When People Underestimate You, Are They Right?

Getting more than you bargained for. That’s what all of our scriptures are about today.

And it’s not a concept that is very familiar in our capitalist society. We are used to paying an agreed upon price, and receiving exactly what we’ve paid for, no more and no less.

I sometimes wonder if we carry that consumer mentality into our relationships as well.

If I make dinner x number of times this week, my partner will mow the lawn without having to be reminded.

If I attend x number of recitals or soccer games of my grandchildren, my daughter will pick up the phone when I call her.

If I read x chapters of the Bible this week, God will answer my prayers.

That’s not how God’s economy works.

The Greek root from which we get the word economy means household and refers to how people manage the day to day finances and organization of their homes and families.

And God’s economy has a very strange balance sheet.

Things are simply not predictable with God.

Two plus two does not always equal four.

It often equals five, or a hundred and five, or a purple elephant. Continue reading

Translating Tradition

The first half of our worship service today has no doubt seemed very familiar to you. It’s regular 1979 Book of Common Prayer Liturgy of the Word. Comforting, customary, accessible to those of us who have been Episcopalians for awhile.

But the second half of our service, the Liturgy of the Table, will be according to the first Book of Common Prayer, the 1549 edition.

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Book of Common Prayer, and it seemed worthwhile to bring back the 1549 liturgy that we used back during our historic liturgies project last fall.

And no doubt the second half of the Eucharist, the 1549 version, will not seem familiar and comfortable.

We’ll have to concentrate. We’ll have to read carefully. We’ll squint at the page and struggle to translate the Elizabethan language into something that is meaningful for us today.

This is such a worthy exercise because it helps us understand Thomas Cranmer’s goal in writing and compiling the Book of Common Prayer.

During our historic liturgies project last fall, as we made our way backward in time from 1928 to 1789 to 1662 to 1549, did you ever feel totally lost in our worship service?

Did you struggle to understand what was going on?

Did you ever wonder what was the point of coming to church at all if everything was so confusing?

That is exactly the situation that faced the people of England in 1548 and for generations before when they went to church. Continue reading

Sabbath of Joy

Our scriptures today are all about Sabbath, which is supposed to mean rest. But “keeping the Sabbath” across generations in the church often turned into grim adherence to strict traditions rather than true rest and refreshment.

It was as if people were supposed to work hard at resting!

We sometimes think of Christianity as hard work—and it undoubtedly is.

We have to work against our old familiar sins and pray for God to help us increase in virtue and generosity.

But at heart, Christianity is not about work.

Suffering and struggle are vital parts of the journey that have their own unique spiritual value, but suffering and struggle and work always lead somewhere else. And that somewhere to which they lead is joy.

The Bible is full of joy.

The entire purpose of the Bible is to communicate the joy of salvation—it even says so: “We are writing these things to you that our joy may be complete.” (1 John 1:4).

The psalmist says of God, “You show me the path of life, in your presence is fullness of joy.” (Psalm 16:11). The opening line of our psalm this morning is, “Sing with joy to God our strength.” (Psalm 81:1)

And Jesus says to us directly of his entire message to us, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11).

The church is a place of joy that encourages the believers and strengthens them to go out and serve in the world.

In Acts we read that “The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 13:52).

Paul writes over and over to the congregations of the early church about how their prayers and good works and simple presence as people give him such joy. He tells the believers in Thessalonica, “Yes, you are our glory and joy!”

Paul writes about an upcoming visit to the Romans, “Join me in earnest prayer to God…so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.” (Romans 15:30-33).

That is my prayer for St. Francis this summer as well, that we may abide in joy and take refreshment from one another’s company in this church.

You have worked so hard! I want you to take these summer months to really enjoy church. Continue reading

God’s Kiss is Fire

We began church this morning in our opening hymn with three simple words: Holy, holy, holy.

We sang “Holy” three times for two reasons.

First, because the holiness of God is so great that we need to say it three times to express it.

And second, because we are calling on the three persons of the Trinity to be in our midst: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Today is Trinity Sunday, the day we reflect on the multiplication of holiness that is our Triune God.

Holy, holy, holy. These are the words that begin the Sanctus, a Latin word which means Holy and is the name of the part of the service that comes right at the beginning of the Holy Eucharist.

First comes the Sursum Corda, the Latin words for “Lift up your heart.”

Each week as your priests, Father Davies and I call on you to lift up your hearts in praise to God, and you tell us that it is a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere.

Our celebration of Holy Eucharist begins with a dialogue about the goodness of God.

This is not a coincidence. Continue reading

The Rebirth of the Church: That Which Cannot Be Scheduled

A dear friend of mine and his wife, both priests, are getting ready to welcome their third child.

