Polite and Wild – The Holy Spirit

       As I’ve said before, I grew up in an evangelical, at times borderline charismatic, Episcopal church.  Unlike a lot of Mainline Protestant congregations, there was a significant focus on the Holy Spirit as St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church.  We were an Alpha training parish, where we taught others how to put on a ten-week crash course in Christianity, with an entire weekend retreat devoted to the work of the Holy Spirit.  Later, when I worked there as a youth minister, our Associate Rector regularly held healing services, where people would fall out in the Spirit.  That’s an usher assignment I will never forget.

       One of my responsibilities as youth minister was to organize the annual trip to the Creation Music Festival, a multi-day Contemporary Christian Music festival in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania.  We had such a large group attending, we got our own section of the campground and two private port-a-potties.  You can imagine how popular that made me.  We were there for three days and two nights and saw hours upon hours of live music.  Christian rock, Christian pop, Christian rap, and lots and lots of praise and worship music.  During the concert, I noticed that there were two kinds of Christian music fans.  On the one hand, there was the group of fairly reserved listeners.  They might move their lips to quietly sing along or sway a little bit if the groove hit just right, but for the most part, they listened and enjoyed the music rather stoically.  I associate this group with the coming of the Holy Spirit as told by John.  The other group was more Acts 2 in their response to the music.  Eyes closed, hands raised, songs bursting forth at the top of their lungs, and spontaneous dance were the marks of this second group.  They were clearly caught up in the Spirit in the more Pentecostal sense: big, brash, and bold.

       This Pentecost morning, we hear two very different stories about the coming of the Holy Spirit.  The more familiar one comes to us from Acts, chapter 2.  The eleven remaining original disciples, Matthias, a group of women, and likely a handful of others were all together celebrating the Feast of Shavuot.  One of three major Jewish festivals that brought pilgrims to holy city of Jerusalem, Shavuot, known in Greek as Pentecost because it comes fifty days after the Passover, is the feast of the first fruits.  The first loaves of bread baked from the early wheat harvest were dedicated to God in hopes of a fruitful remainder of the growing season.  Pilgrims from all over the Jewish Diaspora, the world as it was known to those in Israel, would come to bring their offerings.

       With the city teeming with hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of tourists, the disciples were holed up in a house, having waited ten days since Jesus ascended into heaven, wondering when the power of the Holy Spirit might arrive.  All of sudden, the room was filled with a cacophony of wind, flames alighted upon each of them, and they began to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ in every language spoken by the Jewish faithful around the world.  The scene was so chaotic that it garnered the attention of passersby.  Through the narrow streets filled with people, the news of this strange event began to spread rapidly, and soon, the house was surrounded by thousands of onlookers wondering why they heard this group of clearly Galilean bumpkins speaking in the languages of the Egyptians, Parthians, Medes, and others.  Some assumed it was the result of an early celebration and they were filled with new wine, but others looked on in true amazement.

       From the midst of the chaos, Peter stepped forward and began to speak alone, though he seems to have been understood by the many.  He proclaimed to the crowd gathered that this was not the result of beer in their Cheerios, but rather that the Spirit they were filled with was the very Spirit of God who had come to fulfill the promise of the prophet Joel, that every human being would receive the Spirit.  Young or old, all genders, all classes, free or enslaved, it didn’t matter, the Spirit of God was available such that anyone who called on the name of the Lord might be saved.  Luke, the author of Acts, tells us that 3,000 people from every kingdom, language, people, and nation were added to the Jesus Movement that Pentecost Day, and from there, the Good News couldn’t help but be spread far and wide.

       This wasn’t the first run in the disciples had had with the Holy Spirit.  Fifty days earlier, they were once again gathered in a room.  This time it was locked out of fear.  Jesus had died on Friday, by Sunday, word was out that his body was gone and that he might have been raised from the dead, and the disciples were terrified.  Ten of them, along with various Marys and other women were holed up behind a locked door, when all of a sudden, Jesus was standing in their midst.  “Shalom,” he said to the stunned group before him, “peace be with you.”  Clearly, they were in shock, and so he showed them his hands and his side, and they finally began to realize who was in their midst.  Jesus, their rabbi and friend, who just a few days ago was dead on a cross, was alive!  “Shalom,” he said to them again, “peace be with you.”  Jesus then commissioned them to follow in his footsteps by proclaiming that the Kingdom of God had come near and breathed the Holy Spirit upon them.  This breath of new life was meant to be shared.   If you help others be set free from their sin, Jesus tells them, then their sins will be forgiven, but if you fail to offer them the Spirit of forgiveness, their sins will be retained.  Go, therefore, as the Father has sent me, and share the Good News.

       There isn’t a right or a wrong way to engage with the Holy Spirit.  Some of you might be more subtle in your Christianity, more Johannine, with the Spirit of Peace coming calmly as a breath of new life.  Others of you might associate more with the Holy Spirit in Acts, ready and willing to jump up and down showing others the power of God’s love.  Either way, polite or wild, what we learn from these two stories is that the Holy Spirit calls all of us to a ministry of evangelism, of sharing the Good News of God’s love to a world that desperately needs it.  Our job as disciples of Jesus is to encourage others to follow in the way of love.  We do so not in isolation, but as members of a community brought together by the Spirit precisely for this purpose, that the whole world might see and know the saving love of Jesus Christ.  Go, therefore, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and follow in the Way of Jesus, proclaiming in word and deed that Jesus Christ is Lord.  Come, Holy Spirit, come. Take our minds and think through them. Take our lips and speak through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire with love for you.  Amen.


The Advocate of Truth

       I remember my first and last babysitting job as if it were yesterday.  Fresh off a babysitter safety course, my neighbors two houses down hired me to watch their kids for an afternoon.  They wanted to watch “101 Dalmatians,” but over the course of the 90 minutes or so the movie was on, we did all kinds of other things: read books, played games, ran around outside.  Then, when the movie ended, they wanted to “watch” it again.  I was sure something must be wrong these kids, so I called my sister to come and help me.  It wasn’t until years later, when I had my own small children that I realized that kids just love to watch the same thing over and over and over and over again.

