Welcome Text Week Readers

I am honored to have earned a spot on the regular roster of The Text This Week resources.  If you’ve landed here from there, thank you for clicking over.  My goal is to blog Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, so if you’re here early in the week, check back.  Be sure to comment if you have thoughts, and sign up for email updates.

–The Rev. Steve Pankey

Happy Thanksgetting!?!

You can listen to my Thanksgiving Day sermon on the Saint Paul’s website, or read it below.

Happy Thanksgetting everyone! No, not Thanksgiving, Thanksgetting.  Haven’t you heard, the good people at Verizon have decided that giving thanks is way too antiquated an idea, so this year, they’re calling it Thanksgetting, as in, let’s all be thankful for the stuff we can get now that Black Friday starts on Thanksgiving Thursday.  Now, I’m not one who usually gets my feathers ruffled by what the great minds at high power ad agencies come up with in order to get me to buy things. I don’t get bothered by people lining up for a great deal… I think they’re weird,  but I don’t begrudge them. I don’t even get angry that the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade is nothing but a three-hour advertisement for Macy’s and NBC, but for some reason, this Thanksgetting ad campaign really got stuck in my craw, so I googled it to see what others were saying about it, and found that this actually wasn’t the first instance of the word Thanksgetting.

As far as I can tell, the first time Thanksgetting was used in the media was November 13, 2010 on a children’s show called Planet Sheen.[1]  Planet Sheen was a spin-off of the popular animated movie Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, that you’ve probably never heard of. It centered around Jimmy’s less-than-genius friend, Sheen Estevez, who snuck aboard Jimmy’s rocket ship and ignoring the “Sheen, do not press this button” note, found himself four million and one light years away on the planet Zeenu.[2]  While working to get the rocket ship repaired, Sheen begins to teach the Zeenunians about what life is like on Earth.

In the 7th episode, entitled “Thanksgetting,”[3] the Zeenunians celebrate their annual holiday, Zakmanus, which lasts for an entire minute.  Sheen is less than impressed with the puny holiday, and teaches them about the three month long holiday season back on earth.  The Zeenunians decide to try it out, and Sheen takes advantage, calling the season Thanksgetting and making it all about them giving him presents, presents, and more presents.  Sheen gets everything he could ever want and more, but as you might guess, there is no real joy in Thanksgetting.  Sheen learns that joy comes in giving.  Of course, we all know this already, which is why we are here taking the opportunity to pause and be reminded that true joy can be found not in getting, but in giving, especially in giving thanks.

In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus is speaking to his disciples on the side of a mountain, but he could just as easily be talking to the millions of people who are making plans to hit all the great sales that start as early as 6pm this evening.  “Do not worry…”  Don’t worry about that 55 inch Ultra HD TV.  Don’t worry about the interactive R2-D2 robot.  Don’t worry about that ugly Christmas sweater.  Strive instead for the Kingdom of God.  I honestly believe that the starting place in striving for the Kingdom of God is in the action of giving thanks.  That’s why the Church continues to call the weekly celebration of Jesus’ last supper by an ancient Greek word, the Eucharist; which literally means, thanksgiving.  Our central act of worship, the thing that Christians have been doing since the very beginning, isn’t about  getting bread and wine but giving thanks to God for all the gifts that he has given us: bread, wine, community, and above all, his Son our Savior, Jesus Christ.

And so today, we pause.  As Santa is preparing for his annual ride down New York’s famed Fifth Avenue, as turkeys are roasting in the oven, as family and friends begin to gather, as football games get ready to start, and as the stores make their final preparations for an onslaught of shoppers, we stop, if only for a few moments, to strive for the Kingdom, to do the right, and good and joyful thing, to give God thanks for everything he has done for us.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone, and thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Planet_Sheen_episodes

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planet_Sheen

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-zUxNvjC3I


Reading the [fig] leaves


Sunday’s Gospel lesson is chronically difficult to deal with.  What did Jesus mean by signs in the sun, moon, and stars?  How do we handle Jesus’ promise that the generation would not pass away before these things took place?  Is Jesus suggesting that if we pray hard enough, we can be saved – isn’t that works righteousness?  What the hell does any of this have to do with Christmas?  I’m not preaching this week, and I haven’t done my homework on this difficult text, so I can’t really help you with any of that, but I have become particularly interested in Jesus’ mention of the fig leaves.