The baby is expected within the next two weeks, but as we know, even with all of modern medical science at our disposal, there really is no way to schedule or anticipate a birth. The baby comes when the baby is ready to come, and unless there is an urgent medical need to influence the birth more specifically…we wait.

We worry. We anticipate with joy. We guesstimate.

We exchange family stories and histories of other babies being born to hunt for clues as to how this birth might unfold.

And we wait, in a strange in-between world of being hyper-prepared while spinning our wheels.

We know we have to be ready for it to happen at any moment, but we also know that no matter how much mental or emotional energy we put into our racing thoughts, this momentous occasion will unfold at its own pace, in its own time.

As my friend was telling me about the strange liminal space he and his family inhabit while they wait for labor to begin, he mentioned how difficult it was to prepare for one of the most important days of his life while having no idea when it was going to happen.

And I thought: what if all the most important days of our lives were like that?

What if we knew that our wedding was approaching, but not what day it would be?

What if we had to have our graduation cap and gown packed up and ready to go, because our graduation ceremony could break out at any moment in the next two weeks?

When I think about the work I put into planning my ordination service, all the preparation and careful choreography—and how nervous I was that morning—and then to imagine that some invisible but undeniable signal could arrive at 2 a.m. on a Tuesday, out of the blue.

It’s time! Get everyone to the church! We have to ordain her! Get the bishop here, stat! Continue reading

Apostle: The Job You Didn’t Know You Had

“One of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.”

This is a line from our scripture from Acts today. The disciples are beginning to build the early church, to take up their mission and go forward in the spreading of the Good News, now that Jesus has ascended to heaven.

But Jesus began the leadership of the church with twelve apostles, and since Judas’s death, they are down to only eleven. They need someone to replace him, to be a witness as Peter says.

In the crushing tragedy of the crucifixion and the giddy uplift of the resurrection, the disciples have been broken down and remade.

They are actually no longer just disciples; they have become something else.

The word “disciple” means “one who is taught.”

When they followed Jesus on earth, listening to his preaching, seeing his miracles, receiving his instruction, they were disciples, ones who were taught.

But now they have crossed over.

Their personal, visceral experience of abandoning Jesus when they wanted to stay by his side, feeling their hearts break in two when he died on the Cross, and then suddenly knowing themselves to be healed and whole when he came to them, alive again, has changed them forever.

They are no longer disciples, ones who are taught. They are apostles.

The word “apostle” means “one who is sent.”

They have been sent by Jesus to go forward and spread the Good News, to preach liberation to the captives, bind up the brokenhearted, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

And what does it mean to be an apostle, one who is sent?

How does one qualify for it?

I think although we easily identify ourselves as “disciples,” followers of Jesus who seek to learn from him and imitate him, we think of the apostles as “others,” just the Twelve, big, important, historical people that we have little to do with.

They’re heroes and martyrs, leaders and prophets, bold preachers and architects of the early church.

There were only Twelve of them.

We’re not apostles.

We could never be that great.

And frankly, we don’t really want to.

We’d rather outsource work that hard and that grand to someone else, comfortably far away in a dusty old Bible story.

But I have challenging Good News today: we’re all called to be apostles as much as we are called to be disciples. Continue reading

Me and Jesus? We’re Just Friends

If you want to know whom you truly consider a friend, ask yourself the following question: if your car broke down by the side of the road at 2 a.m. and you knew you couldn’t call a family member, who would you call?

Or imagine you needed $500 tomorrow with no questions asked and no guarantee that the money would be repaid—who would you call?

That person is your closest and truest friend.

We have circles of friendship that are circles of increasing intimacy and trust.

On the outer circle we have acquaintances. These are people we know by name, we may know their children’s names, and when we see each other we talk about the weather and the Colts.

Then we have the circle of friends, people about whom we know more detail, perhaps we know some of the major struggles in their lives like a divorce or an addiction, and with whom we would enjoy going to the movies on Friday night or having a dinner party together.

Side note: think about how many people here at church are in the acquaintance circle and how many are in the friends circle as I have just described them.

Part of our work as Christian community is working together to move with each other from the acquaintance circle to the friends circle, with the added ingredient of spiritual intimacy.

So we not only know some of the griefs and struggles and joys of the people around us in the pews, we know how those events have impacted their faith and their growth in relationship with God.

But there is a closer circle even than the friends circle, and that is the true friends, the dearest friends, the best friends.

These are the ones that you call at 2 a.m. when you’re broken down by the side of the road.

These are the ones that can show up at your house and you don’t worry about the clutter or the fact that you’re wearing ratty old sweatpants and no makeup.

These are the ones that you simply cannot b.s. because they see right through you.

These friends are the ones we drop our masks for, and expect them to drop their masks in return.

These relationships contain the most sacred intimacy outside our immediate family relationships, and the best family relationships have these elements of friendship.

We sometimes call these people soul friends, anam cara in Gaelic.