       Some shows and movies were tolerable.  Others dug into your skull and threatened to never leave.  I’m still on the hunt for who introduced my kids to Caillou.  One show that I particularly enjoyed was Daniel Tiger, a cartoon on PBS based on the characters from Mister Rogers Neighborhood.  Like most kids’ shows, each episode had a theme based on some life lesson.  In the case of Daniel Tiger, each theme had a little jingle that went along with it to help the lesson stick.  One episode that we watched a lot was based on Daniel’s first time with a babysitter.  He was nervous about going to bed without his parents, and so they kept reminding him that “grownups come back.”  We sang that little ditty to our girls when we dropped them off at school, or when grandparents would babysit, even sometimes when I went to work.  It became a source of comfort to them, a reminder that while we might be apart for a little while, it wouldn’t be forever.

       We find Jesus offering the same kind of comfort to his disciples in our Gospel lesson this morning.  We are still in the Easter season on the church calendar, but we have travelled back in time in the story of Jesus, back to the upper room on the night before he died.  Having shared a meal together, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, and then offered them words of comfot in preparation for the challenging days that were to come.  Last Sunday, we heard Jesus tell them to not let their hearts be troubled, that we he was going to prepare a place for them in the Father’s house, and that he would return to show them the way.

       As the evening progressed, and tensions inevitably grew, Jesus went on to promise them that he would not leave them orphaned.  Yes, he would be leaving them.  At first, temporarily in his death and resurrection, but eventually, in the ascension, he would return to his Father’s side for good.  Jesus assures his disciples that God will not abandon them, but another Advocate would come and be with them forever.  This Advocate won’t be in the flesh like Jesus had been for their time together, but the new Advocate would help the disciples to continue following the Way of Jesus long after his departure.

       This promise, with its forever nature, means that we too share in the promise of the Advocate, but what exactly does that mean?  The Holy Spirit, like we see in Acts, is a little easier to wrap our minds around.  Because of that, we often associate the Spirit with flashy things like gifts of healing or speaking in tongues or those moments when our spiritual connection with God feels real and powerful.  The Advocate, or as the Greek word paraclete gets translated, this “one who walks alongside” is less showy, but it is the same Spirit that fills the house with wind and flame on Pentecost and the same Spirit that Jesus breathed upon the disciples in the upper room on that first Easter evening.

       The Advocate is described by Jesus as the Spirit of truth.  If the Lectionary hadn’t split John 14 up over two weeks this might ring a bell for us like it probably did for the disciples.  Just a few minutes earlier, as Jesus tried to reassure his disciples that they knew the way to God’s dwelling place, he had said to them, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  Jesus, the truth, promised that this new Advocate would be the Spirit of truth.  There is, Jesus seems to be saying here, no difference between Jesus being physically present with the disciples and the Holy Spirit being sent to walk alongside all who seek to follow in the Way of Jesus.  This new Advocate will teach those who seek the truth that is Jesus how to follow in the way of love.

       For the generations of disciples who did not have the opportunity to physically walk with Jesus, this is exceedingly good news.  While we know that someday, Jesus will come back to restore all things into right relationship, we need not wait for that day to begin the process.  We have the opportunity in the here and now, with the help of the Advocate, to take our place in the ongoing community of disciples who have followed Jesus’ example of loving service to a world that can’t see the Spirit amid its love of self, power, and privilege.  We who seek to have the Advocate walk with us, are called to keep the commandments of Christ by loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

       How we keep those commandments looks a different in every generation and every community.  Here in Bowling Green in 2023, loving our neighbors might look like seeing and caring for our neighbors experiencing homelessness.  It might look like being present to our neighbors in the towers who have been displaced by the renovations as they spend weeks upon weeks in hotel rooms far from their normal walking paths and bus routes.  It might look like finding ways to address the lack of adequate mental health care and the ongoing fentanyl crisis. It might look like continuing to recognize the ongoing trauma experienced by victims of the Dec 11th tornadoes and March 3rd windstorm.  If we are willing, the Advocate will help us to see those whom God sees and to offer them compassion like Jesus would.

       None of this is easy.  It might be easier if Jesus was physically here beside us, but Jesus assures his disciples and us that with the Advocate’s guidance, we can follow in the way of love.  I pray that we can find comfort in that promise, gain strength from the Spirit, and have courage to reach out in love to the world around us in Jesus’ name.   In the same way we sang to our kids, “grownups come back,” Jesus too will come back, but in the meantime, with the help of the Advocate, there is plenty of good work to do for the world that God created, loves, and redeemed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, who is the way, the truth, and the life.  Amen.

How do I find faith?

       As you might guess based on my line of work, I spend a lot of time thinking about faith.  I ponder my own faith: how it waxes and wanes; how it sometimes feels downright silly; how it sustains me in moments of distress; how it compels me to do all kinds of foolish things.  Moreso, I consider the faith of others: how it is formed; where it comes from; how it grows, deepens, and flourishes.  Faith formation is a part of the job description for being a priest, but I have my own internal motivation.  It lingers in my memory as one of my greatest failures in ministry, a giant “what if” that compels me to seek the roots of faith and how to nourish it on a regular basis.

       Back in my seminary days, a bright-eyed-not-quite-yet-post-evangelical Steve did his field education at St. James’ in Potomac, Maryland.  My big project for my first semester of field ed was to lead a seekers’ class.  Potomac, Maryland in 2008 was a rapidly growing community.  McManisons were being built faster than the zoning board could approve them, and congregations like St. James’ were eager to find ways to let new neighbors know they existed.  When I came up with a snazzy name like, “Finding God in Spite of the Church,” our people got excited.  We printed fliers and folk hung them up in the post-office, grocery stores, and even forwarded a press release to the local newspaper.  Many longtime members came to see who would show up.  Others came to the class to learn how to speak the language of a seeker.  Despite all the passive publicity we did, no one actually invited anyone, and only one seeker showed up.

       The product of a Roman Catholic mother and a Zoroastrian father, she arrived confused, frustrated, and seeking something that she had seen in the religious lives of her parents.  She came with only one question, “How do I find faith?”  Our very knowledgeable and eager group offered a straightforward and Biblical answer, “it is a free gift, you don’t need to find it, you just need to ask for it.”  We all sat back in our chairs, proud of our answer and waiting for her to experience the relationship with God in Christ that all of us simply took for granted.  “Isn’t that the arrogance of having faith?” she replied, “I have been searching for it, but faith hasn’t been offered to me as a free gift.”  We fumbled around for a better answer, but never found one.  Considering her struggle, faith seemed so easy for the rest of us, and try as we might, we couldn’t explain to her where it had come from.  She never came back, and I occasionally remember to pray for her, wondering if that question still sits heavy on her heart.

