Archives: 2 Lent

New Names: Learning the Gospel From Trans People

You know that phrase, “That’s a game changer”? It signifies a new element in a situation that changes it completely.

I wonder if we could coin a new phrase, one that would have a lot of resonance in the Bible: “That’s a name changer.”

We see some important instances of God changing people’s names throughout the Bible, and a name change always signifies deep personal transformation for the person affected.

Think of Jacob being renamed Israel, or Saul becoming Paul.

(Note: God did not change Paul’s name specifically, it was a gradual shifting throughout the Biblical texts over time. “Saul to Paul” is a shorthand for Paul’s changed life rather than a divine event like the other name changes.)

Those name changes require the person to leave behind an old identity and everything that went along with it—the good and the bad.

In fact, the change being demanded of Jacob and Saul was so significant that neither they nor others would recognize them after the fact.

That’s part of why they needed a new name.

Their names were changed also because they were being sent out on a new mission. They had important new work to do, and taking on a new name was part of what helped them set out to do that work.

The old self that they had, with all of its baggage and history, was unequal to the task. They needed a fresh start to take on challenging new work.

This was definitely the case for Abram in our story from Genesis today.

He was 99 years old—that’s no time to pull up stakes, set off on a long journey, and found a new nation!

He couldn’t do it as Abram, he had to become Abraham.

And God’s renaming of him was part of how God equipped him to take on the task.

Few of us have been literally renamed, but doubtless the work God has called us into in different seasons of our lives has required us to take on a new identity, one that may look unfamiliar to our friends and family.

How consciously and intentionally have you received the new name God gives you when God leads you to new ministry? Continue reading

What Are You Resisting?

One of the most helpful spiritual questions I was ever asked is this: “What are you resisting?”

I can’t remember where I first read or heard that question, Pema Chodron maybe? Something Buddhist, I’m sure.

But it has remained in my life as one of the most fruitful seeds of prayer in the midst of pain or anxiety I’ve ever found.

What is it that I’m resisting?

The question has the power to stop me in my tracks in real time, in the very moment of my being angry at the world.

And asking the question also asks a second, implicit question: and why are you resisting it?

The subsequent questions ask themselves.

Is it worth resisting?

What would happen if you let this go?

Is what you’re resisting truly a threat to you, or simply an inconvenience, a discomfort, an irritant?

I’m usually awakened at that point to how easily and completely I’ve given myself over to the traditional three corrupting influences of “the world, the flesh, and the devil,” and by that I mean my selfish desires, my loud body and its preferences, and my cranky, needy ego.

I’m usually resentful of a phone call I need to make or a meeting I have to attend, unable to accept that I really will feel better if I eat well and exercise, or mad at my perception that someone is treating me dismissively or condescendingly.

What am I resisting? Trivial, trivial things.

And in the process I am resisting the glimpses of God that God is always ready to reveal to me in the midst of my trivial circumstances, if I would only open to them.

What are you resisting? Continue reading

Lord, Make Me a Pharisee

Imagine yourself as a major fan of the Indiana Hoosier basketball team.

For most of you, that will not be a stretch.

Now, go bigger. Imagine yourself as a ticket taker at Assembly Hall.

Now, go bigger. Imagine yourself as a graduate assistant in the equipment department.

Now, go bigger. Imagine yourself as an assistant coach to the Indiana Hoosier basketball team.

You are sitting on the bench next to Head Coach Tom Crean during every game. You are strategizing and encouraging and celebrating as Williams and Ferrell and Hartman dominate from the paint to the perimeter every night.

You are extremely invested in IU basketball.

Your life revolves around setting them up to go deep in the NCAA tournament.

This could be your year! You could go all the way to the National Championship!

Now imagine, in your role as Assistant Coach, it’s the eve of the Big Ten Tournament, and you and your fellow coaches draw up all the plays and plans and strategies for your run through the tournament.

This is the set-up for the end of your entire breakout season, the season that has recaptured the glory of famed Hoosier Basketball, the season that has awakened Kansas fans like me to the fact that the road to the Final Four once again runs through Bloomington.

There is very tight security around your preparation for the Big Ten Tournament. Players and coaches alike know how important it is to not spill any secrets to the media or even family and friends.

Preparation in a monster conference like the Big Ten requires a military-style discipline and cohesion.

Now here comes the crazy part.

You arrive in Indianapolis for the tournament. Most of the teams stay in a one of a few hotels near the arena.

You hear that the Head Coach of Purdue basketball, Matt Painter, is going to be at such-and-such restaurant for dinner the night before the opening game.

Matt Painter and Purdue represent potentially a major threat to the end of IU’s season this year, not to mention being IU’s most hated long-term rival.

And then you, the assistant coach of the Indiana Hoosiers basketball team, sit down at Matt Painter’s table and hand him IU’s entire tournament playbook.

He recognizes you and opens the book with disbelief as you start to take him through it, explaining to this enemy coach every single part of your team’s tournament strategy. Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, all of it.

You’ve just betrayed the organization that has commanded your every shred of loyalty probably for your whole life, and alerted that organization’s enemy to your exact plans to defeat it.

WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?! Continue reading

A Covenant Worth Our Very Lives

This sermon originally appeared on the Episcopal Digital Network’s Sermons That Work.

We human beings love our rules.

The security that comes from knowing how things should be done comforts us in our chaotic world.

God understands this about us, and so God comes to us in terms of covenant.

In our lesson from Genesis, God provides a clear agreement that Abraham can refer to and rely on to know that God will come through on God’s promises.

God willingly limits Godself out of love, knowing that making this clear and concrete covenant, promising to be our God forever and make our descendants fruitful, will bring us comfort and security.

Where we get into trouble is when we think that our ideas about rules and regulations should govern God.

Once we understand that God will always be faithful to us and care for us, we start to think we know better than God who God should be and how God should act. Continue reading

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

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