January 31, 2011

A Day in the Life

On Monday, January the 24th I celebrated the third anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. It has been a wild ride over these past 3+ years of ordained ministry. I've chronicled a couple of those wild days here and here.

I decided that the third anniversary of my priesting was a good a day as any chronicle my exploits, so here goes.

As always, I was running 5 minutes behind schedule in the morning, so while I strive to arrive in the office, my day almost always begins, in earnest, at 8:05am.

8:05am - The parish secretary is finishing up our monthly sering rota and needs me to choose lessons, where applicable, for the Sundays and Wednesdays I'm preaching. I oblige.

8:20am - Download Sunday's sermon recording from the digital voice recorder, make sure there aren't huge gaps of silence, then upload to our podcast hosting site.

9:00am - Arrive at Wal*Mart to buy a new hand mixer for the parish kitchen. I helped break the old one back in November, and kept forgetting to replace it. OOOPS. New one is secured.

9:15am - Swing by McDonald's in Gulf Shores for a cup of coffee.

9:30am - Make several pastoral calls from the parking lot.

10:00am - My neighbor serves as the head of the Business Support Center in Gulf Shores. They are striving to help small business owners affected by the Oil Spill and its aftermath. He and I gather to talk about how St. Paul's and ER-D can help make life a little easier for the thousands still not "made whole."

10:30am - Back to Foley, USA, to meet the family at Chik-fil-a.

10:40am - More pastoral calls from a parking lot.

10:51am - Reach out to a high-church friend via Facebook regarding offering a mass in someone's memory.

11:00am - An early and fun lunch with my two favorite ladies.

11:52am - Hit the road to Magnolia Springs Baptist Church to attend the funeral of a parishioner's father. I sat with my Rector and our friend, Dr. J. Good conversation while we waited. Between our two churches, 14 people have died in the last several weeks. We ended up standing in the "narthex" for the service as the church was overflowing and it didn't seem right for the guy in the collar to sit while the guy with a cane stood right beside him. Best part of the service? The homily ended with "War Eagle."

1:50pm - Back in the office for a flurry of activity: catching up on email, blogging, printing out the readings for Wednesday's service, and thanks to Father Matt in NJ, finding and printing a Mass Card for the Wednesday Mass with Special Intentions. (I wore a chausible that day, those who know me and what that means, all two of you, will find that funny.)

2:30pm - Back in the car to see my shrink. She's very ADHD, which I find frustrating at times, but she is very good.

4:00pm - The day started 5 minutes late and ended 30 minutes early, and I don't care. I used to care, but know I know, I'll give those 35 minutes back at some point.

on a lampstand

This season of Epiphany, our call to worship at five15 is Matthew five15, which happens to be a part of the gospel lesson for this weekend.

"No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house."

Yet how many of us work really hard to hide our lamp under a basket? How many of us ignore the light that is within us because we are embarrassed, afraid, or self-conscious? How many of us hide our lamp in the name of humility and/or anonymity?

Surely there is the possibility that showing your light could lead to some less desirable personal pride issues, but if we didn't do things for fear that they would lead to pride, most of us would never accomplish anything.

This week, as I begin to ponder the direction of my sermon, I'm thinking about the reasons why we *don't* do things when it seems clear that God desires that we work alongside him.

Let your light so shine before others that they might see your good works AND glorify your Father who is in heaven.

January 29, 2011

A House United

As chairman of the board for the South Baldwin Chamber Foundation, I had the chance to speak at the annual Chamber Gala last night. Here's the text, for those who might be interested.