In my neck of the woods, the harbinger of summer isn’t the fig tree; it is the pecan tree that tells us that winter is over.  I’m not sure how it knows, but the locals say that the pecan tree never buds before the last frost/freeze of the season.  When the pecan tree finally begins to bud, it is time to put away the winter gear because warmer weather is on its way.  Like I said, I’m not sure how the pecan tree knows, but we know from years and years of experience.  The data tells us, and so it has become a sign.

The problem with the second coming, which along with the annual remembrance of Christ’s incarnation, is part of what we long for this Advent season, is that there is no data.  There is only speculation, and any number of foolish souls who are eager to read the leaves: fig, pecan, or maybe even tea; and try to know something that Jesus told us will come unexpectedly.


Rather than reading leaves, Jesus tells us that we should be about the work of the Kingdom.  This only makes sense, since it is the Kingdom we are waiting for anyway.  Wouldn’t it be better to be reaching out in love for our neighbor when God comes to bring about his reign of love full-time?  Wouldn’t it be better to better to develop a strong prayer life in preparation for the coming of the One to whom we pray?  Getting about the work of the Kingdom will take away from our ability to read the leaves, but it will make us all the more ready for when our prayer, the prayer that Jesus taught us, that the Kingdom might exist on earth as it does in heaven, finally comes to pass.  So, quit looking for signs in the heavens or for buds on the trees, roll up your sleeves, and get busy with Kingdom work.

Advent need not be dour

Before you read my post today, click here and read my friend, Evan Garner’s, excellent post from yesterday.

My Facebook Memories section this morning featured not one, not two, but three different blogposts on my discomfort with the season of Advent.  In 2008, 2010, and again in 2014, I discussed why I dislike this season so much.  It is partly because I find the music to be absolutely dreadful, but mostly because I have such a hard time disconnecting from the wider cultural impact of the Christmas season.  I get that Advent is now seen as “counter-cultural,” but the majority of my Facebook friends who comment on it “not being Christmas yet” just sound obnoxious, and the Good News of Jesus Christ was never meant to be obnoxious.


So what are we to do with this season that if full of awful music and lessons about the end of the world while the rest of the world is doing the whole peace and joy thing that the Kingdom of God is supposed to be about?  How can the Church be counter the culture of rampant consumerism without the counter the culture of time spent with family, sharing cookies, and trying to make the world a better place?  Maybe we take the chance to preach from somewhere other than the Gospel lesson.  Let Jesus handle the “signs in the sun, moon, and stars” and instead focus on Paul’s summation of what this Seasons of Advent and Christmas should really be about.

“How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?… And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.”

Let’s focus less on whether the altar should be blue or purple, less on whether we should say “Merry Christmas” before Christmas, less on the fact that the twelve days of Christmas don’t actually start until Christmas Day, and focus more on what it means to spend the next month and half rejoicing because Emmanuel has come and will come again to ransom us from bondage to sin and restore us to the everlasting life of peace, hope, and love, to paraphrase the only decent Advent hymn.

The Church doesn’t have to give up on Advent.  We don’t have to stop being countercultural in this season of excess, but we should probably quit the whole Debbie Downer routine and celebrate that for at least 30 days each year, the usually critical of religion world we live in embraces the core tenants of our faith.  We should pray, like Paul did, for an increase in love for one another and for all.  It seems to be what we say Christmas is all about, so why not live it, whether the Church calendar says its Christmas or not.

Fortunes Restored – a Thanksgving reflection

I’m not preaching on Sunday, and since I’m really not a big fan of the Season of Advent, I’m going to postpone my thoughts on how Jesus’ apocalyptic vision in Luke is somehow edifying a world that is already singing “Joy to the Word,” and offer you a quick reflection on Thanksgiving.

As I told the Sunday School class yesterday, Thanksgiving might replace Flag Day as my favorite holiday in 2016.  I chose Flag Day originally because it is nobody else’s favorite holiday and I love an underdog, but I’m really starting to believe that nobody cares about Thanksgiving anymore.  It might really need me to name it my favorite holiday. You know, as a morale boost.  What may have sealed the deal for me is Verizon’s hubris in changing the name from Thanksgiving to Thanksgetting for promotional purposes.  I don’t usually get mad at the blatant commercialism of this season, but seriously, that’s nearly sacrilegious.

