January 21, 2010


The Spirit plays a huge role in the the story of Jesus' return to Nazareth. Luke tells us that Jesus is filled with the power of the Spirit as he returns from the desert. Isn't that something that we would all love to be; filled with the power of the Spirit. I don't know how many times I've been asked to pray for strength or patience or perseverance and what I ask for is an outpouring of the Spirit. It is only by the Spirit that Jesus is able to keep the schedule, teach with wisdom, and heal with impunity.

We get a glimpse into what it means to be filled with the power of the Spirit when Jesus unrolls the scroll of Isaiah and reads, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

With the Spirit comes responsibility. We are filled up to overflowing so that we might accomplish the tasks to which God has called us. In Jesus' case he is filled up to preach a message that most people didn't want to hear. In my case, I'm filled up to live out the Collect for this week and proclaim the Good News. Why are you filled up? What is your calling? Is it to feed the hungry? Is it to love the unloved? Is it to comfort the afflicted? Is it to speak the hard truth?

In baptism we are each filled by the Spirit and as such we are each equipped to do certain work. Many of us, unfortunately, are doing work for which we have not been equipped; or worse yet, not doing any work at all. As St. Paul's enters a season of discerning our gifts, I invite you to pray for an outpouring of the Spirit and wisdom as to where best that energy should be used.

In the end, the goal remains the same; that the whole world might know the glory of his marvelous works. May we share in the ministry of proclaiming the Good News.

January 20, 2010

different congregations

Yesterday, at our lectionary group, we spent a lot of time talking about the differences between the people who heard the law in Nehemiah and those who heard Jesus read the scroll of Isaiah in Nazareth. The former group had found scriptures that had been lost. They were recently restored in their land and eager to find their God and live in his blessing. The received a strict set of laws without complaint, but rather with joy. The latter group was in the Synagogue on the Sabbath, they were pious (or religious, as the case may be) and comfortable. The lectionary, in its infinite wisdom, won't tell us how they received Jesus' wide open message of salvation until next week, but I don't think I'm spoiling it when I say, it doesn't go well.

Two things are of note in this discussion. The first is how much the (post-)modern American church is like the Synagogue in Nazareth. We are fat and happy and comfortable. If someone came into our buildings and called us to take seriously the call of the Spirit to "proclaim good news to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" especially when that favor is directed at some other group, well it wouldn't end very well for them either, I don't imagine. We should be careful when we look down our noses at Jesus' hometown because, quite frankly, we aren't that much different.

The second thing with noting in this conversation is that the Good News is shared with both congregations, no matter the result. Ezra doesn't know how the reading of the law will end, but he reads it anyway. Jesus probably knows how his experience in Nazareth will end, but he tells them his mission anyway. The seed is scattered with reckless abandon, and that, my friends is good news. Even if we think we're fat and happy, most of us are oppressed by something; addiction, pride, envy, whatever. All of us need the good news of freedom from our oppression. And so, despite the fact that it might take days, weeks, month, or years to really hear it, Jesus enters, opens the scroll and says, "today the Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

January 19, 2010


In the most recent edition of the Virginia Seminary Journal there is a wonderful article remembering the Rev. Dr. Charles Price on the 10th anniversary of his death. In it, the author, a former student, recounted Price's early work around the concept of Anamnesis. Anamnesis is a fancy church word that is transliterated from its original Greek. It is often translated as "to remember" or "to reminisce" but more literally it means "the loss of forgetfulness."

Kind of beautiful if you ask me, the act of forgetting to forget. In the Church we call the instruction from Jesus to "do this in remembrance of me" during the Eucharist the moment of Anamnesis, but in reality we have these moments all the time. Every morning when I wake up I have an Anamnesis moment as I lose my forgetfulness of God and remember that he is in control.

The people of Israel had these moments over and over again. The most important thing; that which God could not stress enough as they prepared to enter the promise land was to REMEMBER. Don't forget, because if you forget, you die.