Good Evening. Thank you Donna for that lovely introduction. As Donna said, my name is Steve Pankey and I currently serve as chairman for the board of directors of the South Baldwin Chamber Foundation. I'd like to begin my remarks this evening by thanking each of you for your generosity of time and money to help make the South Baldwin Chamber Foundation the preeminent education foundation in Baldwin County. Please give yourselves a round of applause.
The entire staff at the South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce deserves our thanks for the successes of the Chamber Foundation, but two women need to be highlighted. Mrs. Jeannette Lawrence, Director of Development and Mrs. Terry Burkle, Vice President of the Chamber Foundation. Please join me in thanking them. Because of their hard work in a down economy with unprecedented stresses, the Foundation maintained the many programs focus on enrichment, leadership development, dropout prevention, drug prevention, and parental involvement.
We are blessed to have a board that is engaged and excited about the work of the Foundation. Would the members of the Board please stand up? Please help me thank these board members for volunteering their time and talents to the Chamber Foundation.
While everyone works together to make this Foundation great, there is one member who deserves an extra special thanks, our outgoing Chair-woman, Lolly Holk. Lolly, would you please join me here on stage? Lolly has been a tremendous asset to the board since 2005 and has demonstrated great leadership, knowledge, compassion, and commitment; serving not just one but two consecutive terms as chair. In my two years on the Board, she has taken me under her wing and taught me the ins and outs of education in the Foley Feeder Pattern, and I am proud to consider her among my list of friends. Please join me in thanking our outgoing Chair-woman, Mrs. Lolly Holk.
Now, as most of you know, I am a preacher. So if you give me a podium and a microphone, preaching just happens, and in order to preach, I need a text. As I reflect on the accomplishments of the Foundation in 2010, I'm drawn to Mark's Gospel and the line immortalized in this part of the country on more license plates than I could have ever imagined, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” For too long the state of education in Baldwin County has been one of a house divided. The folks on the Eastern Shore and along the Gulf have been thankful they aren't from Foley and the folks from Foley thank God they aren't from Central or North Baldwin, and our rural communities have developed a well deserved chip on their shoulder. It lead to a mess of monumental proportions as the house divided threatened to collapse upon itself.
That all changed in late 2009 and 2010 as our Foundation played an instrumental role in the formation of the Baldwin County Education Coalition, a collaboration of seven local enrichment foundations that together serve every Baldwin County student. The Coalition’s successes include:
Successfully lobbying the Baldwin County Board of Eduction to proform a national search for a new superintendent
Served as the steering committee behind the successful emergency one-cent sales tax referendum to support Baldwin County Public Schools.
The mission of the Baldwin County Education Coalition is to engage community stakeholders in public educaiton and to advocate with one voice for the success of every child in Baldwin County. Synonymous with that mission is the Coalitions current project, YES WE CAN BALDWIN COUNTY, a community engagement model involving citizens in education reform with proven success in communities all across Alabama and resulting in a co-owned comprehensive strategic plan.
Through the leadership and vision of the South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber Foundation was established to focus on education enrichment, leadership development, and community betterment. In 2011 as we stand at the advent of a new vision, seeking to make education THE top priority for local, state, and federal leaders, Baldwin County stands as a house united, established on the truth that education is the foundation to a sustainable and resilient community. Thank you in advance for your continued support.

January 26, 2011

do justice, love kindness, walk humbly

I'm thinking a lot this week about timeline. Are you blessed because you are poor in spirit or are you blessed to be poor in spirit or are you blessed so that you can handle being poor in spirit?

Does God require doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly in that order? Or can I walk humbly first and then love kindness and do justice?

Pride is A#1 on my list of recurring deadly sins. I struggle with it every single day personally and professionally. It usually takes the form of envy, but often I'm thinking more of myself than I ought (eg. "If only they would listen to me...") As I reflect on the requirements of God as laid out in Micah 6:8 in light of my own prideful nature, I think that it would be really hard to walk humbly with God if I was already doing justice and loving kindness all the time.

In the words of the great Meatloaf, "two out of three ain't bad."

But in reality, two out of three is only a 66% and, at least in the house I grew up in, a D was a lot worse than "ain't bad."

So can I work on humility first and then look for works of justice and kindness to love? Probably. This is probably less a prescriptive timeline than it is a cycle of life. If you are walking humbly with God, you are doing justice and loving kindness out of habit and humility, and when that pride monster starts to sneak up on you, the works of justice and loving of kindness morphs into works of self-congratulation and the love of accolades, which, as far as I can tell, the Lord doth not require.

I guess I'll get back to work on the humility thing because 0 out of 3 ain't an option.

January 25, 2011

a tough choice

There are two great lessons to choose from for Sunday (no offense, Paul), and the decision of which to choose is going to be a difficult one for the preacher.

Do you go with the prophet Micah and his oft quoted line (6.8) - "He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"

Or to you rock Matthew's spiritualized beatitudes?
  • poor in spirit
  • hunger and thirst for righteousness
  • etc. etc. etc.

Both are good options. One speaks to comfort the disturbed, the other to disturb the comfortable. One calls us to look deeply at ourselves and how we approach the throne of God, the other calls us to patience and perseverance.

TKT and I attended a funeral yesterday. We celebrated the life of the father of one of our parishioners; one of Foley's big men. The local Presbyterian Pastor was there too. Between our two churches, our memberships have suffered 15 deaths in the last 3 weeks. It is tough time for a lot of folks, and so maybe we need to comfort the afflicted this week.

But Micah 6.8 is so good, and maybe the preacher can start earlier in the text, "With what shall I come before the LORD?" What happens when we come with nothing: empty, broken, lost?

It is a tough choice this week. What will you choose?

January 24, 2011

Sermon for Epiphany 3A

You can listen to it here.

