Friday, March 10, 2017

Change, an Invitation to Life: In You all the Families of the Earth Shall be bles...

Change, an Invitation to Life: In You all the Families of the Earth Shall be bles...: As we who are God’s people prayerfully travel together this Lenten journey of reflection and repentance, I am led back to the Holy Scri...

In You all the Families of the Earth Shall be blessed

As we who are God’s people prayerfully travel together this Lenten journey of reflection and repentance, I am led back to the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. As I seek to understand and to live into my relationships with God and God’s people, I see and understand the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testaments to be the foundation for all of our relationships. This week I am seeking to build on this foundation as I reflect on my relationship to all of God’s people and how God calls us to relate to one another.

My reflection has been guided by reading and re-reading and meditating on two passages which the Episcopal Church recommends for the second Sunday in Lent.

“The Lord said to Abram, Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you. . .so that you will be a blessing. . .and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-4a)

 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:1-17)


Abraham was led by God to a place unknown to him. In fact, God told him, when you get there, I will let you know. God promised to bless him and his family, and his descendents and to make him a great nation. Who doesn’t want to be a great nation? But God did not stop there; he promised Abraham that not only would he and his family be blessed, but that “all the families of the Earth would be blessed through him.”


Likewise, Jesus tells the Jewish leader Nicodemus that, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”


I am convinced that God often leads us, either literally or figuratively or both, into new lands, both challenging us and blessing us. On these journey’s into the unknown, we must depend on the gifts God has given us, as well as the Holy Spirit, to “lead us and guide us into all truth.”


In our world today, we are very often afraid to go into new lands, or new situations, and we can be just as afraid to welcome people who are different from us, either racially or religiously, into our own lands. We do not know the language or the customs of places to which we are led, and I suspect that people who come to our land have the same fear and discomforts that we have.


Our world is indeed filled with dangers and challenges and hatred, but it is also filled with beauty, joy, wonder and love. How do we, like Abraham, balance our legitimate fears with the blessing God has given us in allowing “all the families of the Earth to be blessed through us.”


I believe this is the message Jesus was attempting to communicate to Nicodemus: That you and I cannot, alone, solve all the world’s problems; that we cannot save the world.


But that: “God sent his Son into the world, in order that the world might be saved through him.”  And then, thanks be to God, God chose us to be partners with Jesus, to be his vessels through which He saves the whole world and blesses all the families of the Earth.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Lent is a gift that Awakens our Senses

As I was sitting in church on Ash Wednesday, waiting to preach about the beginning of Lent and how we can observe this season to the benefit of our faith and our lives, I had this vision of the Christian year as an hour glass and Lent as the narrow middle of the hour glass through which the sand passes one grain at a time.

Allow me to explain. In the Christian year the two seasons immediately prior to Lent are Christmas and Epiphany, seasons through which we see the glory of God in our worship and in the readings from the Bible that accompany our worship: Isaiah’s prophecy which proclaims Jesus as “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6);” the birth of Jesus in the manger; the coming of the wise men; the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River; Jesus’ first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee; his recognition as the Messiah by the Samaritan woman at the well; and finally his Transfiguration on the mount with Peter, James and John.

We also read about and reflect on his proclamation of the Gospel in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5): blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the peace makers, blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they will be filled. And finally, Jesus ends the beatitudes with some of his most difficult teachings, challenging us and showing us his glory at the same time:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”(Matthew 5:43-48)

This is all the top of the Hour Glass, filled with God’s Glory as we see it in Jesus Christ, and as it is, we hope, reflected in our lives. Then all this is pushed through the narrow center of the Hour Glass, one grain at a time. As the sand slowly moves through the narrow opening, we are forced, or perhaps, allowed to slow down and see our life and our faith, one grain, one piece, at a time. When we narrow our focus, all of our senses seem to become sharper and we see and experience things we missed when we were bombarded with the full glory of God all at once.

I am a kayaker and I have spent many beautiful days paddling on lakes, creeks and rivers in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. When I am floating down a lazy river my mind can wander and I can daydream, looking at the birds, clouds and sky and the vegetation along the banks. But when the stream begins to narrow and the same volume of water is forced through a smaller and smaller space, all my senses come alive and I am aware of all that is going on around me: the speed of the river, the rocks and other obstructions in front of me and the path and passages the river is showing me. This is what I believe Lent is for Christians. Our senses are more alive, more focused and we become aware of all God is doing in our lives and of how we are hearing and living the Gospel. This is not unlike what happens in the Hour Glass of Lent

As the sands pass through the narrow opening in the Hour Glass, the fall into the larger bottom section and we again see the Glory of God, this time heightened and more visible because our senses have been awakened. We walk with Jesus through Holy Week, from Palm Sunday through the Last Supper and Christ’s New Commandment on Maundy Thursday to “love one another as He has loved us,” through all the sorrow of Good Friday and finally to the fullness of God in the Glorious Resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Day.

Lent is not a time of punishment or pain or agony. No, it is a gift from God through the Church which offers us time and space, and opens our hearts and minds and souls to God’s love for all creation. It opens us up to our place in that love, both as those who receive the love from God, and those who because we have received this love, want to share it with the whole world.

Our eyes are opened and we see that truly, “God sent his son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the whole World might be saved!”

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Change, an Invitation to Life: Salt and Light (Reflections on the Sermon on the M...