       “How do I find faith?” is a question at the center of our Gospel lesson.  We are back in the upper room that Jesus and his disciples had rented for the holiday weekend.  It had been a chaotic Sunday on the back of a wild week.  They had gone from a nice Passover dinner with the gang to Jesus being dead and buried in less than 24 hours.  Now, as John tells the story, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb before sunrise on Sunday to anoint Jesus’ body.  Instead, she found the stone rolled back and the body of Jesus gone.  She ran and told Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved what she had seen, and they sprinted to see for themselves.  John tells us the unnamed disciple saw the empty tomb and believed.  What he believed, we don’t know, John simply tells us that the disciple had pistos, faith.  There is no mention of Peter’s faith or lack thereof in that moment, just that after seeing the empty tomb, the two of them went home.

       Mary stayed behind and wept.  Wept for the death of her friend and teacher.  Wept for the loss of hope.  Wept for the heaviness that now his body was missing.  Suddenly, Jesus appeared before her, though she thought him to be the gardener.  She begged him, “if you have taken his body, tell me where it is.”  Jesus responded with one word, “Mary,” and instantly, she recognized him as her Rabbouni, her teacher, her friend, her Lord.  Jesus commissioned Mary as an apostle to the apostles and she hustled back to the upper room to proclaim her faith and say, “I have seen the Lord.”

       Our lesson this morning begins later that same day.  It seems the proclamation of Mary Magdalene and whatever it is that the unnamed disciple believed hadn’t made much of an impact on the group as they sat behind a locked door and feared for their lives.  The unspoken question that surely hung heavy in that room must have been something like, “How do we find faith enough to move?”  Amid their fear and through a locked door, Jesus entered and spoke one word, “Shalom.”  “Peace be with you.”  Apparently, faith didn’t happen in that moment because John tells us he had to show them his hands and his side before they realized what was happening.  “Peace be with you,” Jesus says to them again, as he breaths on them and offers them the Holy Spirit as advocate and guide.

       “How do I find faith?” Thomas wonders.  They all got to see Jesus’ wounds.  Thomas just wants what the rest of the disciples got because the idea that Jesus is resurrected from the dead is so far beyond his ability to comprehend.  Thomas needs proof, as did the rest, and so, a week later, again in a room that is closed off, Jesus appears, offers Shalom, allows Thomas to touch his hands and his side, and says to him, “don’t have apistos, have pistos,” “don’t be unbelieving, believe,” “do not doubt, have faith.”  And then Jesus says something that seems to be geared not toward the gathered disciples, but toward those of us who one day might hear the story, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have pistos (belief).”

       Faith is a free gift, but Jesus knows that free doesn’t mean easy.  Mary had faith because Jesus said her name.  The disciple whom Jesus loved had faith because he saw the empty tomb.  Others had faith because Jesus offered them peace, showed them his hands and his side, and gave them the Holy Spirit.  Thomas believed because Jesus gave him what he needed. You and I have faith because others have shared with us the power of God and the difference that Jesus made in their lives.  Our faith is sustained, presumably, because we continue to experience the risen Lord in our own lives, but if you find faith hard to hold onto these days, know that you are not alone.  In the face of mass shootings, impotent law makers, climate change, and a rise in authoritarianism, just to name a few of this week’s portents, it is pretty easy to begin to wonder, “How do I keep my faith?” and it’s no wonder so many these days ask, “How do I find faith?” or worse yet, “why should I find faith?”

       John’s Gospel was written so that those who read it might find pistos, and that by having faith, might find abundant life.  It seems to me that hidden in plain sight in all of this is the answer to that woman’s question so many years ago.  “How do I find faith?”  Find a community that has faith, let the life of that community wash over you, and slowly, over time, you’ll begin to experience that life for yourself.  Faith is a free gift, but it isn’t an easy one.  To build faith, it takes a community, working and praying with each other, and when you find it, Jesus is so right, it is a blessing.  May God bless us with the faith we need to sustain each other in building up the Kingdom of Heaven in a world that desperately needs it.  Amen.

Seeing Who Jesus Sees

       Last weekend, two men were violently attacked and stabbed multiple times in front of several witnesses with two very different reactions.  The first assault took place on Saturday afternoon in Washington, DC.  Phillip Todd, a staffer for Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, was stabbed multiple times in broad daylight.  The intervention of a friend, quick response from first responders, and emergency surgery most likely saved his life.  Todd’s attack was random.  He seems to have been selected for no other reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  He is a man of privilege, who holds a position of some power, who was violently attacked for no real reason.  These stories capture our attention.  They help to sell papers and ad time as they make us nervous and needle at fears that so many of us carry just beneath the surface.  As such, the story has been shared widely via national news outlets from the New York Times to Fox News to the Associated Press.

The second incident took place on Sunday night in Bowling Green, Kentucky.  Rodney Green, a man experiencing homelessness, was stabbed multiple times on the porch of Christ Episcopal Church.  Almost immediately, two men, Michael and Kevin, grabbed their phones to call 911.  Two others got Rodney, who had jumped up to run away from his assailant, to sit, and eventually lie down.  Darrell and Shawn applied pressure to his wounds for nearly ten minutes while they waited for help to arrive.  He was rushed to the Medical Center and Life Flighted to Nashville where he underwent emergency surgery, having had his life saved by Shawn, Darrell, Kevin, and Michael.  I have seen the video of the attack more times than I would like, and I can tell you without a doubt that this was a targeted attack.  Rodney and his attacker knew each other, they had been arguing earlier in the day, and the man came with only one thing on his mind, to severely injure Rodney Green.  Rodney is a man of no privilege.  A black man who navigates life on the streets doesn’t capture the attention of many.  His story appeared only in an article about his attacker’s arrest in the Daily News, cobbled together quickly from police reports and court documents.  As for the guys who saved his life; we may be the only ones who ever hear of their heroic deeds.

Violence of any kind grieves the heart of God, but what captures the attention of human beings isn’t quite so simple.  In the world of celebrity that is 21st century America, what happens to the reality stars like the Kardashians, social media influencers like the Cavinder Twins, or even the tangentially influential like Senate staffer, Phillip Todd, fill up a disproportionately large part of our collective attention.  Meanwhile, the stories of everyday people who are struggling through life go unnoticed and untold.  I guess that’s not really new.  Today, we begin the journey of Holy Week by remembering the events that took place the Sunday before Jesus died.  Two fairly similar events happened at the same time that day as well.[1]  One was filled with power and privilege.  The other was ragtag and would probably be lost to history if it weren’t for the gift of hindsight from the other side of Easter Day.