I watch a lot of TV. Not my best quality, to be sure, but if its the worst thing somebody can say about me, I'm OK with that. I justify it, occasionally, by saying that my vocation requires it. As a priest I have to be up on current events and know where the culture is headed. So, I watch a lot of TV. I will watch it for at least six straight hours this afternoon cheering on the team of my youth, the Chicago Bears, and the team I chose by marriage, the Pittsburgh Steelers. A Steelers/Bears Super Bowl will kill me, but that is not for us to discuss this morning.
I brought up Television in order to share with you one of the directions in which our culture seems to be headed. If you've turned on prime-time network television or tuned into HGTV, VH1, MTV, Food Network, the Travel Channel, or countless other cable stations in recent years, you'll know that our airwaves are filled with quote, “Reality Shows.” American Idol, So You Think you Can Dance, Minute to Win It, Spice My Kitchen, the Bachelor, 16 and Pregnant, Celebrity Fit Club, the list goes on and on. Currently, 24% of the Monday through Friday prime-time slots on the four major networks are filled with “Reality Television” and that makes me sad. Not for any high and lofty reasons. Not because of what these shows say about America, though in most cases these shows are very sad. I'm sad about reality television because I love the good old-fashioned situation comedy. I grew up on Cheers and the Cosby Show, Family Ties, and Charles in Charge. I know the characters. I've laughed with their live studio audiences. I cried with 8 Simple Rules for Dating my Teenage Daughter when John Ritter died unexpectedly. And above all else, I love their silly cliches. Two characters locked in a basement, great! The wedding where nothing can go right, hilarious! I'll even put up with a clip episode every few seasons because, to me, it feels like looking through a scrapbook with old friends.
One of the all-time classic sitcom cliches is the “relationship moving too fast.” It is great because both male and female characters can get caught up in it, and the absurdity of pronouncing love, planning wedding locations, and naming children on a first date strikes a cord in all of us as we remember just how scary those first few moments of a new relationship can be. That's what makes those cliches work so well, we can all relate to them in some small way.
Take, for example, this morning's Gospel lesson. It is ripe with the “relationship moving too fast” cliché. The passage opens with Jesus hearing of the arrest of his cousin and friend John the Baptist, and feeling the heat in his adopted hometown of Nazareth, he decides to pick up his mat and move 90 miles north and east to the northern coast of the Sea of Galilee. He has just barely settled into the tiny little burg of Capernaum when, while taking a walk along the shoreline, he runs into two guys, Simon and Andrew who were hard at work. He calls across the water to them and says, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” Awkward! He's picking out nursery colors before these guys have even ordered their salad. A classic example of the moving too fast cliche. Except Matthew tells us that they immediately left their nets and followed him. A little further up the coast, Jesus sees two more guys, another set of brothers, James and John. Again these two guys are hard at work, mending the nets and preparing for another days work in the cut-throat Galilean fishing industry. Jesus hollers out to them, and Matthew again says that they “immediately” left everything behind to follow him. Contrary to my rather long-winded and somewhat self-indulgent introduction to this sermon, this scene from Matthew's gospel doesn't have near the humor of the “moving to fast” awkward dinner scenes of Scrubs or How I Met Your Mother.
So what gives? Why is it that Simon, Andrew, James, and John are willing to drop everything and follow a man who is clearly pushing the speed limits of proper Rabbi/Disciple etiquette? The astute listener out there will recall that last Sunday we heard a very similar story. The characters last week included Andrew, an unnamed disciple of John the Baptist, and Simon, Andrew's brother. The scene ended with Jesus telling Simon that he would be called Cephas (which is translated Peter). Then this morning we hear of Andrew, Simon (who is called Peter), James, and John dropping everything and following Jesus. Maybe Jesus isn't moving that quickly after all. Maybe the stories from John and Matthew aren't two versions of the same story, but two separate events in the life and ministry of Jesus. As Keith pointed out during Lectionary Study on Tuesday, Matthew says that Simon is already being called Peter.
Maybe these guys knew each other already. Maybe Andrew has already spent an afternoon, an evening, and a morning with Jesus. Maybe he already knew what Jesus was all about and had already run to find his brother, first-thing, to share the good news that he had found the Messiah. Maybe Jesus had already looked into Simon's soul and heard his cries of desperation, loneliness, and fear. Maybe he had already ordained him with a new identity; no longer was God to hear Simon's cries, now he would be the rock upon which the church would be established. Maybe all of that had taken place before Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness. Maybe the unnamed disciple of John the Baptist was, as many scholars suspect, John the brother of James and Son of Zebedee. Maybe.
Maybe all of those past events were running through the minds of Andrew, Simon Peter, James and John as they strained to see the lanky figure on the shoreline, thinking that maybe this time it was finally Jesus coming back to see them. The text doesn't give us much to work with, and most of this comes from the fact that Simon is already called Peter in Matthew's story, but it works for me, and I hope it works for you. It is helpful to me that Jesus isn't moving the relationship along too quickly in classic sitcom cliché. Becaue it took me a long time to drop my net and follow, and maybe Jesus is doing what he does with every disciple he comes to meet.
When did you meet Jesus for the first time? Was it at a Vacation Bible School? A church summer camp? A Good Friday service? Was it in the eyes of your grandmother? The hands of your Father? The warmth of your mother's spirit? Was it at a Cursillo Weekend? Or Promise Keepers? Or a Beth Moore Bible Study?
What did Jesus say to you when you first encountered him? Did he put you to work? Or did he simply let you come to grips with your new reality as a beloved child of God? Did he ask you to be a light to the nations? Or did he give you some time to get to know him a little better?
I got to know Jesus over the course of a decade and a half in Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, serving at the altar, in youth groups, on ski trips, and service projects. When I was 17 years old, he began to call me toward a new way of living, one that sought out his will and not my own, but at 17, I didn't really know what that looked like. Eventually, though, he came to me and said, “now is the time for you to really get to work.” For me, that work looked like two years of discernment, three years of seminary, and full-time ordained ministry. I wonder what that work looks like for you? Raising children in the knowledge and love of the Lord? Serving on the vestry or on boards for other non-profits? Baking pies and cakes and muffins and cooking fudge to raise funds to give away in the service of others? Running 13.1 miles to help dig a well and offer clean water to a village in Africa? Teaching the youngest and neediest in our community that somebody loves them and that knowing their abc's will serve them well in life? What has God been calling you to do?
Over the course of his three years with Andrew, Simon, James, and John, Jesus changed their job descriptions. They went from fishers of people to preachers and teachers to faith healers. Ultimately they became apostles and martyrs, all for the sake of the one who met them, got to know them, and then called them to his service. Someday, not today nor any time soon, but someday, God will walk down Pine Street and call up to my office and say, “It is time to drop your nets, I've got a new job for you.” And the same goes for each of you as well. The jobs to which God calls you will change and develop over the course of a lifetime walking with him. Some ministries will thrive and flourish. Others, well, as Jim Cutright said of our Men's Coffee group “sometimes things just run their course and need to die.”
Rest assured that God is not a character in a sitcom, moving your relationship along too quickly. If he's put something on your heart, if he's called you by name and shown you what the fruit of your labors is going to look like, then he will give you whatever you need to accomplish it. The only thing left to do then is to follow the example of Andrew and Simon, James and John and immediately drop what you are doing to follow his call. Unlike most sitcom endings, you won't be disappointed, I guarantee it. Amen.

