Monday, December 17, 2018

Holy Spectraspecs: Do you see what God sees?

It would be fabulous if we had special glasses that showed us the way to go. What if we had special glasses that made do-gooders glimmer with righteousness, so that when we look at someone like John the Baptizer, no matter what hair shirt they wear or provocative thing they say, we would hear and see them as God intends. Maybe they could be a bit like Luna Lovegood's spectraspecs, Which make the nonsense that distracts us show up like little nats around our heads. What if we really had such lenses that could make the just glow and types who have lost all sense of the common good they could pulse with sharp red warning.

It would also be swell to have glasses that help us see the context that surrounds the scriptural texts. You could read or hear the words and look through the lenses And see the assumptions and landscapes That are completely obscured by time and distance. In the gospel today We heard the names of 7 leaders of empire and locality and religion to set the scene that John is proclaiming in. What Luke is telling us is not like a memorized list of kings and queens, But that the scene Is dark and villainous. An expanding and anxious empire led by Tiberius, a military genius who as emperor was cruel, deranged and entirely depraved. Then Pilate who is the best known and least terrible of the list. Then there is a Herod, desperate, selfish and violently ambitious. The list of names is a list of lamentations, a list of terror. If you had the glasses you would be seeing nothing but sharp red spikes.

Into this fearsome moment, John is re-introduced. The son of the priest Zechariah John goes about the waters of the Jordan with a heritage of insiderness, prophecy, and eccentricity. John was a circuit rider it seems, going to busy, populated places in the Jordan river valley, where people went to get water and so on. And right there in the middle of everyday life, John was offering freedom from the sins that bind us, an outer expression of an inner soul cleansing, Baptism in the river that is a reshaping of the heart and the mind, a transformation of life In the forgiveness of sins. John the Baptizer is offering free new lenses that prepare all to hear and know the savior when he comes. John is offering spectacles that dissolve our dualisms and enlarges our heart and unclogs our ears from all the nonsense. Would our inner and outer worlds be so embattled and so lost if everyone had been living in the way we might live if we had glasses that showed us the whole creation as God sees it?

In Advent we are offered holy spectacles to see and feel and know that God is transforming injustices, paving a path to freedom for all people - right now. Again and again, we are led to live into the vision of becoming soul free. It is interesting to me to think About Luna Lovegood and John the Baptizer In one moment. If you don’t know either, Luna is the brilliant but quirky daughter of a conspiracy theorist publisher in the wizarding world of Harry Potter. She doesn’t have any need or concern for what is conventional or expected. Maligned and dismissed a young woman deep with trust and truth. John the son of the very old priest and his plenty old wife, doesn’t seem to have any need for the conventions that prop up cruelty either. Instead, he gives free-flowing comfort and direction in the middle of terror and fragmentation. Would you show up at the river or would John just be too strange too outside too other for you to give into the divine leading questions he proclaims? If you had those holy spectraspecs who would you see very differently if you saw them as God sees them?

Do you need these special glasses? I don’t have holy rose-colored lenses. But what I do have is what Jesus offers all of us - sacred bread and wine. Outward signs of Inner light. Refreshing our baptismal commitment to Jesus’ way, truth and life. Returning to his table, again and again, is a central part of the lifelong journey to learn to look with love speak without deceit and dare with hope. Jesus is coming, and it is about God’s radical interruption into our conventional lostness with the promise of eternal connectedness. To find our way out of the depravity and twisted falsehood that lead to the cross and the tomb.

God waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God. Christ is coming, to make all things free - including you. Do you see what God sees? Come o Lord and set us free, give your people peace. Come o Lord and set us free, Come o Jesus come.

Grace Episcopal Church
Pemberton, New Jersey

Motivation: Scrooge and Vipers

At every turn, there is someone somewhere trying to convince you that you are not enough not smart enough, strong enough, whatever your not enough is there is someone somewhere trying to motivate you from a place of shame and darkness and doubt. Yet - you rarely hear or see you brood of vipers as a motivational speech opener. They may be much smoother and indirect about it, but they are calling you a loser just the same. 

Vipers are venomous snakes that despite the sports cars and fighter jets of the same name are actually slow for their species. In Jesus’ time, it was sometimes believed that baby vipers ate their mother. Now you see the judgment John is getting at. Having been given so much you ignore respect and deference and devour the foundations that gave you life. The notion of matricide is not true but the metaphor of infidelity remains. Being a nest of slow heritage destroying creatures is clear criticism of how we do and do not live together as God intends.

Last weekend at the basket auction I won a basket of holiday books. One of which is a Christmas Carol. I have seen most of the movies yet never stopped to read the book. I have to say I am impressed with how accurate my favorite movie version - the Muppet one - how close it is to both the text and the overall intent, even in the musical numbers. The original book truly is a well written and good story which has never been out of print for good reason. There are people who think it is a Christian allegory. And while it does include the startling intervention of the not human in a human life. And one of the most crucial turning points is Scrooge’s encounter with a vulnerable child, I am not sure I think of it as an allegory. For me, it is a strong lean toward being a Christian morality tale.

What A Christmas Carol absolutely was and is is a piece of creative common good propaganda. Scrooge isn’t just about one nasty lonely old man but about a wide swath of powerful English people in the Victorian era. The virtues it promotes - generosity, community, care for the least and last, as well as repentance are of course deeply Christian. It is a fascinating short story about injustice, hardheartedness and that what we do in this life connects to bliss or darkness for eternity. Yet reading the dickens story with today’s lessons has been enlightening. It doesn’t start with the good stuff, it dives right into the terrible. A Christmas Carol is, after all, a ghost story. It begins with 'you brood of vipers'. Here is where all your greed and selfishness and hallow guilded eggness will land you.

Dickens has two core agenda points to make: the comfortable and the poor are not different species - we are one. Secondly, the societal viciousness we are caught in is not for the common good, or our own well being. There is a third point as well - it is that Christmastime is a jolly good time and a worthwhile festival - and you should try it! Except for that third point, the core agenda of A Christmas Carol isn’t that different from John the Baptizers instructions today - care    give      make peace.

For all the wretchedness of Scrooge and our den of vipers - there is one more important facet in common. God believes in us more than we do. Our scroogeness and viperness isn’t the end of the story. The prophet Zephaniah begins his text with accusations much more salacious than John or Charles Dickens but what he comes around to is the sacred hope that such depravity does not have to be the full measure of humanity. Zephaniah is offering encouragement like a coach when the team is down but not out. Isaiah too is leading cheers and chants from the heart of God's desire for us - you go girl! And John is giving clear directions from that same holy intention: share, be honest, seek dignity for all - you can do it. Here is a community and a way - Jesus is coming. God believes in us more than we do.

Maybe the darkness of Scrooge and the shout of ‘brood of vipers’ isn’t actually motivational it is just what gets our attention. What actually motivates according to behavioral science are 3 things: belonging to something greater than ourselves, - the common good. The desire to direct our own lives - liberation. And improving at a meaningful activity - study and service. If your faith practice does not reflect those three things how can we help?

What John and Isaiah and Zephaniah are proclaiming is what Scrooge has to learn after getting shocked by his own Marley delivered you are a viper speech. Motivation toward freedom from the cruel powers that be doesn’t come to us or to Scrooge simply because we learn that chains will bind us for eternity if we keep on these cruel and selfish paths. Freedom and motivation come from belonging to a creative compelling witness of something greater than ourselves and acting for others from that belonging. In this tradition that means seeking union with God and all others in Christ. The one we flock to at the manger is the grown person who said such wonderful things and did such amazing things that it changed everything. His way is for you and for all who need community and liberation and love.