The event that would have captured most of Jerusalem’s attention happened on the western side of the city.  The Roman Governor Pontius Pilate was coming to town for Passover week.  Every year, the Governor gave up his cushy seaside palace in Caesarea Maritima to be present in Jerusalem for Passover, reminding the Jewish people that this year would not be the year that God freed them from their oppressors.  Along the sixty-mile route from the Mediterranean coast to Jerusalem, Pilate, riding a war horse, would have led the procession, followed by banner bearers, drummers, armored foot soldiers, and the calvary on horseback.  The representative of the emperor Tiberius, who proclaimed himself the son of god, Pilate came to make sure that the Pax Romana, the peace that Rome kept through the constant threat of violence, remained all throughout the week of supercharged emotions and religious fervor.  As Pilate’s parade entered Jerusalem, they would have met up with the Roman troops permanently stationed in Jerusalem while crowds of locals looked on in awe, anxiety, and resentment.

Meanwhile, on the eastern side of town, a much smaller parade was happening.  Jesus finished his roughly sixty-mile journey from the Mount of the Transfiguration, south across Samaritan country, and eventually into the city.  He arrived not on a war horse, but on the back of a donkey, and was met by a small crowd of his disciples who laid down their coats and palm branches, crying out “Hosanna,” “Lord, save us,” as the one they hoped to be the Son of God, who might just save them from their enemies, came to town for the Passover.  This Son of God wasn’t coming to bring violence, but rather to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah who told the people that the King who would arrive on a donkey would come to “cut off the chariot… and the war horse from Jerusalem; the battle bow shall be cut off, and the king shall command peace to the nations”[2]

Two events, happening at nearly the same time, one brings with it crowds, attention, and fanfare, the other is witnessed by a small cadre of outcasts, who are desperately in search of hope.  It’s pretty obvious which one gets the attention.  It seems to be human nature to pay attention to the people and things that the world thinks are most important.  We give our focus to politicians, to celebrity, to the rich and the powerful.  I truly wonder if Jesus were on earth today if we would pay any attention to him at all.  It just isn’t in our DNA to pay attention to the outsider, let alone the person who calls us to love and care for the beggar, the refugee, the widow, the orphan, the weak, and the afraid.  Jesus calling on the powers-that-be to give up their privilege to care for the vulnerable and the powerless made him an outcast that the authorities hoped would just fade away, until one day, they couldn’t ignore him anymore.  But more about that later this week.

As we enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts by which God incarnate in Jesus Christ has given us life and immortality, it would behoove us to pay attention to the kind of people with whom Jesus spent most of his time.  He came, not specifically to save the spiritually healthy, the powerful, or the privileged, but the sinner, the powerless, and the disenfranchised.  As disciples of Jesus, we are called to open our eyes to see those on the margins, the ones society would just as soon forget, and to remember that in Christ, all shall be made alive; in the cross, all are redeemed; and in the resurrection, the sin that so often separates us is put to flight.  As you walk with Jesus through the cross this week, keep your eyes open to see the fullness of the humanity for which he died.  Offer compassion to those in need.  Celebrate those who go uncelebrated like Darrell, Shawn, Michael, and Kevin.  Follow Jesus’ example of great humility by paying attention to the poor, the persecuted, and the downtrodden because the way of suffering with our neighbors is the way of the cross and it is truly the path to eternal life.  Amen.

[1] The two parades comparison is adapted from Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week, p. 2-5.

[2] Zechariah 9:10

The Apostle to Samaria

       In case you missed it, Wednesday, March 8th was International Women’s Day.  Celebrated in various fashions since 1909, in 1977, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace be observed in every Member State.  March 8th became the generally recognized date in honor of the women who helped lead the February Revolution for Bread and Peace in Russia in 1917.  The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day was #EmbraceEquity.[1]  As an international day for women’s rights, it is important to understand that we all start at different places.  Some begin life with economic privilege or geographic privilege or the privilege of good health.  True equity acknowledges that different means are required to create a level playing field for all, regardless of the privilege of where and to whom they were born.  International Women’s Day calls on all of humanity to seek true equity for women by challenging gender stereotypes, calling out discrimination, drawing attention to bias, and seeking out inclusion.  It is a gift, then, that our Gospel lesson appointed for the Sunday after International Women’s Day features an often-misunderstood woman with absolutely zero privilege meeting Jesus at a well.

       The chronology in John’s Gospel is quite different than what we find in the other three Gospels.  In John, Jesus and his disciples start their ministry in Jerusalem, but after an uncomfortable encounter with some Pharisees, they decide to head north to Galilee to regroup.  There were a few paths one could take to get from Jerusalem to Galilee.  Most Jewish folk would take the longer route, going east of the Jordan river through the Decapolis to avoid traveling through the homeland of the dreaded Samaritans.  Jesus and the twelve, however, took the shorter path through Samaria.  After a few days of travelling, about thirty miles north of Jerusalem, they stopped for lunch in a town called Sychar or Shechem.

       Jesus, worn out from the long days travelling, stopped at the well just outside of town while his disciples went on to buy some falafel for lunch.  While he waited, an unnamed woman came out to draw water for the day.  Over the years, people have made all kinds of assumptions about this woman from Samaria.  I too have been guilty of perpetuating the biased narratives of the woman at the well.  She came to the well at noon, well into the heat of day and way after the normal hour when women would have gathered to draw water and catch up on the news.  The assumption is quickly made that she is in some kind of notorious sinner, outcast from her community, and forced to do her work at odd hours to avoid awkward interactions, knowing glances, and whispered rumors.  These presumptions are exacerbated by her interaction with Jesus wherein he says the quiet part out loud.  She’s had five husbands, and the man she is living with now is not her husband.