Despite my hesitance to bemoan Christmas spending, I am generally a negative person.  The new Facebook Memories feature is mostly a rehashing of whatever Archie Bunker type complaint was on my mind over the last 8 years.  Honestly, I’m not sure how my wife puts up with me.  Anyway, what I love about Thanksgiving is that no matter how crummy things might seem, it gives us a chance to pause for a moment and give thanks for all the good things that God has given us.  This is nowhere more apparent for me than in the Psalm appointed for Thanksgiving in Year B.

Restore our fortunes, O LORD, *
like the watercourses of the Negev. – Psalm 126:5

It is a serious understatement to say this, but times of drought are bad.  The people of Israel knew that truth all too well.  Many depended on Wadis, creek beds that were dry except in the rainy season when, like in the video above, they were restored as flowing streams.

It can be hard to give thanks in a season of drought, be it a literal lack of rain or a perceived lack of the Spirit at work in our lives.  The tendency when times are tough is to blame God for not caring; in fact, the Psalms are rife with that sort of lament, but the gift of a day set aside to give thanks is that even in the midst of trials, we are forced to realize all the good things we have.  It is in those moments of realization that I think God restores our fortunes.  It is when we take time to notice the good in the midst of the bad, that we realize God’s presence never left, but that he has been waling alongside us all the while.  So as I sit here, sinuses full of grossness, chest heavy with a lingering cold, I’m working hard to have my fortunes restored like the water courses of the Negev, giving thanks for decaf tea and a working furnace.

The LORD has done great things for us, *
and we are glad indeed.  – Psalm 126:4

The Curious Case of Christ the King – a sermon

You can listen to this sermon on the Saint Paul’s website, or read it here.

The Feast of Christ the King is a strange one.  By Church standards, it is relatively new: first established in the Roman Catholic Church by Pope Pius XI (11th) in 1925.[1]  The 1979 Book of Common Prayer stole,[2] almost verbatim, the Collect for Christ the King, but Episcopalians didn’t fully adopt it until 2009.  In fact, if you look in the Prayer Books in the pews, you won’t find any reference to this day as Christ the King anywhere in its pages.  To make matters worse, this country came into being in rebellion against a King.  For 239 years, we’ve been pro-democratic republic and anti-monarchy, so it is really hard for us to think about what it means to claim Jesus as the King of kings.  We sing hymns about royal diadems, thrones, crowns, and angels prostrating themselves, and I can’t help but wonder, do we have any idea what we’re talking about?

Not being an expert on kingship myself, I turned to my usual preaching resources in hopes of finding someone who was giving real thought to what it means for us to claim Jesus as King.  Twenty-eight pages later, I hadn’t found word one dealing with what life looks like with Jesus as our King.  So then I got to thinking about the things I associate with royalty, thinking that maybe if I could match those things with Jesus we could make sense of this strange Feast of Christ the King.

The first thing that came to mind was opulence.  My primary vision of kingship comes from touring the castles of King Ludwig II of Bavaria during my three weeks as a foreign exchange student in 1997.  You might know of Ludwig II’s most famous castle, Neuschwanstein because it served as Walt Disney’s model for the central castle at his theme parks.  Completed in 1882, Neuschwanstein cost 6.2 million gold marks to build, roughly $100 billon today, and was only one of the sixteen castles, lodges, and residences that Ludwig built or gutted and remodeled during his 23 year reign.  The carvings in his bedroom took four carpenters four and half years to complete.  Ludwig II did opulence in a big way, but by that standard, Jesus wasn’t a very good king.  He and his disciples lived modest lives, depending mostly on the hospitality of others for food and lodging.  He had some rich friends and benefactors, but there is no castle in Galilee that bears the name of Jesus that we can go visit. So, I thought some more.

The second characteristic of kingship that came to mind was sovereignty – supreme power or authority, or better said, there can only be one king.  When Henry VIII was the King of England, there was no doubt that he was in control.  It didn’t matter if you were a prince or a pauper, a bishop or a blacksmith, if you were one of the estimated 40 or 50 thousand people who got on the wrong side of Henry VIII politically or theologically, you quickly found yourself on the wrong side of a sharp axe or a large wood fire.