But they forgot. And then they remembered. And then they forgot again. And then they remembered again. It was a long cycle, a portion of which we hear in the OT lesson for Sunday. The people ruled by Artaxerxes of the Persian Empire were living in a destroyed Jerusalem. The glory of their God was dim, and they forgot. It was easy to forget. But Nehemiah brought Anamnesis. He helped them rebuild their city. In our lesson for today, he helped them hear the Law and its interpretation so that they might remember whose they were.

Remembering is an important work. There is perhaps no more devious work of the devil than to make us forget, again, that we are beloved children of God. This day, I pray that you remember his love for you, remember his call for you, and remember his joy in you. Amen.

January 18, 2010

Readings for Epiphany 3C

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Luke 4:14-21

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

January 17, 2010

Sermon for Epiphany 2C/Haitian Earthquake

The preaching landscape changed drastically this week as the world changed at 4:53pm on Tuesday, January 12th. As you've no doubt heard and seen over the past several days, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck just 10 miles south and west of Haiti's capital city, Port au Prince. Devestation of this magnitude is unfortunately matched in our collective memory by events like the Christmas Tsunami of 2004 and Hurricane Katrina a year later. Natural disaster like these literally change the world. Earthquakes move the ground so drastically that the earth spins differently on its axis. Hurricanes, as you know, move sand and water and create new beaches while destroying old ones. And when these events happen, they change the way we look at God. This week is a prime example. In just a few seconds the outpouring of God's extravagance in Jesus turning 180 gallons of water into wine becomes a source of discomfort as we ponder why he wouldn't use his energy to maybe stop earthquakes or lift the people out of poverty and substandard construction. How ridiculous is it that the first sign Jesus performs in John's Gospel, the one that solidifies the belief of his disciples revolves around Jesus making enough wine to keep a week long bender going for a while longer?
It is just hard to wrap our minds around such ridiculous extravagance, especially in the light of extreme need, horrific images of death and destruction, and knowing that so often it is the most vulnerable, those who God promises to protect; widows, orphans, prisoners, the poor- it is these people who are affected the most severely by events like the Haiti earthquake. Our savior whipping up some flashy magic to turn water into wine is, quite frankly, a little bit off-putting five days after a major humanitarian crisis. But even in the midst of our discomfort, there are words of hope. Even in a story that makes no sense today, there is wisdom.
The first of these lights shining in darkness comes from the lips of Mary. We have no idea why she is at this party and know even less about why she cares so much that the banquet has run out of wine, but she approaches her son, who she knows to be special, and let's him know of the unfortunate situation. Unsure as to why the wine issue affects him, Jesus dismisses his mother's worry, and then, as she walks away, she mutters something to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” And they do. They take the six jars and fill them with water. They take a glassful out and take it to the chief steward. They do what he says even though it makes on sense, and it pays off; the party can continue. As a story, Mary's direction keeps it moving, but as Scripture, Mary's suggestion to “do whatever he says” speaks to us strongly today. Aid organizations all over the world have snapped into gear and planes filled with doctors, nurses, medicines, heavy equipment, search and rescue teams, and myriad other specialty items are flying into Haiti around the clock. All of this, from the planes that carry cargo to the people who help to the ibuprofen they carry costs money. A lot of money. It also requires people skilled in many areas from search and rescue to demolition to medicine. And as the transition from search and rescue transitions to the recovery of bodies and ultimately to rebuilding, the third world country of Haiti will need support from the whole world to keep another earthquake from resulting in the same sort of catastrophe again. Maybe Mary's word to the servants is a word for us. “Do whatever he says.” Many of you know what it is like to have your world change in an instant. Hurricanes Frederick, Katrina, and Ivan are not that far removed from us. Many of you know what it is to receive help from total strangers. And all of us know the abundance of living in freedom in the first of first-world nations. What is Jesus calling you to do today? Will you listen to Mary and do whatever he tells you even if it seems impossibly hard to do?
The second light shining in our Gospel lesson for today will comfort us as the shock begins to fade and the question “why” floods our minds. Why God did people who already have so little have to suffer this way? Why do bad things happen? Why don't you stop the earth from shaking, the wind from blowing, the fires from spreading? Why? This is the age old question of theodicy. Why does God intervene sometimes, like at the wedding banquet, and not others, like the 30,000 children who die each day from completely preventable things like Malaria, AIDS, and hunger? The answer, such as it is, comes to us this morning in the words of the chief steward, “most people serve the best first, but you have saved the best for last.”
Honestly, there is no good answer to the question, why? We don't and can't know the mind of God. We don't and can't know why God does some things and doesn't do others. Quite frankly, the answers that we do get are either trite and leave us feeling empty or unfounded and leave us feeling angry. All we can really know is the hope expressed by the chief steward at the wedding banquet, the best is yet to come. God's plan, messy as it may be in the short term due to our constantly getting in the way, is perfect in the long term, and will be fulfilled someday, but for now we have to rest in the hope that “the best is yet to come.”
Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and people from all over the United States will spend time volunteering to honor the Reverend Doctor's legacy. Long before that legacy was solidified Dr. King expressed the hope of the chief steward that resounds with me today. In 1961 the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood before the Fourth Constitutional Convention of the AFL-CIO as a man hopeful against seemingly insurmountable odds. The Civil Right's Act was still years away. Racial tensions were running hot, and there was very little in the way of hope for change. And yet, in front of a group of mostly white, secular leaders, Dr. King proclaimed with boldness, “I am convinced that we shall overcome because the arc of the universe is long bit it bends toward justice.” Sometimes that arc bent toward justice takes the form of a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in the third world in order to shock those of us first-worlders into some sort of action. Sometimes that arc toward justice means that the wine has to run out, the water jugs for hand washing have to be empty, all hope has to seem lost, and people have to spring into action knowing only that "the best is yet to come."
The fact that Jesus' first miracle was turning water into wine is, without a doubt, extravagant. As images of body-lined streets fill our television sets we long for Jesus to intervene here and now. What we have to recognize is that Jesus is active in the streets of Port au Prince; in the form of doctors without borders, in the form of now homeless people picking through rubble to find complete strangers, in the form of a $10 donation to the Red Cross that somebody sent by text message. Mary's advice to "do whatever he says" didn't stop with the wedding servants in Cana, but continues to speak to us today. The chief stewards proclamation the best is yet to come may seem foolish on a day like today, but it is no less true now than it was 2000 years ago.
The arc of the universe bends toward justice, and that wedding banquet in Cana was a sign for us of things to come. The day when the banquet never ends, when there is justice and peace on the earth, and when the pots once used for hand washing are replaced by the fullness of God's unending goodness. My friends, pray for the people of Haiti, listen to Jesus' and "do whatever he says" and live in the hope that the best is yet to come. Amen.