January 20, 2011


I think all fears are related to a universal fear of the dark. We fear the unknown. We fear the dangerous. The fear loss. We fear evil. Everything we fear is darkness.

Except, of course, that many of us also maintain a fear of the light as well.

We fear that the light will shine on our infirmities. We fear that the light will show our weaknesses. We fear that the light will take away the ugly stuff that we rather like.

The Psalmist exclaims with joy, "The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?"

And yet we keep fearing the very light that longs to save us.

How do we get out of our own way and rejoice in God's light and salvation? For the Psalmist, it seem that he finds solace in the LORD because all around him is an enemy pressing in, all around him is fear and darkness, and so he has no choice but to rejoice in the light.

And maybe that's our problem. We don't see darkness as an enemy, but as a hiding place. We don't have the immediacy of the Psalmists fears, and so we fear the light instead. We are so comfortable in the darkness that the light has become the unknown, dangerous place that threatens to take away everything we know.

But that is, of course, a lie. It is the darkness that threatens us, not the light. The light is our salvation. I pray that you have the courage to escape the falsified comfort of darkness in order to rejoice in the life giving light.

January 19, 2011

normal people

What is normal?

It is a question that I end up dealing with a lot in my vocation. People just want to be normal. They want the cancer to go away. They want their husband to be alive again. They want the church to do what the church has always done. They want their pension to be vested and paid. They just want life to be normal, and when it isn't, they can't wait for life to get back to normal.

So, then, what is normal?

Commentators seem to be convinced that Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John were normal. Four guys who made a living fishing on the northern coast of the Sea of Galilee - just normal, everyday folk.

What made them so normal? They had to work for a living? They had to pay taxes and tolls and other sundry fees that made now sense? They went to Synagogue with some regularity? They gave away some of their money to charities that aligned with their philosophies and carried good rating from the Better Business Bureau? They were married? They had kids? What made them so normal?

I think we get a key into their potent normalcy in the story about Jesus' move from Nazareth to Capernaum. Essentially, Jesus moved from Daphne to Stockton (or Millersville to Pequea for my Lankie friends, there isn't a good NOVA analogy, but maybe Haymarket to Luray comes close). He's gone from rural to the boonies, and Matthew says it is because the prophet Isaiah said, "those who have sat in darkness have seen a great light."

Maybe what makes Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John so normal is that they too have sat in darkness. I know I have. I bet you have too. Maybe the sophisticates of Daphne, Stockton, Haymarket and Nazareth won't admit it, but the work-a-day people of Capernaum, Stockton, Pequea and Luray know what its like to have a crop fail, a fish kill, or a flash flood. The closer one lives to the earth, the more likely one is, I think, to admit that sometimes the world is very,very dark. Even though we all know it because we've all experienced it.

Are you normal? Well I guess it depends. Have you ever had to sit in darkness? If so, I'm guessing you are normal. If you haven't, well then you are probably still normal, you're just a liar. The good news for all of us normal folks is that a light is shining, and the darkness will not overcome it.

January 18, 2011

What is your calling?

The picture on the right comes from the front page of the website of the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey. I graduated from seminary with all five of these fine priests, and not one of them is from, nor, I think, serves in New Jersey.

Five youngish, though by Episcopal Church picture taking standards, awfully white, priests used to convince you that maybe the priesthood is right for you. An interesting use of someone else's photograph, and part of what is wrong with the way we talk about call and ministry in the church.