In our Gospel lesson this morning, we hear the competing claims of two sovereignties.  It is Good Friday, and Jesus has been turned over by the Chief Priests to Pilate on the dual charges of sedition and treason. Pilate is certainly not a king, but he worked for one. As the Roman Governor of Judea, Pilate served as the representative of the Emperor Tiberius Caesar and his sole responsibility was to keep the people of Israel in line and paying their taxes.  That’s why Pilate was in Jerusalem during this week.  He usually spent his time on the coast, but because it was the Passover, the annual remembrance of when God had saved the people of Israel from their slavery in Egypt, Pilate brought his army to town to remind the people that Tiberius was the sovereign leader of every square inch of the Roman Empire, Jerusalem included.  But this Friday morning was different.  There was something strange about the man that the Jews had brought for execution.  As Pilate entered the Praetorium, he saw Jesus and uttered words that the NRSV translates as a question, but could, in the Greek, be just as easily read as a statement of fact, “You are the King of Jews.”[3]

Pilate is right, Jesus is a King, but Jesus is clear that he isn’t interested in waging a war between two sovereign states.  Jesus’ kingship isn’t about a time and a place, but rather Jesus is sovereign over everything that is and was and ever will be.  Simply put, if Jesus is our King, nothing else can be.  That is easier said than done, of course, as there are any number of things in this world that are, at any given moment, violently competing with Jesus for kingship over our lives.  Envy is a popular competitor this time of year as we struggle to have a better light display, a taller tree with more presents under it, and a busier holiday party schedule than anybody else.  Even more timely and probably the strongest pull on our allegiance to Jesus as King is fear.   As my friend and mentor Diana Butler Bass wrote earlier this week, “I have become convinced that a large percentage of Americans — Christians included — are addicted to anxiety.”

Since about the year 2000, American Christians, especially Mainline Protestant ones have lived in fear that our churches our dying.  Since 9/11, Americans have lived in fear of the next terrorist attack.  Since the Great Recession of 2008, we have lived in fear that there just won’t be enough to go around.  Anxiety makes its claim for kingship on our lives by attempting to make fear our number one motivator, and everyone from politicians in Washington, to advertisers on Madison Avenue, and even preachers in pulpits have taken notice and pledged their allegiance to anxiety and fear.

We saw the power of fear again this week as it was invoked again and again in the debate over Syrian refugee resettlement here in the United States.  Everywhere we turn; our anxiety is being used as motivation to buy, to vote, and in some cases, even to hate.  As Christians, we cannot allow anxiety and fear to rule our lives.  Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, published a letter warning us about making fear our king, “In times like this fear is real.  And I share that fear with you.  Our instinct tells us to be afraid. The fight-or-flight mentality takes hold.  At the present moment, many across our Church and our world are grasped by fear in response to the terrorist attacks that unfolded in Paris last Friday.  These fears are not unfounded…   And yet, especially when we feel legitimate fear, our faith reminds us “Be not afraid.”  The larger truth is that our ultimate security comes from God in Christ.”[4]

Neither the Presiding Bishop nor I are saying that there are easy answers to these difficult questions.  What I think we are saying is that anxiety is a cruel monarch, and if we make it king of our lives, it will surely kill us.  Instead of cruelty, Jesus offers us a gracious kingdom.  Jesus offers us a kingdom in which there is peace in the midst of anxiety; a kingdom where there is always enough if we are willing to share; a kingdom that is defined by hope, faith, and above all, love.

We each have a choice to make.  If Jesus is our King, then anxiety cannot be.  If Jesus is our King, then we must live under the rules of his kingdom and that means we have to love our neighbors and our enemies.  If Jesus is our King, then we must learn to obey him when he enters the depths of our anxiety and says, “Have no fear.” We’ve got to be like the followers Jesus describes to Pilate – followers that don’t stand up and fight out of fear, but followers who reach out in care and compassion for the least, the lost, and yes, even those who would do us harm – because that’s what the Kingdom of God looks like.  The Feast of Christ the King is hard to wrap our minds around because the Kingdom of God is beyond our comprehension.  Yet every day we join together and pray for the Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.  May Jesus Christ come to be our King, and may fear, envy, and everything else that clamors for our allegiance be put to silence under his sovereign and most gracious rule.  Amen.