January 14, 2010


I'm thinking that preaching this week changed at 4:53 pm on January 12th. All of a sudden we are reminded at how rediculous it is that the first sign performed by the savior of the world was turning water into wine so that the drunk could stay that way at a wedding banquet. If we described it as God's extravagance on Monday, by the time the sun came up on Wednesday it is was more like foolishness.

Events like the Port au Prince earthquake, like the Christmas Tsunami of 2004, like Hurricane Katrina leave us asking God, "why?" And leave preachers with the need to address the concerns and anger of their own congregations (and often of their own).

So today, as I put to paper what has been floating around my head the past few days, I'm thinking there are two key points in the text.
1- Mary's statement "do whatever he says" isn't directed only at the servants of the banquet, but to us as well.
2- The chief stewards claim that the best was saved for last isn't directed only at the bride-groom but at every person who has ever suffered loss, every person who has watched buildings collapse, every person who has wondered, "why, God, why?"

Ultimately, I am reminded of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who in 1961 at a meeting of the AFL-CIO boldly claimed that "the arc of the universe is long, but it is bent toward justice." And sometimes, it seems, that justice takes the form of a 7.0 earthquake shocking the people of the 1st world into action on behalf of the people of the 3rd.

Was it extravagance? Was it foolishness? Or maybe it was a sign of things to come, a banquet that will never end, a world of justice and peace in which the need to wash hands is replaced by the ability to enjoy God's goodness.

