August 31, 2009

Proper 17B - Teaching @ the river

Here's a copy of the James 1.17-27 lesson I "brought" to the river community in Milton, FL last night.

Click here for the Google Doc .pdf viewer

Labor Day

I'm not usually one to tailor my sermon around a national holiday, but it seems to me that the lessons for Proper 18 were custom built for Labor Day; not the cooking out, drinking beer, putting your feet up parts of Labor Day; not even the resting from one's labors part of Labor Day; but the reminder that Labor Day exists because we are a nation of (mostly) hard working people who, from time to time, deserve to steal away for a day, to rest, and to give thanks for the gift of labor.

Jesus is trying to take a Labor Day holiday, but there is no rest for him. Instead, he finds himself with his worldview blown wide open as the syrophoenician woman "begs" him to deliver her daugther from the labors of her demon. Coming on the heals of his "declaring all foods clean," the theme of transformation continues as Jesus is slowly moving from Rabbi to mind exploder.

The great blessing here is that the syrophoenician woman doesn't let Jesus stay where he is. "You can call me a dog," she says, "but even the dogs get the crumbs from the table so let me sit at your feet."

All Jesus wanted to do was have a cook-out with his buddies, but this Labor Day, he had his worldview blown wide open. I wonder which path I'll choose this weekend? With a small crowd expected will I have the guts to blow minds? May God make clear to me his will.

August 26, 2009


Dr. Jay asked the group yesterday if we'd be preaching THE LIST on Sunday. You know the one, the list at the end of the lesson from Mark, the one about defilement, the one that is hugely popular in churches not known as mainline protestant.

Ok, you don't know the list. That's OK, I'll paste it here for you:

For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these things come from within, and they defile a person.

Two things come to mind if I were to preach THE LIST. The first is that Jesus calls them "evil intentions." This is peculiar because, aside from deceit, envy, and pride (and maybe avarice, licentiousness and folly) this list is comprised mostly of actions: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, wickedness, slander. Unless, of course, you subscribe to Jesus' expansion of the law from action to intention wherein lustful thoughts toward someone are the same as fornication (or adultery or licentiousness); wherein angry thoughts toward someone are the same as murder (or wickedness); wherein coveteous thoughts toward someone's stuff are the same as theft (or avarice or envy). It is a whole lot harder to think of oneself as perfect, while everyone else is a screwup (pride, folly) when you expand from actions to intentions.

The second thought that comes to mind if I were to preach THE LIST is that most of these things have a prescription offered by James in his letter - learn to bridle your tongue. For me, I know that when my tongue is not in check, my thoughts are even worse. But when, by the grace of God, I'm able to not poke fun, not add sarcasm, not belittle verbally - my intentions, and by this I mean my internal monologue, get cleaned up too.

THE LIST is not popular in mainline protestantism, mostly because it makes us feel bad. But THE LIST is worth preaching, entirely because it reminds us that it is by Christ alone we are saved from our sinful actions and even moreso from our defiled intentions.

August 24, 2009

Sermon for Proper 16, Year B

Knowing that the crowd was grumbling against him, Jesus turned and said, "Oh really? You're offended by what I have to say? Just wait. Just wait until this time next year when you see me, the Son of Man, being lifted high above the earth, on a cross, having been whipped and beaten and marched naked through the streets. The Spirit is what gives life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. I'm telling you the stuff of the Spirit, life giving stuff, real stuff. And yet. And yet there are still many among you who do not believe, who can not, who will not trust me when I say that the Kingdom of God is near."

With those words, as John tells it, Jesus cut his following in the Synagogue at Capernaum from some five thousand plus to twelve. Sure, over the next 12 months some will return. Some, like Nicodemus, will see that the Spirit does indeed give life that is eternal, that is so much better than this life, new life that can begin right now. But the damage is done in this moment. A year from now that group of twelve will dwindle to one, as the disciple whom Jesus loved will be the only brave soul standing next to Mary at the foot of Jesus' cross.

Thousands walked away because Jesus' teaching was hard to accept. But the life he called his disciples to was about to get down-right dangerous. You can't call yourself the bread of life, the very life and mind of God that came down to earth and think you'll survive. You just can't talk that way, especially when the powers that be have the corner on that market. Set yourself up as the Son of God over and above Caesar, the Roman Son of God, and see where it gets you. Nailed to a cross, thats where.