[1] http://aplm2013.blogspot.com/2015/11/preachers-study-reign-of-christ-year-b.html

[2] Hatchett, Commentary on the American Prayer Book, 185.

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=420

[4] http://www.episcopalchurch.org/posts/michaelcurry/episcopal-presiding-bishop-michael-curry-addresses-syrian-refugee-crisis-%E2%80%9Cbe-not

If Jesus is our King, Anxiety can’t be

Twenty-eight pages.  I took a sick day yesterday to try to get over this cold that my wife so kindly handed down to me and after a four hour nap, I set out to read my sermon notes.  Twenty-eight pages and nary a sentence dealing with what it means for us as 21st century Americans, 239 years removed from the Crown of England, to claim Jesus Christ as our King.  In my post on Monday, I started down this road, wondering if we were capable of imagining the ramifications of a Collect which boldly claims Jesus as King of kings and asks God to unite all the peoples of the earth under his most gracious rule.  After working my way through twenty-eight pages of scholarly writing about Christ the King Sunday, I’m more certain than ever that we can’t even begin to imagine what it means to claim Jesus as King.


I am certainly not an expert on kingship, but it seems to me that the key to understanding what it means to claim Christ as King is the realization that to say that Jesus is King means that nobody and nothing else can be.  Of course, there are plenty of things competing for kingship in our lives.  The most timely example I can think of is anxiety.  As my friend and mentor Diana Butler Bass posted on Facebook a few days ago, “I have become convinced that a large percentage of Americans — Christians included — are addicted to anxiety.”

Anxiety has made its claim for kingship on our lives by attempting to make fear our number one motivator.  Fear is invoked in the debate over Syrian refugee resettlement, in the conversation about so-called entitlement programs, and in the struggle for marriage equality; just to name a few examples.  Everywhere we turn, our anxiety is being used as motivation to buy, to vote, and in some cases, even to hate.

If Jesus is our King, then anxiety cannot be.  If Jesus is our King, then we must live under the rules of his kingdom and that means we have to love our neighbors and our enemies.  If Jesus is our King, then we must learn to obey him when he enters the depths of our anxiety and says, “Have no fear.”  If Jesus is our King, then we must be like the followers he describes in Sunday’s Gospel lesson – followers that don’t stand up and fight out of fear, but followers who reach out in care and compassion for the least, the lost, and yes, even those who would do us harm – because that’s what the Kingdom of God looks like.

Whence Commeth Thy Power?

“Hey Steve, what’s with the King’s English in your blog post title this morning?”  Great question, dear reader, thanks for asking.  As I’ve said before, the English language is like my three year-old’s finger paintings as compared to the van Gogh that is Greek.  Modern English simply lacks the nuance that is available in many other languages.  Take the title of this post as an example.  Modern English has no polite form of address. Whether you are speaking to a close friend or the President of the United States,  you would ask “How are you?” in exactly the same way.  Those who argue for keeping the King James’ Version of the Bible do so, in part, because it maintains the I/Thou relationship between humanity and God.

Modern English also lacks the ability highlight the subtle variations in Greek words.  The well worn example is that Greek has four words that all get translated a love: philia – brotherly love, eros – intimate love, storge – familial love, and agape – self-giving love.  In Sunday’s Gospel lesson, we find two letters that carry two subtle, but very important meanings.  In verse 36, Jesus replies to Pilate saying, “My kingdom is not of this world.” in the King James Version, but in the NRSV, he says, “My kingdom is not from this world.”

Of and From are both perfectly acceptable translations of the Greek preposition “ek.”  When you think of Jesus’ words, you probably remember him saying “My kingdom is not of this world,” or at least that’s how I hear it, but in this week’s Sermon Brainwave Podcast, the scholars at Luther Seminary point out the importance of understanding these two letters in this rather short sentence.  They note that Jesus isn’t talking about the location of his authority, but rather the location of the source of his authority.  In saying that his kingdom is not from this world, Jesus is making a claim before Pilate that no matter how much authority Pilate thinks he has, Jesus’ power comes from on high.  This will come to a head later in the story as Jesus tells Pilate in 19:11, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above…”





“From whence cometh thy authority, Jesus?” is a very real question for Pilate, it was a very real question for the Temple leadership, and it remains a very real question for us today.  The Sermon Brainwave folk invite us to ponder that question by returning to John 1:1 and taking note that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”