Pray for the people of Haiti, donate to ERD or the Red Cross or whatever aid organization you support, and remember that justice will prevail, someday, and hopefully soon.

January 12, 2010


I can't find it in Twitter, but a year or more ago there was a trend around writing your 140 character statement of faith; it was called "Twitter of Faith." Mine was something like, "God's throwing a party and you are invited, and the best is yet to come!"

Something like that anyway, twitter needs to find a way to search your own tweets.

Anyway, I based part of that #tof on the gospel text for Sunday, the Wedding at Cana, because i find there is a universal truth in the amazement of the chief steward. We expect things to get worse, but they always get better. God's plan may be slow and methodical, it may mean running out of wine from time to time, but it always arcs toward perfection. And every time we notice something better in the water jugs, we are amazed, and amazed is the perfect response.

Here's hoping that this week we find those places where God's pouring the good stuff, and that we are amazed.

January 11, 2010


The Vestry of St. Paul's gathered on Saturday morning along the beautiful banks of the Magnolia River with a fire in the fireplace and scones on the table to pray, listen, reflect, and dream. And, for the third year in a row, the Holy Spirit showed up with vigor pointing us in the direction that God would have us go. When 10 people go off to pray as individuals and then at least 5 of them return and share a vision that is almost exactly the same, it isn't funny, it is awesome.

I believe that 2010 will mark the transition of St. Paul's from a Church to a community of faith. Together we will make the change from clerical driven organization to a laity empowered to do the work that God has called us to do. And I believe that transition begins this week. The Wedding at Cana is a fun story, but the famous gifts passage from 1 Corinthians 12 is what we need to hear. If we are going to begin the works of shared ministry from age 2 to 92 then we have to take seriously that God gives each of us gifts for the building of his Kingdom. And we have to recognize that all of us have gaps in which we are not gifted. The key is finding those gifts and those gaps and as a body of believers building a unified structure where my gift bridges your gap. Keith and I have that relationship, and now begins the process of modelling it to the rest of St. Paul's.

I'm excited beyond words for what God has in store in 2010. I think generations will look back on this year as one of not just renewal, but the time when St. Paul's became a flagship Parish, shining the light of the nations for all the world to see. Grab a cup of coffee and get ready because the Spirit is at work and the ride is going to be amazing.

Readings for Epiphany 2C

Isaiah 62:1-5
Psalm 36:5-10
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
John 2:1-11

Almighty God, who Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

January 7, 2010

Where does it come from?

This weekend, when we pray that everyone who has been baptized in the name of Jesus might "keep the covenant they have made" we need to be clear about where the ability to keep the covenant comes from.

It seems obvious to me that if we are praying for something, we don't think we can do it on our own, and in this case we would be absolutely right. It is by the Spirit who dwells in our hearts and speaks to our souls that we are able to do anything good. And it is for the Spirit that we pray. That the Spirit might have the room and the time and that we might get the heck out of the way for long enough so She might do her work.

Having a rule of life is one thing, but there is a reason why Peter and John laid hands on the Samarians - they needed the Spirit to carry them through. May you have that Spirit this day and for ever more.

January 6, 2010

Do not fear, for I am with you.

The Old Testament lesson for Sunday is profoundly hopeful. I mean, ridiculously hopeful. Almost dangerously hopeful. Like, snake handlingly hopeful.

"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you."

God's promises include some really amazing things; things which the vast majority of Christians would recommend you do not take God up on, but the central premise which makes up the title of this post remains sound: Do not fear, for God is with you.

It is the word on the lips of the angels who visit the various characters of the Christmas story and it is the word of the prophet Isaiah. Do not fear. Don't be afraid. Yes, life is going to be tough and messy and sad, but God will be there and though he probably won't take it all away, he will be alongside you.

Rob Bell says that the most powerful sermon ever written contains only two words, "me too." God, in the incarnation, and by his promises says, "me too," and reminds us - Do not fear.