Two thousand years later, the pendulum has swung away from danger, but listen to the rhetoric of Christians these days and you'll soon see that the offense remains. If our five week journey through the sixth chapter of John's Gospel has taught us anything, I believe it has proved to us that Jesus is an equal opportunity offender. We began with the story of the feeding of the 5000 where Jesus fed indiscriminately. He fed everybody on that grassy hillside, not matter if they bought into his message or not, no matter if they repented from their sinfulness or not, no matter if they deserved it or not. This kind of behavior tends to offend us because we want Jesus to set boundaries. We want clear lines around whose in and whose out. When he hands out bread and fish to everybody, without question, we get offended. Jesus, I did it the right way, feed me, not them.

The very next day, after Jesus has stolen away from the crowd before being crowned king, after Jesus has walked across the Sea of Galilee, after the exuberant crowd has chased him down at the synagogue in Capernaum, Jesus offends us again by claiming that it is only by the invitation of the Father that people will come to know him. "The flesh is useless," Jesus says, "no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father." But what about me, the self-actualized human being? Surely I can do the right works or say the right things or give the right gift and get myself into this eternal life thing. I don't need anyone to tell me how to live my life, how to spend my money, how to treat my neighbors. Thank you, but no, I've got it handled.

Jesus offends everyone, even to this day because he doesn't fit into the box we've created for him. Some of us want Jesus to let us in and keep those that are different out. But he feeds everyone. Others want the door to be wide open so everyone can come, any which way, to eternal life. But Jesus says, nope, you gotta come by way of the Father.

The Father invites us all into relationship with him. His love for us is so abundant that he's done everything in his power to call us back into his fold. But he won't force it on us. He lays the offer at our feet, but we've got to pick it up, make sense of it, and accept it. "All of us have been chosen by Jesus, and we are with him by his choice, not ours. Yet belief and unbelief both remain realities [be it in the synagogue at Capernaum or the Nave of St. Paul's in Foley]. So it is, and so it has been from the beginning. Jesus has chosen us, but we are free - free to be with him or leave him. Jesus will never cast out any who come to him. But neither will he cajole, persuade, or bribe anyone to remain. His company will therefore always include those who do not believe and who will in the end betray. To believe, therefore, is to have been brought to the place were one knows that one has to rely completely on Jesus, and on Jesus alone." (paraphrase of Newbigin, The Light Has Come, 90).

In just a few minutes we will stand up and together recite the Nicene Creed. We do so, I hope, with the thought in our mind that we are doing what Jesus called us to do, to believe. We begin each section by saying so, "We believe in one God... We believe in one Lord... We believe in the Holy Spirit..." But, what is the motivation. Does our belief mean the modernist "I hereby agree to the literal-factual truth of the following statements"? Or does our belief mean the ancient "I give my heart to, I commit my loyalty to I trust in"?

The challenge that I think we receive from Jesus this morning is not whether or not we can sign a statement of faith that says, "yes, I believe in the literal truth of all these facts," but rather, Jesus is asking us for our hearts, for our commitment, for our trust. That's what was so hard for the crowd in Capernaum. Jesus wanted everything from them, and they weren't prepared to give it. Are you prepared to give Jesus everything? Does your belief in him mean that you rely solely on his provision? Or have you held something back? Would you rather just accept some propositions about Jesus instead of placing your whole life in his hands?

Belief is not a once and done thing, but a complete lifestyle renovation. For me, it means that every morning, and several times throughout the day (or several hundred times throughout the day), I have to reaffirm that I choose Jesus. Not money. Not pride.. Not my own self-interests. Jesus. By the grace of God, I choose Jesus.

Jesus turned the twelve and said, "Now's your chance. You can get out now, if that's what you'd like." Peter, on behalf of the group, and I hope on behalf of us responds, "where else would we go? We trust your promise of life eternal. We pledge our allegiance to you, the Holy one of God. We're all in."

Does Peter speak for you this morning? Have you pledged your allegiance to the Kingdom of God today? Have you made your personal commitment to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? If not, that's OK, because you're about to get yet another chance to stand and say, "Yes Lord, I believe."

God is good...

... all the time.