Christ is coming because the Herods and scrooge's and oppressors and shamers of the world are still darkening our future. The actions that John is calling for are not radical or new they are the bedrock of faithful and just society. Charles Dickens’ propaganda of generosity and compassion and the common good should not be radical or daring it should be as basic as ‘ring around the rosy’ but we have forgotten it around every turn. We have the chance every day to turn around and when we fall into Scrooge-like errors of selfishness and cruelty Jesus offers us open arms, the chance to repent and so to be set free in our hearts and to try again to keep the faith of Christmas in our lives each day. Come o Lord and set us free give your people peace. Come o Lord and set us free, come Lord Jesus come.

December 16, 2018
Grace Church, Pemberton

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Adv-Christm-any: Cheat Sheet for Bible Project learning at the Epiphany!

We are not done yet.

I know I know.  We are tired.  I am an Epiphany enthusiast in theory, but in practice, I am usually a bit wiped out by the time I get to the 3rd day of Christmas.  Still, as much as we rush to bring the Wise Guys into the scene, their place in this story is critical for what the incarnation means (both positively and negatively - the anxious bloodshed it provokes). 

Strangely, we start with a word that isn't in the texts.  However, the cross-cultural dimensions of what a soul is are important for the broader picture.

Then, of course, we have Matthew, the only place where we find the visit of the Wise Men, Magi, perhaps Kings.    A brief introduction to the first part of this gospel. 

In the Isaiah lesson Exile is an important idea, and so to it is a deciding voice in the whole text of the Hebrew scriptures, and then not unexpectedly, the Christian scriptures.

And our last video for this series is about the setting, not only how geography matters for some texts, but the ways in which there are layers of meaning in the depiction of settings in the Bible. 

I hope this adventure has been a blessing for you and your lifelong learning in faith.  It isn't enough that it has entered your intellect, the challenge is always how does it become incarnate in your life? If you are left with more questions (alleluia) how are you going to commit to exploring them?  In the lectionary churches, we can sometimes be left to our own devices for figuring out how these different scenes connect to a larger salvation history.  May this Adv-Christm-any journey enrich your faith and enlighten your relationship with the Holy Trinity through the practice of continuing study and prayer. 

Oh yes - the three questions - good for many settings and lessons.
  • What leaped out at you? 
  • What do you want to know more about?
  • How does God speak to your life in these summaries?
May your light so shine - always and forever in union with Christ Jesus and his faithful people.

Adv-Christm-any Cheat Sheet: User's Guide for Community Formation

The Cheat Sheets are already (almost) altogether.  For those of you who are staring at the calendar today and wondering what in the world you might do to foster lifelong formation while hearts are warm and attention both more focused and doubly divided??  Perhaps you look at my lists of videos and think - how do I make this work for lifelong learning in my setting??

Here are the links to the cheat sheets for each week (in order).  

Advent 1
Advent 2
Advent 3
Advent 4

1.  Look at how much time you have.  If it is the typical 45-minute hour between services then you many not want to use all the videos each time.   What do your people most need to hear at this moment?
2. Sketch out a plan that has an opening of some sort.  An on-board funny question or simply check in (depending upon the familiarity of the expected group.)  If there are strangers please oh please invite people to share their name!!!!!  Schedule out a plan that mingles videos with dialogue, and research time if there are solid 'want to know more about' queries.  Watch the videos on your own and be ready to discuss parts that are important to you. Be ready to cut back as needed and fill as needed. If you can teach from a debate stance, you may want to argue a bit with the way some videos are presented.  I would.
3.  Do not rely on the internet.  Which is funny advice for a formation plan based solely on streaming videos (and human contact).  There are several online services that can help you download and save an online video for your educational (and not selling it as your own) use.  I use one that can be found if you google the word off and liberty.
4. Gather a reasonable library that you know how to use.  If you are book-centric, then bring your van sized concordance.  If you are digital, then bring your device (and hope the internet works).  One of the core questions is what do you want to know more about, and not answering this question is silly.  Your answer may be I don't know, and you may have to call a friend, but many of the basic questions are probably answerable with a basic Bible study library: a Bible dictionary, a study bible, perhaps a commentary.
5. Be hospitable.  Be sure to have a nibble and a beverage of some sort.
6. Pray.  Perhaps a seasonal prayer, maybe the same one each time.  Or you could be extemporaneous.  But please, pray.

It occurs to me that this could be used while a group knits prayer shawls together.  It could also be used as an upsidedown format - where you get the links out and have folks bring their reflections and questions and you work together to learn and reflect.

Whatever you do - just do it with love and hope and the expectation that the love of God is always being born in our lives.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Adv-CHRISTM-any Cheat Sheet: Christmas Lifelong Learning - 5 videos in 12 days.

Christmastime is here.  12 days, starting on the 25th of December, of service and love and connectivity.  Perhaps you have plenty of time in transit to catch up a bit on your lifelong learning.  Maybe you are wondering what we just did and what did that song mean?  Merry Christmas, and let's learn and grow like newborn children.

Let heaven and nature sing.  The incarnation of God in the child Jesus is the revolutionary crossover of divine and earthly.  For post-modern-ish people, something leaping over comfortable categories isn't such a drastic idea.  However, it hasn't always been so.

God became flesh and dwelled among us.  Trinitarian theology isn't exactly a straightforward biblical idea, but it is part of how Christians came to share how they experience all the divineness of God in their encounter with Jesus, who was alive at a certain time, and also alive now and we feel this through the Spirit.  Complex, and a sacred mystery to learn a bit more about here.

Everlasting peace.  We may think we know what we are praying for and celebrating when we speak of peace this Christmas.  However, the biblical idea isn't as simple as a pop song.

We only hear from Titus in the Sunday lectionary on one day/night of the year.  It isn't the familiar poetry of the prophets nor the tenderness of the Luke or the daring prologue of John.  Yet it does belong here - that the salvation of the world isn't by staying out of the mess - but by being present with righteousness in the muck of the world. 

There are always three good questions for your lifelong learning in the way of Jesus. Perhaps you want to journal or comment on your responses.

What leaped out at you?
What do you want to know more about?
How does God speak to your life in these summaries?

And two more - how do these videos foster deeper faith and bigger questions this Christmas season?  Is this the not religious best Christmas song, ever? Discuss.

Adv-Christm--any Cheat Sheet: Bible Project Video Learning for Advent 4

Can you feel it?  Christmas is almost here.  But also not quite yet.  We have rewound from our last Luke lesson and you will almost certainly hear the Magnificat this week.  My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and so on.  In one of the Luke lessons today it mentions that creedal-ly famous description of the Spirit of God coming upon Mary.  Biblically - how is the Spirit mentioned, and the understanding of it developed?

In the entire three-year lectionary cycle most folks only hear from Micah three times (Episcopal lectionary had an additional Micah lesson). A mix of dire warning and turns toward hope, the later were of particular interest to the earliest Christians.  Discover why.

There are people who dwell so much with scripture that the characters are almost friends or neighbors.  There are also people who struggle to connect with characters who are usually not fleshed out nor what one might expect if you think holiness is sugarcoated.  Learn more about character development (in the narrative) from a biblical mindset.

Lastly, we come to the opening chapters of Luke.  All of which are structured to borrow authority from the ancients to tell about the birth of a new day, and to illustrate how this new day comes from within the pious roots of ancient Judaism.  Spoiler alert: no force sensitive mitochondria.

There are always three good questions for your lifelong learning in the way of Jesus. Perhaps you want to journal or comment on your responses.

What leaped out at you?
What do you want to know more about?
How does God speak to your life in these summaries?

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Adv-Christm-any Cheat Sheet: Bible Project Lifelong Learning Part 3

Third Week of Advent! Rockin down the Highway!