They know the secrets and fears and joys of our inmost hearts, and we know theirs. We hold those secrets and hears and joys in our very hands, and we trust our friend to hold ours with the same care and love.

Now consider the words of Jesus in our gospel today: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you.” Continue reading

If You Try to Stick Your Hand Up My Skirt, I’m Going to Get Baptized

I’ve been thinking a lot about power lately.

Actually, I’ve been thinking about power for years, because I think it’s so central to our spiritual path.

Power is the number one addiction of our unredeemed egos, and as such it has enormous potential for danger and abuse.

But lately I’ve been starting to wonder if it has a good side as well.

As I look back over just the last two weeks in my own life, I see a lot of instances of men, women, and power, and how the three forces interact for better or for worse. And as I make these observations, I’ve started to question some of my beliefs about power.

I have long believed that Jesus teaches downward mobility.

“Blessed are the poor,” Jesus says. “Blessed are the meek, those who mourn, the peacemakers…he who would be greatest among you must be the servant of all.”

I still believe that.

Many of the most formative theologians in my life have also taught about giving up control and power—St. Francis, John of the Cross, Gerald May, Richard Rohr. I find their teachings incredibly important.

There is still a lot I can learn about giving up power, because I know that my basest desires and fears can and will drive me to exert it destructively if I don’t submit myself humbly to the work of God in my soul.

But here’s what else I’ve finally noticed: all of these theologians who teach about giving up power are men.

And many of Jesus’ teachings in the gospel—while certainly applying to men and women alike—were originally directed, in the moment, to men.

Presumably the crowds he preached to had both men and women, but many of his most pithy and pointed teachings about giving up power were directed to the disciples and the scribes and Pharisees, all men.

Almost all of Jesus’ most intimate, one-on-one interactions with women were either 1. healings, or 2. telling them to take up power. Continue reading

She Restoreth My Soul

Today is a day for taking a risk from the pulpit, so here I go.

But I am able to take this risk because Robert took a risk today with the offertory anthem he chose.

And Robert took the risk because someone at our grad school took the risk to use this anthem in the chapel services we both attended.

And the chapel worship planner took the risk because the author of the anthem text, Bobby McFerrin, took the risk to write it.

And he took the risk to write it because of the witness of his mother. She took the risk to have a child, to influence her child deeply with her love, and it led, through a chain of courage, all the way to this pulpit today.

So what’s so risky about this anthem?

Well, it takes what is very likely the best known and most beloved text in the Bible, the 23rd Psalm, and changes the pronoun for God in it.

Instead of “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, he leadeth me beside the still waters,” you will hear the choir sing, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I have all I need. She makes me lie down in green meadows, beside the still waters she will lead. She restores my soul, She rights my wrongs, She leads me in a path of good things, and fills my heart with songs. Even though I walk through a dark and dreary land there is nothing that can shake me, She has said She won’t forsake me, I’m in her hand. She sets a table before me, in the presence of my foes. She anoints my head with oil, and my cup overflows. Surely, surely goodness and kindness will follow me, all the days of my life, And I will live in her house, forever, forever and ever.”

For some of you, calling God “She” will not be at all troubling. It will be beautiful and inspiring and even comfortable and familiar.

For others of you, it will be distinctly off-putting. You won’t be able to connect to it at all, and you’ll be wondering if it’s really okay to change the Biblical text like this.

Many of us fall somewhere squarely in the middle.

We’ve heard of the practice, we understand theologically that God is much bigger than our paltry human concepts of gender, but actually praying to God our Mother?

We do that pretty rarely, if at all. I mean, why would we? Continue reading

Enough With the Miracles Already

The status quo is the most powerful force in the world.

And sometimes it seems like Jesus’ mission is life is to break up the status quo, to challenge it, to upend it, to hit us over the head with how very un-normal life with him is.

And we kind of hate it.

Consider our stories today from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of Luke. They are marked with fear and astonishment at the miracles being witnessed.

In the Book of Acts, Peter and John are going to prayer, and in the name of Jesus Christ they heal a man who cannot walk.

“All the people saw him walking and praising God,” Acts says, “and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. While he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s Portico, utterly astonished.”

The same thing happens in our gospel story, tinged with even more intensity.

“Jesus himself stood among the disciples and their companions and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.”

Even the very people who walked with Jesus on earth, who saw him perform miracles every day, kept getting caught off guard.

Why?

You would think after walking around with him for three years, seeing the healing and the feeding and the walking on water, they would be a little more adjusted to living among the miraculous.

Especially after Jesus had told them repeatedly that he would be raised from the dead.

Jesus wants an answer to the same question.

“Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” he says.

The truth is that we don’t want to live in a miraculous world because that would force us to give up control. Continue reading

© 2018 Roof Crashers and Hem Grabbers