We Are God’s Art Project

Today we meet Nicodemus, a man searching for answers.

The traditional response of the church to people searching for answers is to provide a ream of doctrine.

The Episcopal Church is actually not a doctrinal church. In order to be Episcopalian, at no point do you have to sign on the dotted line to a list of detailed beliefs.

Our only statement of belief is the Nicene Creed, and it’s okay to be a little hazy on parts of that if you need to.

As long as you are actively seeking out relationship with God in Jesus Christ, you are welcome to call yourself an Episcopalian.

Our unifying document is not a list of doctrines, but the Book of Common Prayer. We are bound together by worship and sacrament; we find our unity in praying together.

But that’s not to say that Episcopalians are floating around out there with no doctrine available. If you want doctrine, there is a lot out there to choose from and ponder.

We’re just saying that the church isn’t going to dictate it to you. It is your privilege and your responsibility to sift through generations of church tradition with scripture in one hand and your own good human reason in the other to find out what rings true to you and what will best help you to better love God and your neighbor.

One of the great things about being an Episcopalian is that active relationship with God takes precedence over doctrine.

But there are actually two bits of doctrine that work for me that I’d like for you to try on for size and see if they work for you. Continue reading

Eden Calls from Forty Days Away

Today we read of how things went profoundly wrong for Adam and Eve.

It’s the first Sunday of Lent, and with our modern discomfort in talking honestly about sin, the language of the Great Litany and Rite I can send us into a rather gloomy mood if we don’t rearrange ourselves theologically.

But the message from today’s scriptures is actually one of profound hope, a signal to us that yes, our journey these forty days does lead directly to the Cross, but the Cross leads directly to the resurrection.

Today we hear Easter Day calling to us from forty days in the future.

We see Easter’s hope like a point of light on the horizon, a beacon that is our direction and our guide through the wilderness.

It all hinges on a concept known as “Christ as the New Adam.” Continue reading

The Transfiguration: Moses’ and Elijah’s Side of the Story

I love it when God laughs at me, not in a mean way, but in a “you are adorable and I must tease you” way.

I think that happened this week when I drew the Transfiguration as my preaching scripture.

I am not a fan of fluffy miracles such as the Transfiguration and the Ascension.

I’m not really into the scenes in the gospel when Jesus flies through the air with lights and fireworks and stuff.

I prefer him to walk either on the ground or on water, and work with concrete things such as bread or fish or mud.

But no such luck, Jesus really went big this Sunday in the Gospel of Matthew, and it appears to be an important part of the story because it’s in the Gospels of Mark and Luke as well.  Thomas Aquinas thought it was the greatest miracle in the Bible, so I guess maybe we should look into it.

If you’re like me, you definitely identify with Peter in this story.

He’s walking along with his friends James, John, and Jesus when this totally crazy thing happens. Continue reading

Mercy Wins: The Hardest Teaching

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

I don’t know about you, but those words strike fear into my heart every time I read them.

Be perfect? And not just perfect, but as perfect as God the Father? Has Jesus met us? How could he ask this of us?

It’s an incredibly high standard, at the end of a long list of standards, one more difficult to achieve than the next.

Do not resist an evildoer. Turn the other cheek. If someone sues you for your coat, give them your cloak as well. Go the extra mile. Give to everyone who begs or borrows. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

And last and seemingly least attainable, be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Jesus always seems so loving and gentle, but here he seems to morph into the strictest taskmaster possible, demanding something of us we can never achieve.

It is very easy to go wrong with this passage and get ourselves tied up in knots. Continue reading

I Am the Disciple Who Runs and Hides

Bishop Cate has asked us to join in with the national Episcopal Church today to observe the International Day of Prayer for South Sudan.

She’s asked us to use the readings from the feast of the Martyrs of the Sudan, which commemorates some Roman Catholic and Episcopal bishops who were martyred in 1983. Since it’s a feast of martyrs, we have our red paraments and vestments, and our hymns and prayers reflect the theme as well.

South Sudan is in political and military crisis right now, a situation more dire and costly to life than any since the days of civil war between north and south that rocked the nation from 1983-2005.

South Sudan as a country is only three years old, just barely getting on its feet as an independent nation.

Internal conflict between the president and vice-president of South Sudan has mushroomed into armed violence that has killed thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands, rendering them refugees within their own country.

Old ethnic rivalries and conflicts have reared their heads. With the northerners no longer serving as a common enemy, the country that looked toward the future with such hope just a short time ago is now splashed across the headlines with words like “human rights violations,” “war crimes,” “rising death tolls,” and “mass atrocities.”

Part of what makes this, and so many other conflicts around the world, hard to deal with is the fact that no one party holds the moral high ground, and no one party is unprovoked.

All are justified in their outrage, and all have responded with violence. This is not a black and white issue, and we prefer issues to be black and white when it comes to moral judgments.