The awe and wonder of God's compassion for a broken and lost world widens our focus for this week of Advent. 

Metaphor matters when we are trying to sketch the relationship of heaven and earth.

If I am deeply honest some of the Hebrew prophets, besides Isaiah and Hosea, get deeply confused in my mind.  Some are more sour than others, most have a depth of intention that can seem lost in the sands of time.  So a refresher on good ol Zeph.

Several of the readings push at an experience of the creation that isn't as broken and torn as it is now.  There will be rejoicing and no more will there be sinful bloodshed.  Hope isn't a word in the texts this Sunday, but it is all over (some of) the readings.

Lastly we have one of the most important concepts in this season.  I would want to complexify some of the messiah concepts especially in Jewish writings that are closer in time to Jesus birth.  Exactly what people were thinking when they asked Jesus if he was the Messiah are much more complex than what can be covered in this short video.  Maybe they will make an advanced messiah studies video!  

As always the three questions:
  • What leaped out at you? 
  • What do you want to know more about?
  • How does God speak to your life in these summaries?

Adv-Christm-any Cheat Sheet - A Bible Project Video Plan (part 2)

2nd Week of Advent

Still with me on this cheat sheet for Advent?  How are the wisdom and insights informing how you encounter the texts of the season - both the official ones and the Winter Wonderland variety?  Now we hear about wildernesses, hanging out down by the river, and highways and byways.

This week the lectionary offers a gospel text for the Psalm - because the song of Zechariah is essentially a psalm.  It just isn't a Psalm.  So first a review of the literary styles of the Bible, and then Psalms (which is strange since there isn't a Psalm this week!)   And I repeat my little bit that I don't always agree with their total presentation of some things (David's is most likely an over credited psalm writer). 

In the actual Gospel lesson, we meet John who is baptizing and rabble rousing and challenging the systems down by the riverside.  This video dives more into the larger ongoings: free reconciliation when the Temple is charging, strange bold generosity and other fascinations! 

Lastly, today is a survey of the letter to the Philippians.  This is a season of sharing and an invitation to fresh discipleship. 

There are always three good questions for your lifelong learning in the way of Jesus. Perhaps you want to journal or comment on your responses.

  • What leaped out at you? 
  • What do you want to know more about?
  • How does God speak to your life in these summaries?

Adv-Christm-any Cheat Sheet - A Bible Project Video plan for Advent - Epiphany (part 1)

I really enjoy the Bible Project videos.  I don't always 100% agree with their scholarship or conclusions, but then I don't usually agree with anyone at that standard.  The videos are engaging and for a basic tutorial in the Bible that doesn't require much reading - the Bible Project is a go to. 

As we approach the Advent - Christmas - Epiphany cycle it occurs to me that this brief but busy time period is a good chance to focus on some biblical lifelong learning.  As long as you can stream a video and have 10 minutes, you are home free.  The suggestions below are all intended to tie in with general learning and the RCL C year scriptural themes.

First Week of Advent
We start at the very beginning - what is this sacred library and how did it come together?

Justice is a theme of the reading from Jeremiah and is as complex as the world is.  Good and evil, how we are made, and how we are reconciled to each other, and God, are all mixed in the concept of justice.

The gospel lessons for Advent this year are from Luke (not surprising really).  Each gospel book has a unique gift to our experience of Jesus.  This summary is in two videos.

There are always three good questions for your lifelong learning in the way of Jesus.  Perhaps you want to journal or comment on your responses. 

  • What leapt out at you?  
  • What do you want to know more about?
  • How does God speak to your life in these summaries?

Monday, November 19, 2018


Some days I feel like Mr. Rogers. 
I live in a rectory (parsonage), and I my office is in that rectory.
I have the pleasure of seeing my cats all day (I think they have gotten bored of me). 
I can eat my own food and make my own tea (my dish volume has gone way up).
Some days I don't even leave the property (not my favorite if days like that pile up). 

Yet I get dressed for work each day (I don't typically wear a collar, but I am dressed for the office).
I need to do that.  There are all sorts of reasons, but I NEED TO DO IT. 
It is getting my game face on, tying the cape, sharpening the stake.
I wear work shoes.
At home I typically wear flip flops (they should stay at home, at the pool, or in the shower!!!!) in the summer,
and slippers in the winter.
Yet now, I am here.
In the same building.
What would you do?

I need a distinction sometimes between what is work and what is home.
So I change my shoes.
I wear work shoes when working - or at least 'officing'.
And other things the rest of the time.
I change my shoes,
And often my top layer.
Also helpful to reduce the cat hair.

I feel like Mr. Rogers.
Moving from inside to inside,
but changing the garb.
I can see his zip-up sweater.
I can hear the trolley.

If you work at home, what do you do to make the distinctions?

Monday, November 12, 2018

Bread Heart Hunger - Communion of Saints and a Welcome Table

The evidence suggests that wheat was first cultivated over 11,000 years ago in the part of the world sometimes called the fertile crescent. Which is in the same region where most of the Bible takes place or is originally written down. Why and how and in what order the choice to cultivate wheat happened: that's debated. What is not debated is it is very hard to imagine our life and our well-being without it. We can do fantastic and amazing things with wheat but at the end of the day most wheat is produced to be consumed in very basic and simple ways. And like most basic starchy crops they would be difficult and perhaps silly to cultivate alone the exchange of time and energy wouldn't be worth it. Wheat whether it's in a loaf or a tortilla or matzah is communal. It is planted and nurtured and harvested in community and shared in a community. 

Our gospel from Mark is not a bread breaking reading necessarily but we're honoring the work of our Sunday School class today to learn more about the mystery of holy communion. The bread we will share they prepared and baked just for this day. And we're celebrating this occasion on the Sunday following all saints a day when we remember that when we break bread together in the Eucharist we're not just breaking bread you and me but we're feasting with the faithful and ages past and the faithful across the world and astonishingly the faithful who haven't even been born yet. 

Our gospel story today may have surprised you. In general any of the ancient authorities - like a scribe - they are usually the antagonist the people who are frequently trying to trap Jesus. Here today following occasion after occasion of the disciples being blind and wrong and stumped this esteemed stranger and possibly hostile outsider is entirely spot on. You may have heard the summary of the lesson before: the way of God is eternal steadfast love which is made known by loving all as much as God loves us. When writing a story there are details that you wouldn't even bother to mention because they are so mundane. I believe there's a lot more food sharing a lot more breaking of bread in the new testament than what is written in the ink and parchment. There's a pretty good chance that every time Jesus stops somebody is sharing food. It was the most basic norm of hospitality in his culture. When traveling they're most likely sharing dried fruits and probably nuts and flatbreads. When they are at homes there may be household cooked foods - and the item so normal that the writers don't even think to mention it: basic hearty bread. 

The reign of God that Jesus comes to love us into and propel us toward is one where he meets hungry hearts where they are and so to meets thirsty souls where they are. Meets us with steadfast love the steadfast love of God that the Hebrew scriptures tell us is the most vital quality of God. It's the kind of connection that meets terror with service and kindness. It's the kind of passion that is honest about what's broken in the world yet breaks bread with so-called enemies. In our gospel the scribe daringly comes into a moment where I imagine there's some breaking of bread and he shows that he knows what discipleship demands. He knows what living in God's way is to be like. It is the commitment to the least and the last and the lost because God loved first. It is trusting in the one Lord God of the universe with your whole self, just as God has trusted us with all this. 