       American cultural Christianity, no matter the denomination, is built on a puritanical foundation.  We are about as sexually repressed a nation as there is in the west, and so the story of this woman at the well has long caused American pastors and church goers alike to clutch their pearls and gasp at how sinful this woman must be.  Surely, she’s a prostitute, some allege.  Others wonder if she’s a serial adulterer.  Definitely, she’s a woman of ill repute whom Jesus should have steered clear of.  Reading this story through our own context is really unhelpful, however.  Neither Jesus nor the Gospel writer make any moral claims about her marital status.  Moreover, as a woman, she had no legal ability to initiate divorce.  She could have simply been widowed and remarried several times over.[2]  One commentary I read this week suggested that perhaps she was stuck in a revolving door of levirate marriage where her husband had died and she was forced to marry his brothers until, finally, one refused to marry her but agreed to keep her safe in his home.[3]

       If Jesus doesn’t mention her bad luck in love to shame her, then why does he name it at all?  Several possibilities are available to us.  First, Jesus met her at a well.  Wells are, in the Jewish scripture tradition, a place where powerful couples find each other: Moses and Zipporah, Jacob and Rachel, Rebekah and Issacs’s servant.  Jesus meeting a woman at a well would have brought the original audience to mind that somehow two essential figures were coming together.  Those five husbands are important as well.  Some scholars suggest they represent the five empires that had ruled Samaria since the Babylonian exile.  Others think that maybe the five husbands represent the mixed heritage of the early Samaritans.  I can’t help but wonder if it is a reference to the five books of the Torah, the only Hebrew scriptures to which the Samaritans still subscribed.

       No matter what, if anything, the five husbands mean, this encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well point us to the joining of Jesus’ ministry with people outside of Israel.  More than that, it isn’t that Jesus met a Roman Centurion or an Egyptian Eunuch, but this encounter at the well was with a woman. From Samaria.  She was the outsider’s outsider and not because of her martial status.  As a single woman, Jesus had no business talking to her.  He risked both of their honors by engaging her alone.  Even worse, she was a Samaritan, a race of people that had been at odds with the Jews for centuries.

       And yet, this woman, this Samaritan, this person whom the culture would have considered unworthy is the only person in John’s Gospel to whom Jesus shares his true identity.  “I know the Messiah is coming,” the woman says to Jesus in their ongoing theological back and forth.  “I am the one,” Jesus replies, saying to her the name that God spoke to Moses at the burning bush.  In that moment, the woman knew to whom she was speaking.  The Messiah was standing there, right in front of her, and she dropped her water jar and ran to tell anyone who would listen.  In an instant, this woman went from outcast to apostle, sharing the Good News to her entire city.  Having met at the well, the woman and Jesus brought together the Messiah and world outside of Israel, and things would never be the same.

       Because the Gospels were written so long ago, in a culture so very different from ours, it is easy to treat them with a broad brush, and to read their stories through the lens of a lot of bad assumptions.  However, stories like this one invite us to dig in and to understand.  The Woman at the Well deserves a better, more equitable treatment in the story of Jesus.  When we put aside our biases and stereotypes, we hear the story of a woman of deep wisdom, who had likely experienced a lot of pain, seeking the living water of eternal life.  We hear of a woman who stood toe to toe with Jesus and in so doing, opened the door to salvation for the least liked of all of Israel’s foes.  Because of her witness, many came to believe that Jesus wasn’t just the Messiah of Israel, but indeed, the Savior of the Word, and we are here, at least in part, because this Woman at the well, the Apostle to Samaria.  Thanks be to God for her story, her tenacity, and her witness to the love of God in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

[1] https://www.internationalwomensday.com/Theme

[2] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/third-sunday-in-lent/commentary-on-john-45-42-6

[3] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/third-sunday-in-lent/commentary-on-john-45-42-3

Blessed Butt Dust

       I can’t experience an Ash Wednesday without thinking about my friend Anthony MacWhinnie.  Ant was a priest and fellow troublemaker in the Central Gulf Coast.  He and I were ordained at about the same time, so we went through a lot of firsts together.  He hailed from the panhandle of Florida and lived into that particular blessing to its fullest.  Prior to seminary, Anthony was a fisheries biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and spent almost his entire life within 30 feet of sea level.  Ant knew where to get good moonshine and could cook fresh fish like a master chef.  The reason I think of him every Ash Wednesday, however, is because of the picture he would share on Facebook each year.  On what appeared to be a manilla colored church bulletin was an ashen cross and the words that we hear every Ash Wednesday, “Remember, you are butt dust.”  With butt spelled B-U-T-T.  I loved his sense of humor.

       This year, as Ash Wednesday rolls around and my thoughts turn to my friend, Anthony MacWhinnie, my emotions are mixed.  Ant died unexpectedly a few weeks ago at the age of 53.  He suffered cardiac arrest in his home and despite the heroic efforts of his wife, Elizabeth, performing CPR, he died about a week later.  Ash Wednesday as an annual reminder of our mortality and need to repent and be reconciled to God is a little harsher than perhaps it has been other years.  These ashes that will soon be smudged across our foreheads seem a little more real.  My annual struggle with the incompatibility of Jesus saying, “beware of practicing your piety before others” while we leave this space with dark crosses of judgment and hope upon our brows seems silly to me this time around.

       I need the cross of ashes this year.  I need to see it on my own forehead, not because of what it tells others, but about what it says to me.  I need the reminder that yes, we all die, but even more so, that God hates nothing God has made and that, in Christ, all shall be made alive.  As I see the ashen cross in the rearview mirror or reflected on my phone screen, it will be a stark reminder of Jesus’ call to repentance, of which my friend Anthony’s untimely death has also recently reminded me.  In Lent, the Church invites us specifically to live out the call to repentance through ongoing and regular self-examination, prayer, fasting, self-denial, and reading and mediating on God’s holy word.  This cross, for as long as it will linger on my forehead and in my memory, will serve as a reminder that repentance isn’t something that is done once and forgotten about, but a daily, sometimes hourly, even minute by minute, practice.

       We are butt dust, Anthony MacWhinnie would remind us today, but our dustiness isn’t the only thing that defines us.  We are dust blessed by God with the ability to love, to show compassion, and to care for our neighbors.  We are dust blessed with relationships.  We are dust that, when those relationships fall short of perfection, can reflect, repent, and be restored by God’s grace.  We are dust in these earthen bodies, but we are also souls that long for eternal life.  So, wear that cross boldly this year, remembering that you might be but dust, but you are also blessed, holy, and beloved.  Amen.