Meaghan, the young woman on the right, and I were featured in a 2006 picture about young adults at General Convention. The article talked about the various sorts of young people who had showed up in Columbus, OH for the 10-day national gathering of the Episcopal Church, but then gave a full quarter page picture to two young adults who happened to be studying for ordination. Whether they tried to or not, they showed our track to be special, and the others, the lay folk who had paid their own way to come and learn more about their church, well they were just, sort of, there.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul rejoices that he had only baptized a few of the believers there. He notes that he was called not to baptize but to proclaim the gospel. As a priest in the Church, I might be called (at least partly) to baptize, but we are all called to proclaim the gospel "not with eloquent wisdom," but with the words we know and understand. This Sunday we will pray for the grace needed to readily answer God's call in our lives, and so, good looking youngish priests aside, what is God calling you to do? How is God calling you to serve? What word has God given you to share? What is your calling?

January 17, 2011

darkness and light

With special thanks to my high-school prom date, JD, I offer you this quote from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on this the 25th anniversary of MLK Jr. Day.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction ... The chain reaction of evil--hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars -- must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation."

I'm struck this afternoon by the lessons for Sunday from Isaiah and Matthew with the promise of restoration for those who have walked in darkness, "they have seen a great light." I'm struck by Paul's admonition to the church in Corinth that they "be united in the same mind and vision." I'm struck by the assurance and the delight of the Psalmist who declares "The Lord is my light and salvation, whom then shall I fear?"

As we struggle to live in a world of increasing violence, ugly rhetoric, and international discord, I wonder if much has changed since Dr. King spoke the above words in 1963. It feels like we are at a point where the arc of the universe, bent toward justice, is really, really flat. It feels like the dark abyss of annihilation is looming ever closer.

I wonder if we are taking seriously the command of God to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with Him?

Sermons for this coming Sunday will deal with light and darkness. They will deal with repentance and the kingdom. They will talk about evangelism. But how seriously will preachers engage these issues? Will they take them seriously? Or will they fill their pulpits with platitudes and cheap grace? It is a tough Sunday to preach, my friends. Come Holy Spirit.

January 13, 2011

for what reason?

John the baptist says that he came, baptizing with water, for one very specific reason, "that [the lamb of God] might be revealed to Israel."

That has me thinking this morning. Isn't that the reason any Christian does anything?

Or, shouldn't it be?

In my vocation, it is easy to say, I do this so that Christ can be known. I'm a preacher, it is what I do. But contrary to popular opinion the task of revealing Jesus isn't reserved for clergy, missionaries, and the occasional baptist. Nope, we are all called to reveal Jesus by what we do. Lawyers, tax collectors, sanitation engineers, baristas, taco truck drivers, hospital volunteers, retail sales staffers, etc. You name your career and it makes the list of "people who should reveal Jesus in their work."

You don't have to do it by beating people up with the Bible. You don't have to do it by handing out tracts or insisting people come to your church or by acting needy or by scare tactics, or whatever. You do it, quite simply, by seeking and serving the Christ in the other. Reveal the Jesus in them, don't flaunt the Jesus in you.

Respectful, careful, intentional, relational work reveals Jesus to the world. Slow down, take your time, and glorify God in what you do each and everyday. You will most certainly be rewarded.

January 12, 2011

x (which translated means y)

Three times in seven verses John translates a Hebrew word for his reader.

v. 38 "Rabbi (which translated means teacher)"

v. 41 "Messiah (which is translated Anointed)"
(or as the note in my study Bible says "Christ")

v. 42 "Cephas (which is translated Peter)"
(Again a note "From the word for rock in Aramaic (kepha) and Greek (petra)")

In Lectionary Group yesterday we pondered for a few moments this oddity, and it has stuck with me through this morning. I did a little digging at it looks like John uses two different words that the NRSV translates as "translates."

The first word is "methermeneuo." It is used in verses 38 and 41 and nowhere else in John. The second is "hermeneuo" and is used in v. 42 and also in 9:7 regarding the Pool of Siloam "(which means Sent)." A third word "lego" normally means "to speak" but is used by John in 20:16 to also indicate a translation from Hebrew/Aramaic into Greek.

From a quick and dirty study of John's Gospel, he chooses to translate: Rabbi, Messiah, Cephas, Siloam, and Rabbouni. Teacher, Christ, Peter, Sent, and Teacher. Interesting choices.

What I don't get is why he doesn't bother to translate Peter's original name, Simon (which is translated God has heard). If names have meaning, and they most certainly seem to in this portion of John's Gospel then is it safe to assume that Simon's situation before meeting Jesus was dire? Was Simon crying out to the Lord in the same way the Hebrew's cried out from bondage in Egypt? Was Andrew out following John without his brother because Simon had given up hope?

God does amazing things in peoples lives. To stretch our use of the word today, God translated Simon's cries in Peter rock. How does he translate you?

January 11, 2011

a lot of assumptions

The Prayer for The Second Sunday after the Epiphany seems to make a lot of assumptions that raise the bar high for any worshiping community that dares lift these words up to the heavens:

"Almighty God, whose 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, worshipped, 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."

How do we get from Jesus Christ being the light of the world to God's people being illumined by word and sacraments? It is that silly capitalization thing again. I swear, I'm going to write a book about these dang capital letters.

See the prayer doesn't actually say that we are illumined by word and sacrament, but instead by Word and Sacrament. And that, as you've come to know if you read this blog, makes a huge difference. It takes the onus off of you the worshiping member and me the preacher or worship leader and puts the challenge of illumination squarely on God's shoulders. Fortunately, I think he's big enough to carry the load, no matter how dull we might be in the beginning.