With that simple call and response, a former Rector of mine got the attention of our church family for almost a decade. It is ingrained in me. I can't hear someone say, God is good, without responding (at least in my head) "ALL THE TIME!"

But this post isn't about the use of a call and response to get attention. This post is about how good God is. I'm finally getting the chance, after several failed attempts, to worship with and "bring the word" to The River, a community of faith in Milton, FL (their new website is still a work in progress). This is reason enough to give thanks, but there's more.

Sam, the head honcho over at The Riv, is a super laid back, easy going, good guy. And so, when I asked him what the theme/topic/lections for this Sunday were, he responded, by text message, with "All u!"

Oh Crud! Umm, Sam, I'm an Episcopalian, I have no experience picking topics out of thin air.

So with the knowledge that they just finished a series on the fruits of the Spirit I headed to the Lectionary Page, clicked on August 30 and viola! The Collect for Sunday reads:

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit; one God for ever and ever. Amen.

And then I hit the lesson from James. SCORE!

As first fruits of God's creatures we are called to a lifestyle that is quick to listen, slow to speak, and even slower to anger. We are called to be doers of the word, not just hearers. We are called to bridle our tongues so as to have true religion. We are called to care for widows and orphans. We are called to be unstained by the world.

Even a hipster emerging(ish) community of faith can be blessed by the old guard revised common lectionary. God is good.

Readings for Proper 17, Year B

Song of Solomon 2:8-13

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit; one god for ever and ever. Amen.

August 20, 2009

The Armor of God

The difference (or lack thereof) between the God of the Hebrew Bible and the God of the New Testament got talked about in seminary a lot, but as is usually the case, the argument doesn't seem to matter at all in the real world. And yet, this morning, I can't help but read the lesson from Ephesians and think about all those who said they "didn't like all the violence" in the Old Testament.

The Armor of God, I think, gives us insight into the violence that is apparent throughout scripture. When it was justified, that is to say, when it was commanded by God, it was always, as Paul says, a struggle "against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."

The violence that makes us so uncomfortable was not superfluous. It wasn't drug violence. It wasn't sexual violence. It wasn't preemptive. It was part of that eternal battle between good and evil. These days, the battle has a different form, violence, for the most part, is no longer permitted by God, but the armor is still necessary.

"Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."

August 19, 2009

Proper 15B - Wed Homily

Solomon, has the weight of the world on his shoulders. At the age of twenty he finds himself King of Israel, God's chosen people, over and above even his older brother Adonijah. To make matters worse, King David in his final speech, spoken to Solomon twice said to his son, "you are a wise man." I don't know about you, but at 20 I was far from wise. Sure I knew everything, but wisdom, wisdom only comes when one realizes what one does not know.

And so, with the weight of God's chosen people and three years of challenges to his throne AND his own father's notion of his own wisdom on his shoulders, Solomon went to Gibeon to offer sacrifice to the Lord. The Lord appears to Solomon in a dream, and invites him to ask for whatever he'd like. In the midst of his dream, you can almost hear Solomon's desperation. He doesn't ask for fame or fortune or many wives or strong sons because, I think, he can't even think about that yet. All he can hear are his Father's words, "you are a wise man." And if the last three years have taught him anything it is that wisdom will serve him and his people well in the years to come.

"You dealt most graciously with Your servant my father David, because he walked before You in faithfulness and righteousness and in integrity of heart. You have continued this great kindness to him by giving him a son to occupy his throne, as is now the case. And now, O Lord my God, you have made Your servant king in place of my father David; but I am a young lad, with no experience in leadership. Your servant finds himself in the midst of the people You have chosen, a people too numerous to be numbered or counted. Grant, then, Your servant an understanding mind to judge Your people, to distinguish between good and bad; for who can judge this vast people of Yours?"

Can you hear it? Can you hear the longing in his voice, the strain, the hope? Solomon desperately wants the words of his father to be true. He wants to live up to the expectations of the great King David. And so, in an earnest plea for himself, and I believe for the best for God's people Israel, Solomon prays for an understanding mind, a listening heart, the knowledge of the will of God.

And God, true to form, grants him his request. This story is followed immediately by the famous story of Solomon's wisdom in the case of two prostitutes claiming motherhood of one baby. In the years that follow, Solomon is given the gift of building the Temple of God, something that his Father had hoped for, but had never been allowed to do. For many years, Solomon's reign lives up to his Hebrew name, Shlomo, from Shalom meaning peace.