January 5, 2010

Keep the Covenant

In recent years, I've noticed a trend toward Rules of Life. I guess it goes to that whole "follower of Jesus v. Christian" thing combined with the new monastic thing; people don't want to live as Christians, they want to follow a "rule of life." However one goes about changing their way of living from self-centered to God-focused is really fine by me; you wanna live the Bible literally? Great. Want a rule of life as a third order Franciscan? Awesome.

But as is the case with a lot of this new, up-and-coming stuff - none of this is new. As Episcopalians, we have had rules of life in various forms over the centuries; usually surrounding the promises made at baptism. Its current incarnation, the 1979 Book of Common Prayer's Baptismal Covenant is part of the rule of life that I have subscribed to, and it is that which we pray for the strength to follow in this Sunday's Collect. May we have the strength to answer these questions.

Do you believe in God the Father?
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

I do, and I will with God's help.

Readings for Epiphany 1, Year C

Isaiah 43:1-7
Psalm 29
Acts 8:14-17
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized in to his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Christmas 2C, five15

I love Christmas. I love the music, the time with family, the movies, the presents, the food, the candle-lit services, Luke's Christmas story. I love it all. I think the church should change its liturgical calendar to put Advent in November and make Christmas run from the Sunday after Thanksgiving through January 6th. It'll never happen, but that is how much I love Christmas.

But as a preacher, now matter how much I personally love Christmas, I struggle with it. A lot. I struggle because, for me, every time we gather to worship we have to ask the question, "so what?" And as hard as I try, I can't wrap my mind around the "so what" of Christmas. I get the "so what" of Easter; right, Jesus in his resurrection defeats death so that we might have eternal life. I get that, but Christmas, Jesus born of a virgin I just can't do it. If we left the real world and escaped to the ivory tower of academia we could play around with the theology of Christmas and how without the Incarnation nothing else works, but as much fun as that might be, it still leaves me feeling empty.

So tonight, I really want us to get to the "so what" of Christmas. As we prepare for this entirely too short of a season to come to an end, I want us to do so knowing why the Church celebrates it at all. And to do so, I think we have to leave the quaint nativity scene narrative of Luke and get poetic with John. So join me in John's first chapter as we read his beautiful prologue.

Read John 1

OK, how do we get from the great, albeit ethereal poetry, to the nitty gritty "so what?"

I think we do so by jumping right into the middle of it and noticing the posture of John the Baptist.

Bring up slide of John 1.6-8

John the Baptist came before Jesus to testify to him. What does it mean to testify to something?

The same Greek word that means testify is also witness and it is used by John as both a noun and a verb in this prologue. For John, John the Baptist is John the Witness whose only job was to point to the one who would come to show God to the world.

Bring up slide of Matthias Grunewald's Crucifixion.

This painting by Matthias Grunewald is perhaps the best representation of who John the Witness is in the prologue to John's Gospel. He is pointing almost in a cartoonish way, his pointer finger is so extreme, pointing only to Jesus. And this, I think, is the "so what" of Christmas: that in a dramatically unspectacular way, born in a manger in small town Palestine the God of the universe was born and from the shepherds, through to John and beyond it is the task of his followers to point to him, to make him known.

The gospel message and the larger story of salvation do not go forward from Christmas to Jesus' teaching through the cross to the resurrection without countless witnesses throughout the ages pointing only to Jesus.

Bring up slide of girl pointing to Jesus.

Practically speaking, however, this job is no longer lived out by John the Witness, but instead has to be kept alive by you and by me. And we do so by following the example of John and pointing to the light. We point toward the bright spots in God's good world rather than always finding the darkness and messiness. We point to the ways in which God's work of renewal is moving forward rather than focusing on the gloomy spots. We remember always that we are not the light, but we have the great and wonderful responsibility of pointing to it.

For me, the "so what" of Christmas is that God came to earth in a really mundane, almost hidden, sort of way, and in so doing, gives each of us the chance to point to his light and goodness. May we be empowered this Christmas season to stretch out our pointer finger and get to the work of showing the world that Jesus is alive and ready to restore the world. Amen.