See the Word of God, co-eternal with the Father, is the one John talks about as "moving into the neighborhood." He's the one who lived, taught, died, and rose again that we might have a model for humanity and a savior through divinity. He is the light of life that shines in the darkness and, you'll recall, "the darkness does not overcome [this light]."

This Word is very much different than the word, be it printed in your Bible, a Prayer Book, or spoken by a preacher or a teacher. This Word is perfect, beyond the nitpick of historicity and without the threat of error or heresy. This Word is life abundant. This Word is promised, neh, assured. This Word is Jesus.

And the Sacraments, well, I'm less sure of the difference made by a capital "S", but it seems to me again that one is dependent upon me and subject to all sorts of errors in manual actions, pronunciation, and, perhaps most importantly, my own moral ambiguity. The sacraments are what most assume is happening on a Sunday morning, but in actuality (and thanks be to God) the Sacraments are the real star of the show. The inward and spiritual graces of the Sacrament have nothing to do with the apparent goodness of the outward and visible signs, nor the one pointing them out. Union with Christ, birth into God's family, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Spirit happen in baptism whether or not the water came from the Jordan River, the sign of the cross was made over it, or, for that matter whether the celebrant believes what (s)he is saying (which I do, if you were nervous). The bread and wine become body and blood no matter how flashy the manual actions, what the bread is made from, or whether the cup is filled with Tawny Port or, gasp, Welch's Grape Juice.

So then, maybe the bar isn't set that high for us, instead we are setting the bar high for God. Illumine us, we pray, because we are dull and faded. Illumine us when the sermon is crap. Illumine us when the sacrament is poorly administered. Illumine us even then so that we might join with you in shining the light of Christ's glory to the ends of the earth.

January 10, 2011

Where are you staying?

I have spent most of my life living in tourist destinations. I grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the heart of Amish Country. I went to seminary in Alexandria, Virginia just outside of the nation's capitol. Now I reside in a town that is the last stop before the beautiful white sands of Gulf Shores, Alabama. Over the years, and especially in my 3+ years working here at St. Paul's, I have found myself asking, more often than you might think, "So, where are you staying?"

Here, especially, it a question with a lot of meaning because where someone chooses to stay tells a lot about them. If they are staying at the RV park, well then they are professional travelers, they spend a lot of time on the road, but then again they might be staying here for quite some time. If they are staying in a condo at the beach, they are maybe dipping their toes in, maybe it is their first or second time here, still trying to decide if they like it; and they probably have some money. If they are staying in their own house, well then they are full-fledged snowbirds - six month types - that are engaged in both communities in which they live; here and some cold weather place in points north.

I wonder if John's disciples were looking for some coded information as they ask Jesus, "where are you staying?" To me, it seems less strange a question every year. Is he staying with family? Friends? On a mountain top somewhere? Behind the synagogue? Does he float up to heaven at night? Where Jesus is staying can tell us a lot about what he plans on doing. Sometimes he spent a while in a location, sometimes he just passed through. Sometimes he stopped to teach, sometimes people were healed just by touching his cloak as he passed by.

Maybe they were hoping Jesus could offer better accommodations than John. Whatever the reason, the question is worth considering. Where was Jesus staying? What does that tell us about what he is up to?