As the years pass, however, Solomon's wisdom will diminish as his lust for foreign women increased. He will fail to rightly understand good from bad. He will worship foreign gods. He will grieve the Lord. And ultimately Shalom will be replaced by war.

Solomon's earnest prayer, his years of prosperity, and then, ultimately and unfortunately, his "failure, remind us that a human being is neither the origin nor the prime example of wisdom. Instead, when we think of wisdom and seek after it, we should not look to the man Solomon, but rather to the one to whom he prays, the Lord God Almighty."

We need not look far away for the key to that wisdom. God might not be entering our dreams to offer us anything we want, but as the Psalmist tells us, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." In this case fear is more awe and reverence than it is terror. Wisdom comes from the understanding that God is God and I am not. Wisdom comes from the knowledge that God has fulfilled his promises in the past, and will continue to do so. Wisdom comes from the realization that God is in control so I don't have to be.

When Solomon looked to the Lord as his source of wisdom, his kingdom flourished, his name was revered, and his riches were beyond number. When Solomon looked to himself as his source of wisdom he succumb to the temptress of lust, greed, envy and pride. May Solomon be our guidepost this day as we seek understanding minds, listening hearts, and wisdom that only comes from the Lord God Almighty. Amen.

The Dwelling Place of God

Solomon lifted his hands to heaven and said, "O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart, the covenant that you kept for your servant my father David as you declared to him; you promised with your mouth and have this day fulfilled with your hand... Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! Regard your servant's prayer and his plea, O LORD my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, `My name shall be there,' that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place. Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive. Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name -- for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm-- when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.” - 1 Kings 8

"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." Psalm 84.9

God is not contained within the four walls of the nave of St. Paul's in Foley, but God is here. God is not in the glorious Live Oaks that stand statuesque along our streets and rivers, but God is there.

Solomon was indeed wise. He knew enough to say, "God, I know you can't be contained here, but please, please, please make your presence known here so that we, your chosen people, can fulifll the covenant and be a light to the nations." No matter where God resides, the psalmist has it right, it is better to spend just one day in the presence of the Almighty than a thousand (or a hundred thousand) anywhere else. It is, honestly, better to stand even at the threshold of God's house than anywhere else. Today, as thunder rolls in the distance and the right-of-way-mower-goes buzz around our campus, I'm acutely aware that God's presence is here, and I'm going to do my best to sit here and soak it in.

Thank you Father for deigning to make yourself known on earth. Fill me, refresh me, and prepare me for another day in your court, another day in your service. To your honor and glory. Amen.

August 18, 2009

To Believe

I have a friend whose former rector "did not believe in the Easter Vigil" in the same way he "did not believe in ghosts." My friends response in telling that story was, "Believe it. I have seen it on page 285 in the Book of Common Prayer."

St. Mark's Capitol Hill invites their parishoners to say only the pieces of the Nicene Creed they "believe" that is to say, the parts to which they can give intellecutal assent.

The word "believe" has many uses - but the believe that Jesus call us to, the believe that Peter claims the disciples have has nothing to do with believing in the Easter Vigil or having the ability to check off a list of statements about Jesus. The belief that we are called to is trust.

Trust that Jesus is who he says he is.

Trust that when you give him your life, he will use it to his honor and glory.

Trust that the armor of God is sufficient even unto death.

Trust that, as hard as it might be to understand, eating the flesh and blood of Jesus means eternal life.

There is no real relationship between me and Jesus without me trusting him on all these points (and more). There is no real relationship unless I "believe in" him; not like I "believe" in Casper the friendly Ghost; not like I "believe" in the virgin birth; not even like I "believe" that the Steelers will win their seventh Super Bowl this year. No this belief is all encompassing - my whole trust placed in his hands.

Yes Lord, I believe.

August 17, 2009

this is tough stuff

"When many of [the group] heard [his teaching] they said, "This is difficult teaching, who can accept it?"

Paul, writing to the Church in Corinth, talks about how the cross of Christ, the death of the chosen one, was "a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks." But even before his death, Jesus' own words were tough to hear for even those who had dropped everything to follow him.

Eating flesh.

Drinking blood.