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Relationships Matter to God

         A few weeks ago, Richard Greer came into my office with a newspaper tucked under his arm ready to share it with me.  It was an article written by Doctors Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz, directors of the Harvard Study of Adult Development.  This study has been ongoing for 85 years!  Since 1938, Harvard University has had an astonishing 84% participation rate in this longitudinal study to determine patterns of happiness and health.  724 men started the study and since then, more than 1,300 of their male and female descendants have taken part.  The result is quite clear, the single most important factor in long-term health and happiness is good relationships.  On the other hand, there is growing evidence that loneliness can suppress your immune system, lower you brain functioning, and make sleep less effective.  For older people, this and other studies suggest, loneliness can increase the odds of a person’s death in any given year by 26%.

Digging into the data and looking at the nature of human beings, this makes sense.  The authors give the example of a women who lived fifty thousand years ago.  “An isolated person’s body and brain would have gone into temporary survival mode. The need to recognize threats would have fallen on her alone, so her stress hormones would have increased and made her more alert. If her family or tribe were away overnight and she had to sleep by herself, her sleep would be shallower. If a predator was approaching, she would want to know, so she would be more easily aroused and experience more awakenings during the night.  If for some reason she found herself alone for say, a month, rather than a night, these physical processes would continue, morphing into a droning, constant sense of unease, and they would begin to take a toll on her mental and physical health. She would be, as we say today, stressed out. She would be lonely.”  Chronic loneliness is like living in a house with the smoke detector going off all day, every day.[1]

It is a scientific fact that human beings are designed to be in relationship.  Of course, humans have known this since long before the scientific method existed.  In the first creation story in Genesis 1, we read that God created human beings in God’s image.  There are a few ways you can understand what it means to be created in the image of God, but the way I read it, our Trinitarian God is perfect relationship and so, to be made in God’s image means to be made to be in relationship.  Since we aren’t three in one like the Godhead, we live into the Imago Dei by creating healthy relationships with God and our fellow humans.  It’s why I continually harp on the idea that the mission of the Church is to restore all of humanity to right relationship with God and with each other.  Later, in the second story of creation, we read the first thing that God says isn’t good.  In Genesis 2:18, God looks at Adam, whom God had created to till and keep the land and very quickly realizes that it is not good for human beings to be alone, and so God began to create all kinds of things to fill the void in Adam.  Cows.  Chickens.  Fish.  Cats.  Dogs.  God created all the animals of the land and the air and the sea, but still hadn’t made a suitable partner for Adam.  Finally, God created Eve as a companion for Adam.  Right relationship between human beings had been established, and it was good.

Which brings us to our very challenging teaching from Jesus in this morning’s Gospel.  Jesus makes it pretty impossible to live up to the standard of the Kingdom of God.  “If you are angry at your brother or sister, you have committed murder.”  “If you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the fires of hell.”  “If you look at a woman with lust, you have committed adultery.”  “If you divorce your wife for any reason but unchastity, you commit adultery.”  “Don’t swear by heaven, earth, or your own life, just let your yes be yes and your no be no.”  With all due respect to Jesus, this is just plain crazy.  There is no way anyone can live up to the vision of right relationship that Jesus sets forth in this section of the Sermon on the Mount.

No, none of us can live a perfect life.  We’re going to get angry occasionally.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve been behind the wheel of my car and yelled at a fellow driver, “you idiot!”  75% of the ads during the Super Bowl this afternoon will be based on getting men to look lustfully at something or someone in order to get them to buy a product.  We are all guilty, on some level, of breaking right relationship, of failing to live into the fullness of the image of God within us.  God knows this about us.  As with most of the difficult things Jesus had to say, its impossibility is precisely the point.  So why does Jesus take such a hard line against what he knows, full well, we human beings are going to do?

The simple answer is because Jesus cares.  Humanity is the only part of God’s creation that was made in the Imago Dei.  We bear within and upon us the image of God.  We are chief stewards, the managers of creation.  We are, for all intents and purposes, God’s best and most beloved handiwork, and because of this, God is mindful of us. And because God is mindful of us, the things we do and the things that happen to us matter to God.  And because these things matter to God, the pain we feel is known and felt by God. In the Incarnation, Jesus took the pain of this world into the Godhead so that today, God can walk alongside us in our hurt and heartache. Jesus takes such a hard line on relationships because when relationships break and people are hurting, it grieves God.

Relationships are hard.  Divorce is messy. So is cancer. Violence breaks God’s heart too. All of this is true. The tearing apart of human relationships hurts, no matter the reasons. The good news is, God is there. God is here. God is with us every step of the journey. God values relationships.  God made us to be in relationship. God understands that good relationships are the key to a healthy and happy life.  God also knows that relationships don’t always last. Whether our relationships are full and satisfying or difficult and challenging, God is there because God loves us and God is the creator of right relationship. Life is hard, but the Good News is God is here, always.  Amen.

[1] https://apple.news/AWBqJz5ehRA-6sjLSQj0ehQ

Little Orphie Anna – The Feast of the Presentation

         Growing up in Pennsylvania, Groundhog Day was a big deal.  My dad worked in a factory for his whole career and two big days for time off were the first day of hunting season and Groundhog Day.  It seems several of the guys who worked with him would drive the four hours to Punxsutawney after work on February 1st, join with the gang at Gobbler’s Knob in a night of drinking, and then watch to see if Phil saw his shadow to predict how much longer the winter weather would last.  Punxsutawney Phil is, I think, the nationally recognized prognosticator of spring.  He seems to be groundhog who gets all the shine.  He’s featured on all the morning news shows, and his prediction is the one I see plastered all over my social media feeds.

         What you might not know, however, is that Phil is not the only weather predicting groundhog who awakes from their slumber on February 2nd to look for their shadow in the early morning light.  Much closer to my hometown than Punxsutawney is a little village called White Rock, which sits on the west branch of Octoraro Creek.  There, the Slumbering Lodge of Hibernating Governors gather on the Feast of the Presentation to celebrate Octoraro Orphie, whom they affectionately refer to as “the one true groundhog.”  Orphie also predicts the coming of spring by either seeing his shadow, which means six more weeks of winter, or not seeing his shadow, which means spring is right around the corner.  This morning Phil saw his shadow, but Orphie did not, and so I’m Team Orphie all the way.

You may wonder why I’m offering you this history and geography lesson about large rodents on the Feast of the Presentation or Candlemas, as it is known in many parts of the Church.  Well, it all goes back to Medieval Europe where Candlemas, 40 days after the birth of Christ and the mid-point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, was thought to be a special day of weather prediction.  An old poem says, “If Candlemas Day be fair and bright, winter will have another flight, but if it be dark with clouds and rain, winter is gone and will not come again.”  Groundhog Day and the Feast of the Presentation are interconnected in several different ways, but today, I’d like to suggest to you that the story of Phil and Orphie is a parallel to the stories of Simeon and Anna.