What's in a name? Epiphany 1A Sermon

I was in ninth grade when I learned that I would be a “preaching from notes” type of preacher. Of course I had no clue that one day I would be a preacher, but even then I knew that I would never be the type who could memorize long bits of text. It was early in my first semester in high school when my English teacher handed out a new assignment, we were to memorize and recite one of the two monologues from the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet. The boys, of course, were Romeo, “What light through yonder window breaks...” The girls, of course, were Juliet, and while even then I couldn't remember the whole monologue I was supposed to recite, to this day I can recall, like most of you I'm sure, Juliet's famous line, “What's in a name? That which we call a rose/ By any other word would smell as sweet.”
What's in a name? It is a question that comes to my mind more often than one would expect. It is a question that lies at the heart of who we are as Christians, a name whose literal translation is “a slave for Christ.” What's in a name? Jesus means “God saves.” Christ means “the anointed one.” God saves by his anointed one. Peter means “rock” and he was the rock upon which the Church was built. Steve means “crowned one” but I don't go around wearing a crown. (put crown on) Keith means warrior descending, but I have yet to see Keith run down a hill with a spear in his hand. I doubt he even has a trophy in the Robertsdale Spear Hunting Museum. Karla means “strong and womanly” which is actually a very appropriate name, but a name is only one way in which we claim our identity.
Before Christmas, Eliza was obsessed, for about three weeks with Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, that old 1960's made-for-TV-stop-action-claymation special. I mean, obsessed. All day long she'd repeat over and over again "off", "off", "off" and if you weren't willing to sing the song to her, you'd better be able to start the DVD player. And fast. As parents do, over the course of her three-week obsession, I all but memorized the entire movie. Dialog, songs, backdrops, claymation oddities, I could probably storyboard the whole thing. Towards the middle of the 43 minutes program, Heremey, the ambiguously-gay-wants-to-be-a-dentist elf, pops up out of a snow drift having run away from the workshop. Rudolph happens to be sitting on that snow drift, and asks Heremey, "Who are you?" Hermey answers, "Well actually, I'm a dentist." Two things strike me about his response. First, he identifies himself not as Hermey or as an elf but by an occupation, I'm a dentist. And secondly, he isn't a dentist at all. Often we are identified by what we do (or what we used to do and even by what we wish we were doing). I'm a husband, a father, and a priest; among other things. You might be a doctor, a retired auto-worker, a therapist, retired military, a vestry member, a mother, or a grandfather. Maybe what you do (or did) defines who you are (or were).
Whether we choose to be defined by our name or by some title, there are still others who will at some time or another attempt to give us names themselves. Think back over all the different names you have been given. Some of them are pleasant enough. Well intentioned names like: boss, buddy, partner, or in my case, Spankey. Others maybe weren't so pleasant or well intentioned. Names like: idiot or egghead, fatty or toothpick, loser, or in my case know-it-all. Sometimes, when you hear those names enough times, they begin to define you.
What's in a name? Names are very important in the church. So important that there are at least two sacraments that invite people to change their name. The less well known opportunity to change ones name was at ordination in order to symbolically show the change that has taken place in someone's life. More well known, and long the tradition in the Church was for people to add a Christian name at their baptism; maybe one that would symbolize the life they hoped to live: Catherine meaning pure, Sarah meaning princess, Luke meaning bright, or Timothy meaning honoring God.
No matter the name; given or earned, polite or condescending, rich with meaning or ridiculously off point (put on crown) there is one identity that defines us beyond and before all others; the identity given to us by our Father in Heaven. The identity he gave his Only-begotten Son in the midst of the Jordan River. Beloved child of God.
This morning we hear the familiar story of Jesus' baptism by John in the River Jordan. Except for his death by crucifixion at the hands of the Roman Empire, no single detail in the life of Jesus carries as much historical weight as his baptism. All four gospels tell of his dunking in the Jordan. All four tell of the Holy Spirit descending upon him like a dove. Three of the four have the voice of God saying something like, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” This is a story we hear every year and yet is a story that is so easy to overlook because we think it has nothing to do with us. We think that because Jesus lived without sin, his anointing by the Spirit is in someway special only to him. We think that the blessing that alighted upon him stayed with him in a way that we can't have. And we are most certainly wrong.
Without skipping a beat Matthew takes Jesus from the waters of forgiveness to the wilderness of temptation; a place that all of us know all too well. The wilderness of temptation is the place where it feels like we are not at all like Jesus. It is the place where our fears and doubts run rampant. It is the place where our addictions and baggage call us by name. It is the place where our pride, envy, laziness, and greed look us straight in the eye. The wilderness of temptation is the place where it feels like our anointing by the Spirit dries up. It is the time when the blessing we hear promised every Sunday seems to disappear before our very eyes. And yet, the wilderness of temptation was not a place that was unknown to Jesus. We know he went there after his baptism. I think he went there upon entering the Temple on Palm Sunday. I think he was most certainly there in the Garden of Gethsemane as he prayed for the cup to pass his lips. He probably spent most of his first 30 years in the wilderness of temptation. Just because we enter the wilderness of temptation doesn't mean that the identity given to us by God goes away. Even in the midst of trails, temptations, sin, and brokenness we are, and forever will be, beloved children of God.
God announces his pleasure with Jesus even before he has begun his work. God starts out by saying how happy he is with his Son, and God feels the very same way about each and every one of you. No matter the name you've been given, no matter the ugly words you have been called, no matter the false-identities with which you've weighed yourself down, God loves you.
In just a few minutes we are going to join with members of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church around the world in renewing our baptismal covenant. We will stand up and affirm our identity as beloved children of God. We will ask for God's help in living out our identity, knowing full well that we can't make it through the wilderness of temptation alone. We will give our hearts over to God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We don't do it to earn God's love. We don't do it to please him. We do it as a response to his grace, a gift of thanks and praise. We offer him thanksgiving because he has created us, loved us, and promises that we will be pleasing to him.
What's in a name? Nothing really. Good or bad, the names that we carry are nothing compared to the identity we have been given by our creator God, “you are my beloved child.” And so, before we move on to renew our baptismal covenants, I invite you to take a moment to think of all the names good or bad you've been given, all the names good or bad you've been called, all the names good or bad you've called yourself.

Now listen. Listen for God as he speaks to you and says, “No! Those are not your names. Those do not define you. You are my beloved child, and with you I am well pleased.” Amen.

January 6, 2011

and then?

One of the dumbest movies I've ever seen, and I've seen a lot of dumb movies, is "Dude, where's my car?" It is a movie about two guys who partied too hard and, as you might have guessed, lose a car. As dumb as it is, there is still an iconic scene in which the two blickheads are ordering at a drivethru. They order one item and the clerk asks, "and then?" They order another item and the clerk asks, "and thne?" This continues until they are finished ordering and the clerk contines to ask "and then?" The scene climaxs with the clerk and the two dudes yelling back and forth "AND THEN?" "NO AND THEN?"