Bread that is better than Manna.

No one can come unless the Father calls them.

All the stuff that today, in 2009, we have trouble with about Jesus, they had trouble with too. But Jesus does not back down. He doesn't hedge his bets, aiming for a good stewardship season, and say, "well, I was speaking in hyperbole" or "metaphor" or "John's redaction." Nope, Jesus says, "this is tough, so how about you, the 12, do you want to stick around because it isn't getting any easier from here. From here is the cross. From here is persecution. From here is exile and torture and death. From here is eternal life."

The Gospel is a scandal no matter how much we'd like it not to be. It is exclusive in that one MUST respond to God's call. It is difficult in that God's call is to a whole-life transformation. It is scary in that we have to give up everything we know. It is tough stuff.

But it is so good. So good that Peter, in response to Jesus says, "Who else could we follow? We've thrown our hats in with you, with your promise of eternal life. Where else can we possible go."

Today, I once again throw my hat in with Jesus. I choose the difficult path. I want to know eternal life today, tomorrow, and forever. Whom else could I follow?

Readings for Proper 16, Year B

1 Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

August 12, 2009

"live forever"

The Tuesday morning lectionary group really struggled with the lesson from John 6.51-58 for Sunday. It is week #4 of the bread of life. It is full of cannibalistic imagery. It talks about "living forever." And it just is not easy to preach. But we did spend an hour talking about it, and some great insights came out. Here's what I wrote down.

  • Life/Living - What does it mean, now that you've been fed to live - really live?
  • Live Forever - What does it mean to live forever? When does eternal life begin?
  • Heaven - When all hell breaks loose around you, can you hold onto heaven?
  • Heaven - Is it a place or is it absolute availability to God? (See this good article on the subject)
  • Flesh and blood = bread and wine = love and forgiveness - Transubstantiation
  • Sacraments - Jesus promises those who eat his flesh and drink his blood eternal life - he says HE will raise them up on the last day. That raises the question, can what's done at the table be undone?
So that's where we got. Good stuff to preach and teach and know.