The scribe, his answer today is exactly the mission that we commit to when we faithfully break bread together in holy communion. Every moment of Jesus’ teaching and feasting and praying with friends and strangers is in the grains and flavors the mystery of the Eucharist. So too is the presence of the whole church —past, present, and future— all who love God and worship at Christ's table. This eternal communion is a beautiful reminder that we are never far from the collective faithfulness of every generation. We are not alone in the struggle. Those whom we love but see no longer— in the communion of the saints they are filling us in hopeful expectation of the time when all will be all in all. All of us come to Jesus’ table broken and hungry and needy, perhaps like a scribe ease-dropping on a gathering. 

We come and it is here that we find welcome, forgiveness, and freedom. This is a profound and beautiful mystery but it's not done with fancy things. Everything our young friends have learned is good and valuable but ultimately this great thanksgiving it is a mystery. It is Christ's table and bread and wine and while I can tell you the bits and pieces about what we do we can't understand it as much as we are invited to trust the experience of it. All God asks is the mission named in the lesson today - we love God and all that God loves as much as he loves us. 

And that is so darn simple and so darn hard. So we return to each other. To the community of holy faith that is present in each piece of bread. I have had a song in my mind ever since we gathered to bake bread last week. And so instead of finishing with a prayer, we will pray with a song that I am going to teach you. Here is bread for the hungry heart, here is wine for the thirsty soul. Here is forgiveness full and free here at the table of the Lord.

Grace Episcopal Church
Pemberton, New Jersey

Stretch the prayers: yoga and my prayer life

I remain surprised.

Surprised by how spontaneously prayerful I found yoga to be once I really entered the practice.  I had resisted it for years.  The images of fit people balancing were certainly serene and attractive, but I still resisted.  I had long let go of anything that could mess up my floppy joints with bouncing and high impact moves, but nothing had really replaced it.  I knew enough to know that the roots of the practice were distinctly religious and religious of another religion that deserves respect.  So even when it was offered all the time in the parish where I served, I never made my way to the mat.

Then idiopathic impactful illness took over my life, and a physician suggested I try yoga.  Desperation and desire for greater well being and an authority making a recommendation - that got me started.   I soon noticed that learning the practice reminded me of childhood dance lessons - which were pleasant memories to be reenacting.  The time and attention to body and posture and breathing and balance cleared the constant clutter from my mind.  I knew rather quickly that this was more than stretching; and that pushed my careful resistance of the Om chant for a good long while.  (Until I learned that it might be connected to the primordial linguistic family tree of Alleluia - which is good enough for me.) What came as a total surprise was how spontaneously prayerful yoga practice is.  I find myself in genuine prayer without trying or planning or reading.  The issues and people and hopes and concerns just glow with me there, and not in any guided way.  I once heard that what is happening in your life is what is happening on the mat (imbalance, struggle, tightness, distraction).  And it is from there that I pray.

As a professional Christian it can be hard to find places to just be a prayerful person. That may sound strange - but you cannot lead worship and not spend moments counting heads and thinking about what comes next and wondering why a light fixture is dim.  To receive the ministrations of other leaders, to be in a place of connection and intention and not also be the maestro and not be in the middle of colleagues - that is a rare blessing.  When I am on the mat at a studio I am placing myself in the leadership of other leaders.  This isn't my band so I simply get to be present.  I do have a rule of life and ways of prayer that I follow in my life on my own, but we are not called to be humans in isolation.  We are made to be people in the community, being in the company of others is part of that prayerful gift.  Studios where the practice is a show and a chatter session I haven't returned to.  Studios, where we come and lightly greet and prepare, are much more my ambivert style.

It used to be said that we Episcopalians practice pew aerobics.  I think we practice pew yoga.  The ways in which we posture ourselves are part of setting an intention, of communicating with ourselves and others what we intend with our heart.  How do our postures and guestures lead to spontaneous prayer?  What would our churches be like if we worked as hard at lifelong learning as we do in a yoga session?  Does the idea of what is happening in your life is happening in your pew carry meaning for you?

What They Did for Love: Widows Might

There is a woman who for an extended period of time tweeted chapter by chapter paraphrases of the bible and when she got through the book of Ruth what she posted was I figured it out! Jane Austen wrote the book of Ruth! Now, of course, she got the order a little bit backward but she's not wrong about the similarities. Widows and other women whose well being and fortunes are decimated by the lack of good brothers and ultimately by the death of the men in their family is a common plot device in Austen's novels. If you don't know the book of Ruth it is of course about Ruth but more so about her mother-in-law Naomi. Naomi is from Bethlehem and she has married a man in another land: a neighboring despised enemy people. In a devastating turn of events her husband dies and both of her sons die so that she and her two daughters in law Orpah and Ruth are left utterly homeless and destitute. So Naomi chooses to return to Bethlehem. Orpah eventually stays behind in her country but Ruth accompanies her widowed mother-in-law into a foreign land. In today's episode much like the plots of plenty of novels and movies she puts herself in the sight line of a relative of Naomi who can protect and care for them at the very least. 

If it weren't for the biblical text my time and place and experiences I might forget how completely vulnerable women like Ruth and Naomi and nameless widow in the gospel can be. Yet today's texts lead me to wonder,  maybe when you have so little you're free. Free of the stuff and burdens that way a lot of us down. These women had absolutely no guarantee of any kind of better situation, they could have been greeted as the enemy and a collaborator. Yet they trusted in God's blessing and support and they dared to give their whole selves to the promise of a people rooted in God's steadfast loving-kindness. There are a number of widows in the new testament as well. This lesson today of a widow giving what amounts to pennies with true devotion. Well in my mind this is also the woman who lost a coin the parable of the woman who lost the coin and goes searching everywhere for it, and rejoices and calls all her friends when she finds it. Somewhere in my imagination that same woman is this widow and giving all that she has to God with the grateful delight. 

We will be beginning the stewardship campaign this week, and I don't honestly expect anyone to give all that they have like the widow today. Now - I'm not telling you not to do it if you feel called to be free of material and financial burdens and give it all to the vulnerable and repair this world - yes do it and how can I help? However, I am a pragmatic person and like you I have responsibilities and burdens and demands on my time and on my talent and on my bank account. Our stewardship campaign will be an invitation to reflect on all that we have and all that we need and to give thanks. It is a call to consider the preciousness of our God-given lives and this community. Our stewardship campaign is focused on three words - love, prepare, serve and it is absolutely intended to keep the ball rolling here to raise the financial contributions that enable the life-giving ministry of Grace Church. 

It's an important year in the story of this congregation. You are preparing to call a new settled priest to serve alongside you here. It might be tempting to react to the situation from the perspective of fear and scarcity and holding back and hiding your heads and waiting for the future to arrive. Instead, we challenge you to hope and trust like Ruth and Naomi and our nameless widow today and respond with trust to God's promise of generosity towards us. We invite you to experience this moment as an opportunity to put this mission in line with God's dream and prepare for this community’s future. Gratitude and sacrificial giving are not always the obvious choice in life. That is why it is an act of faith. I encourage you to take the time to prayerfully pray the three words (with actions) love, (hand on heart) prepare, (stir) serve (hands out). Three words to hold closely as you consider your promise to this life together. We hope you will consider three things in your pledge this year one is to consider making your financial pledge proportionally, and that you gratefully consider making an increase. The second thing we want you to consider is a promise to invite people in your life to experience grace church. There's a plenty of pain and loneliness in the world and there are people in your life who never ever been invited to find the kind of community and foundation of smart loving kindness that is present in this body of Christ. The third thing we want you to consider this year to become a planned giver. Planned giving is simply what happens to your money when you die. You can provide for the future in ways that the husbands of Ruth and Naomi could not. 

