign of God’s blessing, that those who had a lot were being rewarded for their faithful living. Conversely, those who were poor, like Lazarus, were being punished by God for their sins or the sins of their parents, or grandparents, and on and on. Jesus tells the Pharisees that they have misinterpreted Moses and the Prophets; they are missing the point of what God was doing in the law of Torah, they neglected to follow all of the rules; ignoring the ones that caused them to come in direct contact with the downtrodden and outcast. Jesus, who will soon be the one who rises from the dead, the one who they still won’t believe, calls them to be rich in good works, and they miss the point.

Still another layer is available. It is inevitable that we will read this parable and try to learn something about the next life. We see here the only parable of Jesus that is mythical in nature. Only here does Jesus deal with both life here and now and in the age to come. What can we learn from the hopeless situation of the rich man; removed from the love of God by a great chasm that is fixed and cannot be crossed? The fear with which we approach this picture of the tormenting fires of hell can be replaced with hope when we see that we are not there yet. We still have Moses, and the prophets, and Jesus who rose from the dead. The great chasm is for us still just a gate and Jesus is in the business of opening gates. The gate in the wall of the Sabbath is opened as he heals the man with Dropsy. The gate in the wall of the strict religious law keepers is open in the parable of the great banquet. The gate in the wall between heaven and earth is opened as we are invited into the Party of God. The gate in the wall between rich and poor is open in this parable of Lazarus and the rich man. The gate in the wall between God and man will be open as the curtain is torn in two as Jesus breaths his last. In the resurrection, the gate in the wall between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, man and woman, will be opened. Jesus reminds us in this layer that he is in the business of opening gates and setting people free. Instead of focusing on the great chasm of the hereafter, Jesus offers us a way out of our fear and into abundant life. Jesus call us to also be in the business of opening gates; to let people in, to pay attention to the world around us, and to see the possibilities that exist when “good fences make good neighbors” becomes “an open gate makes an open heart.”

Just like an onion, the more we tear into these parables the more they disturb us. It really is easy to be deaf and dumb from guilt when the alternative is taking care of the poor, the outcast, the smelly, and the gross. It will seem nice to be paralyzed with fear when we are called upon to open gates that we know were closed for a reason. But following Jesus isn’t a life lived on the surface of an onion. A life lived as a disciple of Christ is one that will cause tears to fall as we do the hard work of “pursuing righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.” But that hard work is certainly worth it. Amen.

[1] Barbra Brown Taylor, Bread of Angels, p. 111.

[2] www.sarahlaughed.net/lectionary/2004/09/proper_21_year_.html