August 10, 2009

Sermon for Proper 14, Year B

I grew up in a church that was very conflict averse. There was conflict, tons of it, but it rarely got talked about. And so I went to seminary thinking that conflict was bad, that anger was something to be afraid of because it was of the devil. Early in my first year, I got a taste of conflict when our class president decided we should work toward giving the seminary the greatest class gift in history. To do this he thought we should hold fundraisers, kind of like a high school student does to go on a band trip. And so at one of our earliest class meetings he had James make a presentation about pecans. It was thought that we could sell pecans - roasted, candied, spicy, etc. to our families, friends, and yet to be named field education churches in order to raise ten thousand dollars for the best gift ever.
Pecangate, as it would come to be known, lasted for about two weeks as angry reply-all emails bounced around the class of 2007. As class treasurer I was privy to even the "not reply-all" emails and by the time it was all said and done, I was fully convinced that conflict was awful and should be avoided at all costs. I spent the rest of that first year internalizing every conflict, avoiding all disagreement, and ended up so filled with bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling, and slander that I was, to use the words of Paul, "grieving the Holy Spirit."
By the time our first year retreat came around I was just about finished, ready to leave seminary all together, ready to really get away from everything and everyone that made me so angry. Fortunately, I made that thought known during the course of that weekend, and heard, often from those with whom I had nothing in common, that I needed to stay, that God had brought me to this point for a reason. At about the same time I stumbled upon a quote from Doug Pagitt's Church Re-imagined that has been sort of a mantra for me in the years since. "Oddly, many Christians find that their fellow congregants play no more crucial a role in their daily lives than the people they walk past in the grocery store. They share a common experience from time to time and receive services from the same organization, but little else." (27) About thirty seconds after I finished reading it, I added this quote to the signature of my email. Over the years, I have re-read that quote thousands of times. Noting that for a very long time I too had treated my fellow sojourners like fellow shoppers - a polite head nod, maybe a smile, but nothing more than that.
Living in authentic Christian community is difficult work, especially when we place all sorts of unnecessary expectations on ourselves. And, unfortunately a fair portion of the theology done over the last 2000 years has created unnecessary expectations on those who call themselves Christian. Talk with Christians for very long and you'll get the sense that any sort of emotion outside the range of politely pleasant is of the devil. Because of this, conversation among Christians often stays painfully shallow - as Pastor Craig mentioned a while back - we talk about the weather, our dinner plans, and if we're feeling really safe maybe the upcoming seasons for Alabama and Auburn football. You know, something in the range of awkward elevator conversation. The end result is that we don't really know the people we come to worship with week in and week out let alone others who worship the Lord out in the community. We are, as Doug Pagitt says, merely consumers of the same service.
And I don't believe Jesus became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood in order to provide the service of salvation for us. No, Jesus came to turn the world right-side-up so that all things might be made new. He didn't come to offer a service but to change everything. And high up on the list of everything Jesus came to change is the way in which we interact with each other. Having been made in God's image, we were created by our Triune God to be in relationship as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are in relationship. We were made, as Paul writes, to be members of one another - to walk with, talk with, care for, and love one another as messy as that might be.
We can take some solace in the fact that even those churches planted by Paul himself struggled with what it meant to live in authentic Christian community. But we cannot be comfortable in that fact. Instead, we should look to Paul's advice to the Ephesians as a model for our life together - as members of St. Paul's Foley, as members of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast, as Episcopalians, as Anglicans, and as members of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church - those who have been made new in Christ Jesus. To do that, we must trust that God will be faithful to our Collect for today and "grant us the spirit to think and do always those things that are right so that we who cannot exist without him may be enabled to live according to his will."
Our first step on that journey is our relationships, one with another. First and foremost it means putting away shallow politeness and admitting that just as Christ was fully human, so too are we. And that means, from time to time, people will annoy us. It means putting ourselves out there and talking frankly with one another. It means sharing opinions on politics, money, sports, and religion. It means admitting that faithful and thoughtful followers of Christ can hold different opinions on major subjects, and that's OK.
Sometimes, moving past polite pleasantness will mean that disagreement will happen. It might even mean... that we'll get angry with one another. Paul wants the Ephesians to know, and I want you to know, that anger is OK. Allowing the devil to use our anger as an opportunity to sin is not. Don't let anger be the fuel for revenge, violence, or hurtful speech. Don't sit in your anger and allow it to fester. Don't permit the devil to take advantage.
This isn't easy, which is why I think Christians have mostly decided to avoid conflict all together. If we stay on the surface there is very little chance that somebody might get their feelings hurt, that somebody might get angry, that the devil might makes his way in. But Jesus doesn't enter our lives with shallow politeness; he comes in and overturns the tables of our hearts - replacing the gods of self, pride, money, and malice with his Spirit - the Spirit of truth. It is by this Spirit that our prayer for today is answered. It is by this Spirit that Paul calls the Ephesians and us to "put away all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander." It is by this Spirit that we are able to "be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven us."
And it is only by this Spirit that we are able to become imitators of God by living into those words that are so often used as an offertory sentence, "to walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, and offering and a sacrifice to God." We can only open ourselves fully up to one another when we've fully given ourselves to God. We can't forgive until we are forgiven. We can't love until we know that we are loved. And we can't be in right relationship with another until we are in right relationship with God.
Forgiveness, love, and right relationship - these are the things Paul hoped for the Christian community in Ephesus. These are the things that I hope for us. Getting there might be bumpy. It might mean periods of painful truth telling. It might mean that once in a while we get angry with one another. But in the end it will mean the reward of God - real Christian community - a life of real joy. "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you." Amen.

Good to be Back...

Even better to not be preaching.

SHW, FBC and I spent 8 days visiting friends and family in and around the Philthadelphia and Washington DC metro areas. It was a great trip - busy, but great. We returned to town, exhausted, on Friday and began to attack laundry, the house, and a sermon. As far as i can tell, all three ended up done well.

Today marks my first day back in the office and I already know there is a pile of mail (E and snail) for me to look through. There is planning to be done. There are conversations that need to happen. And, having read the lessons for Sunday, thanks be to God, there is not a sermon to preach this week.

Writing a sermon to preach on the heels of vacation is tough, but writing a sermon on the lessons for this Sunday has got to be harder. And so this week, I pray for wisdom and a double portion of the Spirit for my Rector. I know the end result will be great, as ususal, but this week, I most certainly don't envy the task.

Readings for Proper 15, Year B

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a scrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life; Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.