Simeon, like Phil, gets all the shine.  His song is an integral part to the Daily Office and is said at every service of Compline.  His prediction to Mary, that a sword would pierce her heart, is often cited on Holy Week as the tragic story of Jesus’ Passion is told.  He is famous for having declared the infant Jesus as the Savior.  Anna, on the other hand, is the Octoraro Orphie of the Presentation.  Faithful to her core, the long-widowed Anna never left the Temple.  She fasted and prayed, day and night, for the salvation of her beloved Israel.  Her words aren’t recorded for us to say at Evening Prayer.  Her prediction that Jesus would bring about the redemption of the world is only mentioned in passing, and yet, Anna is as much a part of the story of the Messiah as Simeon is, though she is so often forgotten to history.  Anna wasn’t just faithful to her God, but to the promises of restoration, and she couldn’t help but tell anyone who would listen that this child was the one who would redeem Jerusalem, Israel, and the whole world.  On this Feast of the Presentation, may we have faith like Anna and the tenacity of Orphie to work faithfully to share the Good News of God’s saving love.  Amen.

Called and Equipped

One of the things I love about being an Episcopalian is the opportunity to pray prayers that have been prayed by the faithful for more than a thousand years.  Some of the words we pray go back as far as the 6th century.  Some, based in Scripture, go back to the days of St. Paul.   Of course, there are also wonderful prayers that are newer than that.  With every new edition of the Book of Common Prayer, we get new authors writing new prayers for the faithful to lift to God.  This morning’s collect is one of those prayers.  Written by the Rev. Dr. Massey H. Shepherd, JR. for the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the collect for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany is a prayer that focuses on the call to ministry for every baptized Christian.

Call is a funny thing, however.  As the world has focused more and more on specialization, the basic Christian call has been moved away from the baptismal font and toward ordination.  Those who are discerning ordained ministry are said to be “discerning a call,” and the process will invite them to repeat, ad nauseam, the story of “their call.”  This happens to the detriment of the Church, however.  The more we associate our clergy with some kind of special calling, the more we take away from the laity and their distinct calling as baptized members of the Body of Christ.

So, this morning, we pray in the words of the late, Dr. Shepherd, that God might give us the grace required to “answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ.”  This is a fine thing to pray for, but I can’t help but wonder if we understand what the call of our Savior really is?  To what is Jesus calling us?  Based on our collect and the Gospel lesson, I think there are three parts of the call every Christian receives from Jesus.

First, the call to repentance.  “Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’”  This is the core message of Jesus.  However, repentance is a tremendously bad translation for what Jesus is calling us to in the Gospel.  Repent comes to us from Latin.  It is the prefix “re” which means “again” and the word “poenitire” which means “to make sorry.”  Repentance, then, means to “be sorry again,” or as we commonly think of it in modern theology, “to be grieved over past sins and to seek forgiveness.”

The Greek word that is repeatedly translated as “repent” is metanoia, which has nothing to do with “making sorry,” but rather it is all about changing your mind or to reconsider your choices.  Jesus isn’t calling us to feel sorry and to beat ourselves up for our past actions, though confessing them and being forgiven is important.  Rather, Jesus calls us to a future in which we live with changed hearts and minds.  A future in which we don’t live based on our selfish desires, but for the kingdom of heaven, where God’s will is done; where the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, and the oppressed are set free.

That’s the first call, to repent.  Secondly, Jesus calls on his disciples to follow him.  For Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John, this call was literal.  Jesus invited them to drop their nets, leave their old lives behind, and to follow him around the Galilean countryside as he proclaimed the good news, healed the sick, and cast out demons.  We too are called to follow Jesus, though in a more metaphorical sense.  We follow the teachings of Jesus, or at least that is the calling we are trying to live into.  We strive to follow the beatitudes and be peacemakers, who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  We strive to follow Jesus’ parables and to look for the pearl of great price that comes from living our lives like Jesus lived his; loving our neighbors as much as we love ourselves.

First, we repent.  Second, we follow.  Finally, then, as we prayed in the collect this morning, we are called to “proclaim to all people the Good News of Salvation in Jesus Christ.”  This is, no doubt, the most difficult of the three callings.  The first two aren’t easy by any means, but they tend to be more internal work, things we might be able to do without anyone really noticing.  “Proclaiming to all people the Good News” is going to get noticed, and it might make us Episcopalians feel downright uncomfortable, but it is part of the baptismal call.  In the Baptismal Covenant, we vow that with God’s help, we will proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.  In our Catechism, it teaches the ministry of the laity is to represent Christ and the Church and to bear witness to Christ wherever they may be.  Further, it states that it is the duty of all Christians to, among other things, work for the spread of the kingdom of God.

I know what you are thinking.  “I’m not equipped to do one or more of these callings.”  I get it.  I’ve been there.  Many times.  I told this story from the pulpit back in January of 2020, but many of you weren’t members here back then, and since COVID took away our collective memories, I think I’m safe telling it again.  It happened at my first ever continuing education event way back in November of 2008.  I attended a conference put on by the United Methodist Church called “Worship in a Postmodern Accent.”  It really was a fantastic conference, filled with impactful alternative worship experiences, lectures by some of the most creative minds in worship planning, and good fellowship with people, some whom I still have contact with through social media.  For all the good that week had to offer, I also still remember the overwhelming feeling of inadequacy that threatened to swallow me whole.

In November of 2008, I had been a priest for half a minute.  I was twenty-eight years old, and still not sure what this life of ordained ministry would really look like.  There I was, mixing it up with some of most imaginative and talented people in their field, and I began to wonder, “Do I even belong?”  It all came to a head on the second day, in some non-descript hotel meeting room, at three o’clock in the afternoon.  The organizers had set up a labyrinth experience unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  A dozen or so prayer stations had transformed a room with loud carpet and foldable walls into a sanctuary.  There was a working television at one station, a sand box at another, and various light displays.  It all led to the center where they had somehow created a flowing river in this hotel ballroom.  As I took in what was happening in that space, a little voice crept into my head and said, over and over again, “You’ll never be this creative.  Give it up.  Why waste your time?”  Still, I plodded through the labyrinth.  In the middle, at the bank of the manmade river, we were supposed to write down our fears on a piece of paper, and I kid you not, fold it into an origami boat, to float down the river.  This really happened.  By that point, I knew my fear all too well.  I was afraid I wasn’t enough.  I was afraid that I would never be enough.  Not just to create some crazy alternative worship service someday, but that I’d never be enough to be a good priest.  I grabbed a pen from the cup and began to write.  A few letters in, the pen dried up.  Of course, it did.  I couldn’t even do that right.  I looked down in exasperation at the pen in my hand and noticed that it wasn’t your typical gray Bic that you can buy a dime a dozen.  It was a promotional pen, not for the United Methodist Church, but for God.  It simply said, “God doesn’t call the equipped.  God equips the called.”