The specific reading we had from the book of Ruth today is not my favorite choice. It is not the example that I would want to set for young people in our life. Establish yourself by marrying well it is straight out of the parts of Austen novel’s that I don’t identify with and she was critiquing. But when I really stop to think about it there's no difference between the choices these women are making and my friend who works two jobs and is an artist. One job pays okay but it's not really what he wants to do. He has another job that doesn’t pay much however it puts him in the vicinity of people who like and buy art. A choice that isn’t that different from when I seek out writing opportunities that raise my church wide profile (or add popular hashtags to blog posts.) 

We know that plenty of you work or have worked multiple jobs to make ends meet. You may live in multi-generational households that may not have been your first choice. We know that all of us are living in uncertain times facing an ever-increasing real cost of living and a cruel gap between the highest and the average income. I, however, I trust that part of what you love about Grace Church isn't just the nostalgia and beautiful ceremony but the challenge to a better self you encounter in the arms of Jesus. He praises the sacrificial giving of the widow in our lesson today and calls on all of us to consider how we respond to God's steadfast love. Ruth and Naomi dared greatly to find grace in Bethlehem. 

Somewhere out there-there is a stranger a priest who's contemplating the idea that a new setting to proclaim the word of God, a new parish to love and care for God's people is waiting for them. That person is trusting that God is with us and that someone somewhere is also prepared and waiting to welcome that person in. I wonder how our gratitude can love, prepare, and serve toward the future you share with that unnamed stranger. I wonder what you will say and what you can share about what you are grateful to God for in the life together here at Grace.

November 11, 2018

6 Months On

I have to confess that I have been far behind in my posting of sermons and writings and so on.  It isn't that I haven't had the time.  There are a handful of half-finished posts and easily a dozen sermons hovering in my data. I am not sure what to call it, what is the word for having arrived and settled in and all being fine and self-care being good but still not feeling all thrilled-ness for no particular reason (and plenty of reasons).  The Ben Folds song Landed plays though my mind, and so I shall call it really-landed-ness.   Perhaps analogous to post-partum-ness, life is going on and well but hmm.  There are things of my most recent life that I miss - a constantly pulsing parish building, walking to cafe's, seeing the horizon.  Having moved and moved and moved I don't experience these missings as the end of the world, they simply are what they are.  Fall has deepened and I am still glad to wear my boots and layers, but putting away the summer clothes is still bittersweet.  I love exploring new places and have found a barkeeper who knows my name, and figured out where to find what I need, and achieved some preliminary successes.  But I haven't been posting.

I suspect that mostly this has been a tiredness of hearing myself preach, a little touch of imposter-syndrome and the above-named really-landed-ness.  (Also lack of convenient cafes with street facing barstool seats like the one I am holding right now.)  I have been a priest for 6 months and a solo pastor for 5 - between which I moved truly coast to coast.  Perhaps what I say each week sounded more interesting to me when I was hearing others more often, when I was only preaching every other week. 

Then this past weekend by blessing and by happenstance I was gifted with multiple reminders that while what I say may seem uninteresting to me, there are folks who experience it with delight and insight.  So going forward I will try harder to post more often, more texts.  Less really-landed-ness and more defying gravity.We are going to have to write this book of jubilation for ourselves.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Letters from Pemberley #3

Dear Kitty,

I cannot abide the truth that it has been over two months since I have written to you.  There is no worthy cause for my delay, and so I offer you my sincere apology.  I did receive your correspondence and share with you the occasional sadness at being so far from so many beloved friends.  Perhaps it is those blossoms of feeling so distant that have delayed my response.  All my love to you and our friends, I share in the deep affection and the moments of sadness are to be expected of a relationship such as ours. 

It may be that others have relayed to you the struggles of my dear feline companions over these months.  My darling old girl Glory was experiencing significant pain and symptoms of trouble around the 'box'.  Following multiple visits involving a variety of apparatus and withdrawal of fluid, it was revealed that she had a kidney infection.  Might you be familiar with the concoction known as a 'pill pocket'?  It is the most amazing product for dispensing medical remedies for this old feline.  She is much much better, although she is of course still quite mature having lived long enough to have completed secondary school.  Her dear sister Liberty has considerable concerns.  The discovery was frightening and the long-term hope is not strong, as she seems to have some sort of growth on her brain.  She has a remedy that is improving her function in the short term (however she shall not abide the 'pill pocket'), however, we know not how long this will keep her in some comfort, which she has found for now.

This new home in southern Jersey is set in fine proximity to several important towns: Bath-adelphia of course, the capital, and most impressively 'TOWN' is only 70 miles away.  So it was a tremendous joy to make my way one morning by stage coach and train into Town, where I spent the day with some of the best Walla Wallans (and HT and PT).  While the train made its way into the city we passed through a storm of the type you might expect on the isle of Azkaban, and exiting Penn Station the same storm opened wide upon us!  Yet it would not dampen our spirits.  We visited a museum and art galleries and feasted on Dan Dan noodles, walking over 8 miles in one day!  I do hope that more of our companions will connect with me when they are also in 'Town'. 

You may recall that while I have not lived in this part of our nation before, we do have old companions who have also moved not so far away.  There has been tea, and Indian lunches, and even a birthday party with unicorns (oh my) and a cake of 'pink storm'.  It was a good evening the night that I enjoyed a veggie cheese 'steak' at the local ball team park.  My distance from so many is alleviated by my proximity to others.

 It was also a true hope of mine to find myself much closer to 'the Gober's'.  Before you reply of the significant distance they are at, I will remind you that we are now much closer together.  This was shown in the easy traveling visit of my dear Mother to Pemberton a few weeks ago.  We visited the beach (I am assured that this is not its title it being 'down the shore' even when the destination is to the oceanside village to the north) and the aquarium as well. 

The duties of holy service here in Pemberley are as to be expected, and of a hearty and enjoyable nature.  There are the letters of business to attend to, gatherings that require a brief ride to the capital, preaching and teaching.  As the months continue I find myself settling into the duties of a solo parson, and becoming more acquainted with the diocese of this region. 

Lastly, I share with you my dismay and joy at how my beloved sports ball team is playing astonishingly well, however, due to the global distance from their home field, I find that I usually only am able to stay alert through an inning or two of play.  It is a grief that I cannot delight more fully in this long overdue success.  May the Athletics continue to finish with victory and safety. 

May we see each other again soon.
Jane of Pemberton

More than a Hearth: Who do You Say that He Is?

Who do you say that I am? Jesus asks. The Christian tradition has a multitude of illustrations Prince of Peace, Messiah,  the Lamb of God, Redeemer, Friend. Sometimes I extrapolate some of Jesus’ parable images into him. The hen with her tremendous wing gathering in her frightened chicks. The good shepherd, the playful baker. 

In our interim time prayer (to the right) I capitalized Great Delight and I thought about capitalizing hearth, because it felt to me like something divine. A life giving gathering place of warmth and joy and light. I don’t know If the sacred storyteller of Mark is having Jesus ask us that kind of a question. A feeling kind of a question. 

Who do you say that I am? The answer that Peter gives - You are the Messiah, which in Greek is the Christ, which means the anointed leader, is not denied, but you may have noticed, it is hushed. The expectations for a stunning come from behind victory against the oppression of Empire were dense and dangerous in Jesus’ era. Messiah is in some ways a call to arms. Mark’s core interest is named in the first line of the gospel. The beginning of the good news About Jesus Christ, God’s son. Son of God is Mark’s emphasis, and it is an expression that means the epitome of, the very image of God’s self. Peter’s answer of messiah Is not wrong, but isn’t completely right. 

This is still something we wrestle with. That may be why we need so many titles and names and metaphors. Who do you say that I am is a question about this quandary. But also an invitation to consider: how does Jesus change everything, how does he save? It is ultimately a question about why Jesus matters. Because thousands of people died on crosses at the hands of Empire. Plenty of people aave been radical revolutionaries and sacred healers and even astounding rabbi’s. But I don’t know any of them by name. 

It is the self-sacrificial servanthood of Jesus that turns everything upside down. It is the love that holds fast even as it is crushed by the weight of the beams and shamed by the terror of the cross. Mark isn’t a story you hear once and then you are done with it. Mark seems to intend that you hear it again and again, and find new revelations and clues each time. So the question 'Who do you say that I am?' Isn’t about memorized answers ao much as - do you get that this is not about a superhero swooping in and making everything easy? Jesus is many many things but it is his divine self-offering that changes everything. If you claim him as the Lord of your heart he will change the ears with which we hear the cries of every neighbor. 

It sort of drives me crazy when people talk about having a cross to bear for things that are trivial. 'I have to take the trash out' - is not a cross to bear. The cross to bear is the Gut twisting love of Jesus It is the courage of martyrs, it is the conviction of artists and authors and everyday Christians across time. My lovely images of a hen’s wing or a hearth are only part of the story. Most of the story of the Gospels is about this cross bearing. About this love that stumbled in shame under heavy beams through crowded streets. 

Taking up your cross should never be about accepting abuse nor being a dormat. Taking up your cross is following Jesus into the hardest places, Where he already is. It is daring to stand up to injustice even if it leads to the loss of everything. Who does Jesus say that he is: he says that he is the one for us. To hold to Jesus as the messiah - the Christ - means to let ourselves be found in the company he would keep. He is your savior not because he is yours but because you are his. Jesus is the one who is for us. He gives us not magic tricks or exchange rates but himself. 

Who is Jesus to you is the kind of question that comes up often in ministerial job interviews. I am not sure it is something that most of you have been asked. So I wonder - who do you say that Jesus is? If you haven’t ever been asked that before - give it some time but spend some time with the question. Journal or craft or research your response. 

Another way to consider the question is this If the only way that someone knew Jesus was through the words and actions of Grace Church - what would they know? Furthermore, what does it mean that the name of this place and congregation is grace? Grace is both profound and subtle. It is many things but all of them are impactful, felt, known. What does the name of Grace say about who Grace is called to be? Called to be in Jesus name? I trust that to hold to jesus as Messiah - the Christ means to let ourselves be found in the company he would keep. 

He is our savior not because he is ours. But because we are his. Hear him ask you The question once more: Who do you say that I am?

September 16, 2018

Grace Episcopal Church

Pemberton, New Jersey

Proper 19 RCLB Track 1

Selfless or Selfish - Disciples, Childhood, and being Spirited Away

Her family is moving. The only child pouts in the back seat. Clean and well cared for and not caring about anything but herself. Chihiro is 10 years old, and no reaction at all would be more troubling. Her parents get lost while driving to their new home and find themselves wandering into what they suspect to be an abandoned amusement park. As night falls the shopfronts fill with enough food to feed an army and her parents they don’t question the situation they just eat and eat and eat until they become pigs. 

Chihiro finds herself stuck in a place she doesn’t understand. The only way to save herself and her family is to completely let go of the selfishness of being 10. She has to become a servant, to put herself last, and rely on the kindness of strangers. Some of you may know the legendary animated film Spirited Away. However, I also suspect that many of you have never seen the Oscar-winning highest grossing Japanese film ever. The quick version is that it is somewhat of a Wizard of Oz type of film. A young woman finds herself in another world of strange happenings and must make it through a hero’s journey to return to her world. 

The reaction of the disciples today is not very unusual if also regrettable. When we are fearful we retreat or rally, sometimes both at the same time. The reaction to hearing Jesus saying again that he will die cruelly at the hands of the powers that be, well, the disciples reaction is to have a bit of a to do about who gets to be in charge. It is a backseat argument if ever there was one. Jesus’ response is in some ways saying that their reaction is childish, but they are only human. What is even more interesting and easy to miss is what Jesus is saying about himself when he says whoever receives a child receives me. 

We live in on this side of the Victorian era where childhood became idealized. We live in an era of scientific advancement and at least a theoretical community commitment to those who are ill. In the Hellenistic world that Jesus lived in children were regarded as we would well - a squirrel. Not really dangerous but known to carry disease and the kind of thing that you wouldn’t invite into your home unless you had to. If you have spent any time around children you know that the assessment of germiness wasn’t wrong. 

Now there absolutely were people who deeply loved their children - we are made to let the darling override the ick.  And as ever there were folks who considered them a means to secure a legacy, and let us not sugar coat - there was much worse. One of the things that caused Judea to stand out among the regions of the Roman Empire was that it had a more celebratory attitude toward child bearing. God said to be fruitful and multiplying - and they did. But children in the immediate culture Jesus was living in,  children were still not regarded as angelic sugar cute darlings - at all. If this was set today, when Jesus puts the child in the middle of the room, if this was today everyone would have been reaching for the hand sanitizer!

So when Jesus says to welcome the little children and welcome him as a child,  sweep all the Victorian images off of your screen. See him say welcome the stray cats and stink spirits in my name. Jesus says welcome me as you would the lowest germiest messiest most vulnerable category of everyday human life. He puts himself in the place of the last the least and the lost. 

Spirited Away is easily one of my five favorite films. I have shown it in ministry something like once a year since about 2003. Yet - I've been trying for years to figure out why exactly the film resonates so deeply with my Christian faith. The connections are not as a matter of obviousness as they are in Narnia, or Middle Earth, or even Hogwarts. Given that it happens in a bathhouse, there's plenty of accidental baptismal imagery. Yet I have had an itch in the back of my heart for a while that it wasn't just that.  However, this week, it was thinking about the movie in a relationship with this Gospel lesson that helped me sort out some of the parallels a bit more. 

The whole film could be seen as a parable about our lesson today. About the dangers of selfishness and the redemption made possible through selflessness. The main character Chihiro is stuck in a bathhouse for spirits that have become contaminated by human sin. But it is in this bathhouse where she - the human child is considered to be a contaminant. And in our little segment of Mark today it is the human fear and the greediness that gets in the way of the most devoted followers of fully following Jesus. Anxiety and selfishness is the muck from which many of the characters of Spirited Away and the disciples need cleansing from. 

And it is a child - a contaminant - in this movie and in Jesus’ words - that is the way of salvation. It is their resolve and it is their innocence that squashes evil and rescues even those who dismiss them. Chihiro’s success had nothing to do with 1st or best or cute. It has nothing to do with what she knows or understands. The thing about childhood and 10 year olds is yes: there can be plenty of selfish behavior - it may be developmentally necessary. But I have also known children to be deep with bravery and unquestioning commitment to others. 

We seem to have begun to learn one part of Jesus’ lesson - the part where children are not considered a bothersome contaminant. But we still have a long way to go to welcome and believe the words of every child. The other two lessons Jesus offers today we still run away from. I feel right at home in the disciples selfish fussing about who gets to be in charge, trying to fix the unfixable because we are scared. And the part where losing everything is winning - it pushes all the materialistic anxiety buttons we have. 

So I wonder if Jesus’ question for us is which kind of childish are you going to be? Selfish or selfless.

September 23, 2018

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Poetic Bread Slam - Daring Choices and Warm Bakedness

Eucharistic bread stamp
I am the bread of life I am the light of the world. I am the gate. I am the way. I am the vine. In the gospel of John Jesus uses I am statements 16 times. A person saying that they are material objects that they are physically not is art. It is a cooperative brain exercise of creative genius. It is theopoetics: God words in poetry. Like a singer-songwriter Who sings things Without singing the actual words That would define them. Theopoetics is an art form that can help us know God in ways that doctrinal definitions cannot. The creeds took over a hundred years To work out, And while they are foundational They are also only a ghost of a trace of a pale imitation of all that we experience in the one in three and three in one.

I am is such a basic statement. We say I am lonely, Or I am curious. Or I am going to mow the lawn. I am is both an everyday sort of thing And a whoa kind of thing. I am is being and essence and without I am there isn’t much to be much less to say. Here in our gospel text, it holds even more quiet potency. When Moses asks God’s name at the burning bush The response Moses gets is that God's name is I am what I am or and also I will be what I will be. The Hebrew is prismatic that way God’s name Is both foundational eternal essence and a future-forward endless essence. I am what I am and I will be what I will be. God’s stated name In the short form as it is usually translated into English is I am. 

The holy artist who is shaping this gospel is knee deep in the sands of the exodus. Jesus is the bread from heaven, like the manna in the wilderness but way more than the manna. If manna could be both deliciously in your tummy And future forward manna-ness, That is the manna Jesus says he is. I am and I will be forever filling essential good stuff. It is art, not an evidentiary statement. It is an invitation, not demand. Manna in the wilderness is about using our resources wisely. Bread in community Is about the commitment to each other because it is nearly impossible to make bread alone. Breaking bread is an act of care for one another, of resting and attending to friend and stranger across the table. It is hope, it is a conversation, It is laughter, it is tears. 

However, just like in the desert with Moses, there was grumbling around Jesus. We need to take a few minutes and unpack one of the most consistent problems with this gospel. The phrase the jews has led to so much hatred and bloodshed. We do well to remember that almost everyone, probably in the 95% range, Nearly everyone in these gospels are Jewish. From the time of Jesus’ teaching ministry There was excitement and new life, and plenty of folks who just didn’t get it, Or they got it And they were not going to accept it. 

The communities that nurtured the holy storytellers of the gospels are all wrestling with this anxiety and division and confusion. Why Jesus’ own community didn’t trust and follow him was disturbing and alienating. There are dynamics of displacement and frustration and fear of both the fragile power within the Jewish communities nd the cruel desperations of empire that press in on their safety from the outside. When we read of the ‘jews’ we need to recall that most of the time what our minds should hear is the Jewish neighbors who were in opposition to the Jesus movement. 

It isn’t as shallow as even the fiercest sports rivalry, It is more heart wrenching than the mutual distaste we experience between some churches. This is friends and family with a river of anxiety and distrust running between them. The opposition are the people we know and care for and who completely disagree with us. Connections where the power of empathy and candor have been weakened. I have those relationships, you probably do too. 

Somewhere in the I am poetry is a daring choice. Where instead of trying to win the argument, they set the table and invite the opposition into a feast. There is something about the smell of bread that is A mind-blowing allurement for me. I once had a wine intern roommate who in his spare time Was trying to learn To bake sourdough bread. When I would open the door to the house He would be practicing his banjo and bread was baking and it felt like a little bit of heaven. 

I think this wording in the gospel Is an artistic power play A hard to resist invitation. It is the smell of fresh baked bread and a warm kind light beyond a gate held wide open. Jesus is already there, Already where we are going. He is holding open the gate And is offering the cup of the vineyard. He stands in front of us with enticing bread (or warm fragrant rice) and we can smell it and we can imagine how it will taste and we follow it.

So, where is Jesus standing out in front of us and is that where we should be going? Jesus isn’t a word puzzle of incredulity, but instead an artists invitation that draws us into satisfaction for all. Jesus Is what he is and will be what he will be and is always already present wherever we are going. I am what I am and I will be what I will be: Light, freedom, sustenance, community, forgiveness. Jesus is out in front of us, offering us fresh hearty bread. What are you gonna do?

Grace Episcopal Church
Pemberton, New Jersey
August 12, 2018

Proper 14 RCLB Track 1

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Continental Divide of Grief: Sin, Forgiveness, and Steadfast Love

It is hard how closely intertwined love and passion are with sin and brokenness. How bound the beautiful can be with harm and the terrible. It is hard that by one person’s inability to hold boundaries, so many are harmed and hurt and left in a valley of confusion. If we didn’t have passion would we know love? Would we know hate? The violation, the abuse, are almost predictable. The lies that surround it so too.

A recent study suggests that most people who participate in a congregation of any religion in America, these people say they seek out religious practices to be closer to God. Sometimes I think that we think that means that we only want safely distributed warm fuzzy feelings. We want God at a safe distance until we need something beyond ourselves. We want God to tell us we are moral and good, despite the replay review. I'm not sure that many of us really want a prophet appointed by God to come tell us how badly we've messed up, and how much we need to turn around and repair our lives. Yet biblically, that is (part of) being closer to God.

Other research shows that a lot of us we want to feel like a tender sweet sheep snuggled on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd. We want Jesus to share with us abundant life, but what we don't expect, what we may wish to fast forward through, is when Jesus looks at us and tells us we've understood it all wrong. Where Christian-ness has not taken hold it is not because it is easy. Easy is easy. Moral therapeutic deism is easy. Where genuine Christianness doesn't take root is In its holy challenges and the us-not-me demands. Christian-ness is love and humility, and anything else isn't about Jesus Christ.

But it is the kind of love that holds up a magnifying mirror. It declares judgement of our worldly system that we want to feel secure in so much that we turn a blind eye from the cruel truth of its power. Jesus' life and death and resurrection exposes the lie, demands that we look at the truth of the system. That it is born in and fed by violence violent language violent actions much worse than clutch and grab.

I wanna believe that the world is good to the core. And I want to believe that the evil and malice are just random spilled bags of trash across an otherwise glorious scene. What following Jesus shows me, again and again, is that my disneyfied lenses might have it upside-down. The dark mean broken licentious lying murderous world may be a more pervasive dark thing than I can take solace in. It is this darkness that Jesus comes to. It is to this storm that God's prophets that speak to. This is where disciples serve and the space in which apostles teach. Faith with Jesus is hollow if it is reclining in marshmallow clouds of saccharine perfection. Faith is faith when it is knee deep in the imperfections and muck of the world.

It seems that this faith IS a streak of beloved light in the darkening scene. It seems that kindness and mercy are the strands of hope. Our Psalm today is one that I (and you may) know very very well I hear and say it year after year at the multiple Ash Wednesday services. We are far from Lent, but we are always also in a time that is Lent and Easter and Christmas and Advent all at once. This sense of time that isn’t linear is a core piece of practice of the Christian life. Confessing, lamenting, regretting, turning around and claiming the light, recommitting to this light in the sacraments of bread and wine are our altar call.

Yet for all it’s alleluias, the very nature of this path assumes the failures and the lostness. Psalm 51 has been for a very long time associated with exactly the scenes in 2nd Samuel we heard last week and this week. These almost NSFW scenes of David ‘s powerful lostness and his breaking over half of the commandments and having a convicting prophet sent to him by God. A prophet who says this is it. This is the continental divide of a screw up. This is why the path ahead is a trail of terror and tears. 

What's interesting is that the Psalm certainly speaks to that story, but the Hebrew scholar can see that it's playing with language from another episode of grievous sin from the episode of the golden calf. While God’s people are wandering in the desert and get tired of waiting and make up their own golden cow gods to worship. So much easier than all this beloved community nonsense. Easy is easy. As much as this violent crisis with David and Bathsheba, and its aftermath, is considered to be on par with being cast out of the Garden, one of the things that is always getting us in trouble is idolatry. The million lights of Times Square, the upside down devotion to the wanting what other nations and people have. The choosing to take the easy route rather than the one of steadfast love.