It's funnier in the movie.

Anyway, I'm thinking about the "and then" this morning as I ponder the baptism of Jesus and the interesting chapter verse situation added long after Matthew's Gospel was put to scroll. See, there is very much an "and then" to the scene with Jesus, John, the Spirit Dove, and the Voice. "Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil."

That is a serious "and then." An "and then" that makes this story less about Jesus and more about us. We live our whole lives in the wilderness of temptation, but because Jesus was baptized (like us) and spent time in the WoT (like us) then we (like Jesus) can draw on the strength of the Spirit to overcome trials, temptations, and (not like Jesus) sin.

I've elected to expand the reading for Sunday to include chapter 4 verse 1, the great "and then," because otherwise I'm not sure the baptism of Jesus makes any sense for us. It certainly didn't make sense to John, but that, I suppose, is an "and then" of a different color.

January 5, 2011


FBC was obsessed, for a while, with Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, that old 1960's made-for-TV-stop-action-claymation special. I mean, obsessed. All day long she'd repeat over and over again "off", "off", "off" and if you weren't willing to sing the song to her, you'd better be able to start the DVD player.

And fast.

As parents do, over the course of her three-week obsession, I all but memorized the entire movie. Dialog, songs, backdrops, claymation oddities, I could probably storyboard the whole thing. There is a lot that is strange about that special, but one that is of particular interest to me this week is a moment of identity. Heremey, the ambiguously-gay-wants-to-be-a-dentist elf, pops up out of a snow drift and Rudolph asks him, "Who are you?"

Hermey answers, "Well actually, I'm a dentist."

Two things strike me about his response. First, he identifies himself not as Hermey or as an elf but by an occupation, I'm a dentist. And secondly, he isn't a dentist at all.

To the first point however, it has me wondering about identity. How do you identify yourself? Are you first a doctor, lawyer, front-desk clerk, hairdresser, or priest? Are you first a husband, wife, father, or mother? Are you first Tom, Susie, Mary, or Andy?

As Jesus comes up out of the water at his baptism, the Father gives him an identity. Speaking only to his Son (and maybe in other accounts J.Bap gets to hear it too) God says, "You are my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."

That is Jesus' identity, a beloved son who is pleasing to his father. And that, my friends, is our identity also. Even before we've done anything to deserve God's favor we are beloved by and well pleasing to the Father.

Sometimes I struggle to live into that identity. Sometimes I forget all the things that define me ahead of Associate Rector, but with God's help, I'm remembering more and more often that I too, just like you, am first and foremost a beloved child of God. That is my identity.

January 4, 2011

in order to fulfill all righteousness

Righteousness, to Matthew, meant the living out of the Law. If one was righteous, one lived out the Torah.

Jesus needed to be baptized by John "in order to fulfill all righteousness."

How does one fulfill righteousness?

I think Joseph fulfilled righteousness by staying with Mary even after she became pregnant. He went to bed resolved to do the righteous thing and divorce her quietly. He woke up ready to fulfill righteousness even by doing the unrighteous thing and keep her as his wife.

Here's the difference, as I image it. To be righteous is to follow directions laid out on a map. First you turn left to avoid this sin, then you turn right to avoid that one. When you have done all these things you will have achieved righteousness. To fulfill righteousness you lay the map aside and instead follow the voice directions of your GPS. Turn right here. Turn left here. Avoid traffic by exiting now. Sometimes the voice directions will lead you through the unsavory part of town, but it is all in the pursuit of the end goal.

The end goal for us is, of course, the Kingdom of God. Which is, in my understanding, beyond righteousness for the sake of rule following. Instead it is the fulfillment of righteousness, even to the point of unrighteousness, in order to be obedient to the King.

It would be so much easier to just follow the map, but often the voice of God leads us out into the wilderness, through the bad part of town so that his glory might be revealed.

January 3, 2011

a new year

Many of my blogging colleagues are writing resolution/goal/prediction posts about what 2011 will bring. I find them interesting and some are even funny, but on this 9th day of Christmas, as I slowly ease my way back into the regular routine of life, I'm just not ready for goals and predictions.

I'm ready for new beginnings.

Jesus' earthly ministry begins in earnest at his baptism, an event that the Church remembers this coming Sunday, the first Sunday after the Epiphany. We remember the strange interaction between Jesus and John; you know, the way that John is so very uncomfortable with what he's being asked to do. How can he, a mere man, baptize Jesus, the Son of God?

Despite John's protestations, Jesus gets baptized, and, in the verse just beyond or pericope, is led by the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted by the devil.

What this experience says to me, on the chilly, slow moving, first Monday in 2011 is that I should take heart because Jesus ministry was slow to get started too. As we remember the genesis of his earthly ministry, and look at our own new beginnings, it is important to remember that change doesn't happen all at once. It takes some thought, maybe some argument, probably some time in the wilderness, and a whole lot of prompting by the Holy Spirit.

And so, as 2011 begins, I look forward to following the Holy Spirit toward all sorts of new beginnings, and the first will be this Thursday, as we celebrate the first St. Paul's Epiphany Party (our first). Then, we'll see what happens next.

Come Holy Spirit.