Change, an Invitation to Life: Salt and Light (Reflections on the Sermon on the M...: Salt and Light (Reflections on the Sermon on the Mount) Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, h...

Salt and Light (Reflections on the Sermon on the Mount)

Salt and Light
(Reflections on the Sermon on the Mount)

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-15)

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus does not say to his disciples, “you will become salt and light. Instead, Jesus proclaims, “you are already salt and light.” The disciples are those things because Jesus has called them and they have responded. And we, because we have been called by Jesus to be his disciples and have also responded to that call, are also salt and light.

We too are called by Jesus to let our light shine among all people. We do this by the good works we perform in Jesus’ name which build up God’s Kingdom on Earth. The Prophet we call Second Isaiah gives us a vision of what a life of salt and light looks like as he proclaims God’s message to the people of Judah in the sixth century B.C.

        Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, here I am. (Isaiah 58:6-9)

What might Isaiah’s vision look like in twenty-first century America? I share three examples from my life experience which I hope will lead you to reflect on your life as a
disciple and as light and salt in the world.

A long, long time ago, when I was just out of college, I served in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic. Two of my many friends in the small mountain town also served in the Peace Corps. Merry worked in Women’s Health and birth control, and Paul helped to organize an Agricultural Co-Operative, fostering team work, better agricultural skills and maximization of profits for subsistence farmers in our area. Through these two friends and my own work as a Forester and Teacher at the National Forestry School I learned to see the world through different eyes, and hopefully was able to be salt and light to some of God’s Children.

Living in New Orleans in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s I was part of an Episcopal Church coalition which provided meals to the homeless on the one day a week that was  covered by no other organization. After we served the meal we ate with those whom we served. It was not easy. Their daily lives were so different from ours. After lunch they would head back out onto the streets, or go to the public library to hang out, or to a fast food restaurant where it was warm. I would head out to pick up my son and go to the gym with him, or go watch his soccer games. No, it was not easy, but it was important. I learned a great deal about other people, and just as important, I learned even more about myself and my pre-conceived ideas about what life was and is and should be.

Last, but not least, I am privileged and blessed to be the rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Albertville, Alabama where I see the Light of Christ in these people every day as we worship together, provide food in the form of beans and rice to over 100 families every month, prepare Blessings in a Backpack for hungry children in our local schools, and care for each other as we provide food, clothing, shelter, and transportation when needs arise in our own church community,

Take a moment and look at your own lives see where God is using you as the light and salt that you already are. God will bless you and you will be a blessing.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Christian Unity in the Midst of a Divided Society

      Christian Unity in the Midst of a Divided Society

Apparently St. Paul had heard rumors from “Chloe’s people” that there were some quarrels within the Christian Community in Corinth. Based on these stories, he writes them a letter of “encouragement.”

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and same purpose.(1 Cor. 1:10)

It seems they had been arguing about whose baptism was better and perhaps more valid:

What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided? (1Cor 1:12-13)

Paul ends by reminding us that, “the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”(1 Cor. 1:18) I see this as a reminder to all of us, then and now that our power comes from God and not from any human being, and that we are to “pick up our cross and follow Jesus.”

And yes, there are divisions in the church, certainly divisions over whose baptism is better or more valid: how much water should we use, how deep should it be, do we baptize infants, adults or both. Oh, and by the way, “my church is better than your church.”

But, the biggest divisions in the church relate to “how we interpret the scripture, and how we see the World and politics. Any reflection on our faith must include the world and politics. The world and politics, how we interact with all other human beings in the world, are the reasons God sent Jesus into the world in the first place. If this were not the case we would all have been created as spirits living in eternal bliss with God.

Therefore, as faithful Christians, as the People St. Paul calls brothers and sisters, we must, for Christ’s sake, reflect on the inauguration of the forty-fifth President of the United States. But, as Paul also implies, we must do this through the Lens of the Cross.

I believe this is what Paul means when he says, “now I appeal to you brothers and sisters by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” And that purpose is not that we think alike or act alike or even believe alike, but that we proclaim the gospel of Jesus to the world.

With this in mind, I share my reflections on the inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the United States. On Friday, January 20, many of us watched the inauguration with tears in our eyes. Some tears were tears of joy for the new direction of our country. Some were tears of fear and sorrow for the new direction of our country. Both sets of tears are legitament and important. As the body of Christ united by the Cross we do not magically understand another person’s beliefs or opinions. That in some cases may even be impossible-But-because of the Cross that unites us and unites Heaven and Earth; we are called by God to try.

All of us have very strong feelings about what we believe and why we believe it. Our beliefs are part of who we are. I may never understand why some of you are so excited about President Trump and his plans, but I am willing to listen. Some of you may never understand why I and others are so afraid of what he might do to our nation and the world. I hope you will listen to us as well.

I believe that Jesus and Paul would want us to talk and listen to one another without calling each other horrible names and without questioning one another’s legitimacy  as a Christian or even as a human being.

It breaks my heart to hear and see people proclaim their faith in and love for Jesus in one breath and in the next breath say or write the most unchristian things about those who disagree with them. It also breaks my heart to know the things I want to say and sometimes do say to others.

The truth is, I know I am correct! The truth is, you know you are correct. The real truth is, “to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” It is seeing the world and others through the lens of the Cross.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016