The gray areas are the hardest to navigate when it comes to moral discernment, whether those gray areas are in geopolitics or in our own personal lives. Continue reading

Salt and Light

Salt and light.

That is what Jesus calls us today, what Jesus calls us to be today, so we want to spend some time exploring what he’s asking of us.

Being called the light of the world is suitably flattering and the symbolism makes immediate sense.

Being called the salt of the earth, well, that one takes some doing to figure out what Jesus might have been talking about.

We notice that Jesus seems to be teaching in this passage about our role in society, how we as Christians impact the larger human family.

He calls us not just salt and light for ourselves, or salt and light of the church, but “salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.”

He’s teaching us that our commitment to discipleship is important for way more than just our own personal spirituality. Continue reading

This Is How Brave We Have To Be

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, a feast that only happens on a Sunday once every decade, so it’s worth paying attention to.

There are four feasts relating to the birth of Jesus. The first, of course, is Christmas. Then there is the Feast of the Holy Name on January 1, eight days after Christmas, when Jesus was named by his parents and circumcised according to Jewish tradition. On January 6 we have Epiphany, when the wise men arrived to worship Jesus.

Then we have today, the Presentation, also known as Candlemas because on this day priests used to bless candles for people to burn in their homes throughout the year.

If anyone wants me to bless your iPhone flashlight, just let me know.

The Presentation is always celebrated on February 2, exactly forty days after Christmas, because this is when Mary and Joseph were prescribed by the law of Moses to present their firstborn child in the temple and offer a sacrifice. This was also Mary’s opportunity to be purified after childbirth.

It’s worth noting that of the sacrifices Mary and Joseph could have offered in the temple, they offer a pair of turtledoves and two young pigeons. That’s specifically the sacrifice that’s written in the law of Moses for poor people to offer.

It’s the only concrete evidence we have of Jesus’ economic status as a child, and it’s a powerful characterization of Mary and Joseph.

It tells us that they only had the money to offer the most humble form of sacrifice, but that even given how poor they were, they prioritized making the journey to the Jerusalem temple because it mattered that much to them to observe the rites of their religion.

We call this the Feast of the Presentation, and we use our white vestments and white paraments.

We usually think of feasts as joyful times.

But as one of the members of my sermon group pointed out this week, this story is full of beautiful sadness.

It’s a complex mix of endings and beginnings and love and sacrifice.

And one thing we see above all else is that the experience of the presence of God is to be so cherished and relished because it can feel so very brief. Continue reading

Zebedee Gets a Bad Rap

I am a responsible person.

No, really, I am.

I pay my bills on time.  I respect and care for my neighbor.  This community knows me as a sober, law-abiding citizen.

I have my own business, small but respectable, with which I provide for my family.

I have two boys, and they are the pride of my life.

I have a quick temper when provoked, but I have always walked upright before God and man.

I don’t put up with anything untested, untried, or fly-by-night.

My name is Zebedee, and I am a responsible person. Continue reading

Have You Ever Been Harrowed?


The Son of God, the Son of Man, the Ancient of Days, Emmanuel, the Good Shepherd, the Holy One of Israel, the Light of the World, the Way, the Truth and the Life, the Living Water, the Root of Jesse, the Lion of Judah, the Rock of our Salvation.

These are just a few of the names by which we know Jesus, our Savior. We could spend every week in our sermon time talking about the names of Jesus and stay busy for a year.

But today we’re going to spend some time talking about another particular name of Jesus: the Lamb of God.

This term is one of the very oldest for Jesus.  It comes straight from our gospel lesson today.

In John 1:29, John the Baptist cries out when he first sees Jesus coming up to town, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”

Now consider this for a moment.

John the Baptist is not a gentle person and it seems odd that he would choose such a gentle sounding name to proclaim the Messiah’s arrival.

John eats locusts and tells the people if they do not repent they will be burned with unquenchable fire.

He gets everyone all worked up and excited and then Jesus arrives and John announces, “Behold the Lamb of God.”

I just would have expected something with a little more punch to it. Continue reading

Stage Fright and Jordan Wading: When Jesus Needs a Hand

What a strange and humble way for Jesus to start his ministry.

Rather than beginning with lights and fireworks, descending from on high, or even with a simple miracle like walking on water or healing a sick person, Jesus quietly joins the crowd being baptized by John.

We can learn so much from Jesus in this moment, the first thing being that ministry takes preparation.

Jesus didn’t just plunge in full blast.

He took part in a ceremony, a marking of a profound change in his life.

Jesus didn’t need to be cleansed of sin in his baptism, he lived without sin. But he did need to mark this pivotal moment with a spiritual sign. His baptism clearly separates the first thirty years of his life, his private life, if you will, from the start of his public life and ministry.

It’s also a signal within a family. Continue reading

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