The best I can tell God is a God of grace and love and mercy and forgiveness in the midst of constant disappointment and frustration. The Psalm translation we read says God’s core emotive action is loving kindness. But the better translation is that God’s core emotive action is steadfast love. It seems that God is made of steadfast love for you and for me and for David and Bathsheba. And dimwitted disciples in the company of Jesus. God stands ready to forgive and guide us into paths of justice and grace. God stands ready to welcome us home when we are lost and cruel and selfish. God stands ready to forgive and to hold before us the names and realities of our victims.

I choose Christ and life together in Christian community because I cannot approach this darkness all by myself. We need a sacred community One that stretches very far back through time and stretches into the future to people I can't even imagine We need a life together that is a beacon of truthfulness about who we are and the violence we do And a life together that is rooted in the steadfast love of God. One turn is rarely just one turn. Turning from God’s way leads to heartbreak and bloodshed. The cover-up leads to terrible news conferences Which are a shame and lead to numbing and doubt. I thought I knew what was what and it turned out I had no idea.

Would we be mostly free from sin and error and falsehood if we all lived alone on desert islands, well perhaps? At least the second two-thirds of the commandments would be less of a necessity But we are not human solos we are humans in community. There is no i without the u and the us. So how we live together, how we trust the you and honor the dignity of all the fragments of us-ness, that is the sacred story. One that is both a scary horror and a romance and a comedy and an exciting adventure. Every time we think we have it all figured out… God comes in with steadfast love and straight up challenge and calls us to turn to God and to each other with steadfast love.

August 5, 2018
Grace Episcopal Church
Pemberton, New Jersey

(one of the sermons that i realized afterward had several riffs on a buffy episode.)

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Accidental Wonders: Loaves, Fishes and Holy Currencies

Photo by Aaron Wilson via Unsplash
It was January and we were traveling to and fro for a wedding. Two friends from seminary were marrying each other in Michigan. I was traveling by plane and car with Dave. Dave is the kind of person who always wants to drive. However, he had never seen snow before, and even though the sky never offered more than intense flurries,  I drove! After the wedding events were done, we gave a ride back to the airport to two other guests who were not seminarians or theologians or future ministers.

We arrived at the airport early enough for the first flight of our carload, And then there were three of us: Dave, George and I, sitting in an airport bar, for a few hours. George seems to have decided that this was his moment. He had two smart articulate theological types all to himself and he was going to ask every deep question he ever had. It was January in Detroit, and there was a hockey game on all the tv’s in the bar. And while the game was in action, most minds were locked on those screens. However, when the commercials rolled, something else happened. Most heads in that bar would turn to the three of us and watch and listen. It wasn’t a fancy sacred moment in the way such things are usually dramatized. The lights were bright and the food was lousy and the ambient noise was loud. Yet it was a wonder.

Sometimes I feel like nobody in the world is really all that interested in God and justice and hope I feel like no one cares about the kind of holy do-gooder life of service and philosophical things that are my calling. The wonder for me was the clear experience that people are hungry for transcendence and deep connection and soul flourishing, even if they have never crossed the threshold of a church or synagogue to find it.

If you think about the population of the Galilee area at the time of Jesus, if you consider how incredible it is that such a mass of humanity showed up at one time showed up without a paper invite or a holiday tradition or social media blast this wonder of loaves and fishes becomes even more amazing. It is the a wonder that gets repeated in all four gospels, sometimes more than once. And that kind of repetition leads me to trust That something outrageously grace-ful something transformative happened around the teaching and presence of Jesus with limited loaves and just a few fish.

And while I believe that something, something happened, I also believe that the crafty narrator of the gospel of John, the holy sage who shares this wonder today, whoever it was, this person was not counting human beings. They were too busy to be doing that! That number, it is just under a capacity crowd at a Trenton Thunder ball game. It is a large enough gathering to hint at an older sacred story. One of the primordial stories of ancient Jewish self-understanding: the Exodus. Think about it for a minute you have this wonderous meal occasion and thousands of people and then the next thing is that the missionary of God walks the through or over the uncontrollable danger of water. 

The episodes of the Gospel today are not about testing the limits of rational belief, but about focused unexpected real life liberation. It's about the promise of God to hear our cries, the promise to deliver, to be with us and for us, not by raining down food or magically solidifying water, but by partnering with fellow missionaries of Go, apostles and disciples and wonderers. Folks who know or merely hope that this fracturedness and scarcity is not all there is. 

The inarguable facet of this wonder is that the fish and the bread were there. Somebody had fish and bread. They had assets, treasures, blessings. So what does Grace Church already have, what asset, what loaf, what fish do have you already have in your pockets? I didn’t go into the airport that day intending to be a witness, to offer a treasure to anyone, much less to many strangers. But I have to believe, that we did. 

We know that there is dire need in this community. Need for connection and hope and calories and educational support. I suspect that there are people nearby Who believe that everyone despises them and Believe that there is no possibility of anything else. They have not known much good news. How does Jesus’ teaching ministry that is also a feeding ministry how can it show us the way To share the real deep true love of God? 

Today when you leave I invite you to take a cup of pretzel goldfish from the bowl in the baptismal font. Take that cup and the small sheet of stacked beside the font with you on your way home. When you get wherever you are going divide that treasure of loaf fishes Into three even groups. With the first group brainstorm some passions, skills, and knowledge that you or folks in this community have. Any of them, whether or not you think they can be used for the mission of God, as long as they are not actually evil skills or passions. With the second group list places where people gather or could gather in the greater Pemberton area. Don’t let practical concerns hold you back, this is a wonder, not a feasibility study. So no self-editing and no reality checks! 

With the third group name some of the dire needs of this place and time. Calories, connection, love, learning, and so on. Then randomly take one item from each column and imagine How the three could become a sacred story become a wonder in Jesus’ way. You don’t have to do it, but I dare you to try. It may not even be your thing to do, Sometimes we are vision casters for each other. Think like an outrageous artist in love with the crowd. It doesn’t have to be realistic or reasonable. Who would it hurt to try something that is good news? If it doesn’t work the way we want, but folks still get shelter or connection or love, then alleluia! 

Whoever offered up the loaves and fish didn’t know what to expect. They just did it. They were givers and receivers of mystery. People who perhaps had an inkling but no real comprehension of the wonder, the real big deep tasty love that God has for all the world. These divine daydreams and actions and wonders cannot wait until the new sheepdog comes. Nor can we expect that the needs will come to our door and express themselves clearly and concretely. My friends and I at the airport didn’t expect to be a gift. Nor did we sit in our seminary classrooms or dorm rooms and have deep thoughts together and hope they got out. It was an accidental adventure in this mission. 

Learn more about the roots of this
activty through the Kalidescope Institute
and the books titled HOLY CURRENCIES
by the Reverend Eric Law
We had smarts and the ability and willingness to share it.  We were at a place where people gather, And the sea of humanity that we encountered in that borderzone has a dire need for the sacred that we don’t even know how to express. That afternoon wasn’t a performance or a show or a contrived kind of a desperate thing. It was authentic. Truly full of real questions and real community. Not thousands exactly but three people at the table in a crowd. Full of something special that broke through some degree of worldly numbness and lostness. 

So dream brainstorm try wonder hope act. Let go of value judgments and trust the soul and the Spirit as much as the disciples in this loaves and fishes moment. It is outlandish and silly and crazy to go find the few fish and few loaves and get them into the hands of love and dare to trust that God can do good things outlandishly abundant things with so little. It only needs hands of disciples to follow, to try, to daydream of being the kind of companion for the lost the lonely the least and the last that Jesus is for you. It's not loud or showy it's simply coming up beside people in need, and using our blessings to be the way of Love, to be unexpected moments of transformational grace. I wonder, what wonders can you live?

July 29, 2018
Grace Church, Pemberton