We are each called by God to repent, to follow Jesus, and to proclaim the Good News, and God knows we can’t do any of it on our own.  As life unfolds, and fears of inadequacy creep up, God is always ready to equip us with what we need to once again repent, follow Jesus, and proclaim the Good News.  As we embark on another year of ministry, may God give us grace and equip us with what we need to answer readily our call as a community of disciples here at Christ Episcopal Church.  Amen.

Baptized into Community

       This morning marks six years to the day since my first Sunday as your rector at Christ Church.  I remember that morning like it was yesterday.  The transition from nine and a half years as an associate to rector is a big one.  I can recall feeling pretty nervous about how steep the learning curve would be as I learned a new community, a new congregation, a new job, and all these one-way streets all at the same time.  The one thing I was confident about, and I told Deacon Kellie this early that Sunday morning, was that “I knew how to do church.”  In hindsight, that confidence might have been misplaced.

       The month of December 2016 was pretty hectic.  Saying goodbye to old friends in Alabama.  Buying a house.  Selling a house.  Moving into a condo at the beach because our house sold so quickly.  Moving to Bowling Green on New Year’s Day.  Getting to know 400 new faces. It was a lot.  Tucked into all of that was an ongoing conversation about the possibility of a baptism at the early service on my first Sunday.  I was excited by the idea of starting my ministry here by welcoming a new member into the body of Christ, but sometime just before Christmas, I got word that the godparents wouldn’t be able to make it and we’d have to reschedule.  No harm done; I knew how to do church.

       I arrived at O-Dark-Thirty on January 8, 2017, to get a lay of the land.  Deacon Kellie and the altar guild had preparations well underway, as always.  I looked over the bulletin, got comfortable with the nave, set my sermon in the pulpit, and rested on the idea that I knew how to do church.  As has become our custom, the altar party gathered at about five ‘til to pray.  Back then, we vested on the other end of the building, and so we huddled up in Surface Hall when we noticed a young family with a baby walk in.  I didn’t know anybody, so I didn’t think anything of it.  As I began to pray that God might be glorified in our worship, Kellie leaned over to me and said, “they are putting a white dress on that baby.”  Suddenly, all the confidence I had in “knowing how to do church” flew out the window.

       I wonder if John the Baptist had a similar feeling when he looked up from his ten thousandth baptism in the Jordan to see his cousin, whom he thought to be the Lamb of God, the Anointed One, the Messiah, standing next in line.  All of John’s confidence and bravado must have flown out the window when he saw Jesus waiting to be washed clean in a baptism of repentance.  Matthew is the only Gospel that records a back and forth between John and Jesus, but I suspect he edited it for content.  “What the bleep are you doing here?” was most likely John’s initial reaction.  It seems to have been the reaction of the Gospel writer and the vast majority of early Christians as well.  If Jesus was the Son of God, who lived as one of us, yet without sin, why on earth was he out in the wilderness waiting in line to be baptized by John for the forgiveness of sins?

“I should be baptized by you,” John says to Jesus in protest, “and yet here you are waiting to be baptized by me?”  Jesus, as always, knows something deeper is at work.  “Let it be so for now;” he responds, “for it is proper for in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”  Jesus knew that John knew that the baptism John was offering wasn’t actually about the individual.  In first-century Palestine, as in most cultures up to today, individual piety wasn’t really about the individual.  Despite our modern, American obsession with sin being about the personal morality and purity codes we’ve inherited from our Puritanical colonial ancestors, for most of Judeo-Christian history, the worry about personal sin wasn’t about whether the individual was going to heaven or hell, but the impact that sin had on the community at large.  Sin is, at its most basic level, that which breaks relationship, and broken relationship is what leads to poverty, to addiction, to bigotry, to hatred, and to war, which are all things that impact the nation at large.

Jesus came to the Jordan to be baptized by John not because he was worried about being forgiven for lying to his mom about stealing a jolly rancher from the penny candy store when he was eight, but because Jesus wanted to see every person in Israel restored to right relationship with God and with each other.  In that moment, the beginning of moving toward “all righteousness” meant that even Jesus sought to be forgiven for the sins of the nation, the oppressive system into which he was born, and through which the Romans ruled with degradation and violence.  As Jesus came up out of the water, the Spirit descended upon him like a dove, and the work of the next phase of “all righteousness” began.  Jesus would surround himself with a community that together would show the whole world what it looks like to live in a state of forgiveness of sins – individual and corporate – that allows for life in right relationship with God and with each other as a community of Christ’s faithful.

That’s what we strive for here, and it proved to be true six years ago.  Thankfully, there are a lot of people at Christ Church who “know how to do church.”  Within minutes of Kellie’s panic-inducing whisper into my ear, we had the font moved, water warmed up, the family prepped, and lots of apologies offered for the confusion.  We threw out the bulletins and did the service from the Book of Common Prayer like in the old days, and Ryder Travelsted was joyously welcomed into the family of God at the slightly delayed 8 o’clock service on the First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of our Lord, 2017.  It was the perfect way to begin our shared ministry here.  It was an embodied metaphor that it isn’t about me, or any one of us, but about how we share in the ongoing work of our baptismal calling: supporting one another in our lives in Christ; in the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayers; persevering in resisting evil and repenting when we fall short; proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; seeking and serving Christ in all persons and loving our neighbors as ourselves; striving for justice and peace among all people and respecting the dignity of every human being.  None of us can do this alone, it is a communal effort that requires regular reminders of our common mission, confession when we fall short, a healthy dose of humility, and a whole lot of God’s help.  As we enter another year together, may the example of Jesus continue to show us how to live as a community of love for all righteousness to be found here on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen.