Spiritual Work

As many of you know, I am part of a group of disciples who are working to proclaim resurrection in the Episcopal Church.  Our mission, as articulated in the founding blog posts of the movement, finds is roots in the eighth chapter of Acts.  This is a turning point in the life of the fledgling Church.  Stephen has just been martyred, while Saul looked on approvingly, and the first significant persecution is underway.  Because of the faithfulness of those early Christians, who fled Jerusalem but not their faith in Christ, the Christian faith is still around today.  It is a story of hope, of evangelism, and of perseverance.  It is a story that has motivated the Acts 8 Movement to continue to call Episcopalians to share the good news of God in Christ with a world that desperately needs it.

As one who has spent a lot of time immersed in Acts 8, it is always exciting to me when it rolls around in the lectionary cycle.  This is especially true on Easter 5B, as we hear the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch.  I could probably write a book on this passage, but blogs are supposed to be short form, so I’ll spare you the long diatribe and jump right in to the word that leaped off the screen at me this morning.  Philip, having been brought to the wilderness road by the Holy Spirit, overhears the Eunuch reading from Isaiah.  In a manner that is quite forward, Philip approaches the Eunuch and asks, “Do you understand what you are reading?”  He responded, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”

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This word, “guide,” caught my attention this morning.  Digging into it a bit, I found that the Greek word, hodegeo, is used only four other places in the New Testament.  Twice, in Luke and Matthew, it is used in variations of the idiom “the blind leading the blind.”  In Revelation, it is used to describe what the lamb at the center of throne will do for the rest of us sheep, “guiding us to the springs of the water of life.”  Of most interest, however, is how it gets used by John in the Gospel.  Late in Jesus’ ministry, as part of his farewell discourse, Jesus promises his disciples another advocate, the Spirit, who will guide (hodegeo) them into all truth.

Of further interest, is the etymology of hodegeo, which, according to Robertson, comes from hodos meaning way and hegeomai meaning to lead.  Beyond simply guiding, what the Spirit is sent to do, and what the Spirit does through Philip for the Eunuch, is to lead him in the Way.  The Spiritual work, then, for all of us who claim to be disciples of Jesus, is to lead others in the Way of Jesus.  This assumes that we will, ourselves, be disciples, having been lead in the Way by others.  It assumes that we will all be growing in our faith and in our understanding of the Gospel and of God, in order to teach others.  It assumes, more than anything else, that we will be in tune with the Spirit, who will guide us, as was the case for Philip, into all truth and into opportunities to guide others.

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Good Book Club – Week 1

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“Luke’s goal in writing his two-part story is to provide an orderly account so that his readers might know the truth about Jesus.
To what end do you read the scriptures?”

Today is Ash Wednesday.  It might be my favorite day of the Church year.  While everyday there is the opportunity to confess our sins and repent and return to the Lord, the language we use on Ash Wednesday is the most poignant.  The Litany of Penance makes clear those sins of commission and omission that I would rather ignore.  The recitation of Psalm 51 takes pieces of scripture that have been spread all throughout our liturgy and reminds us of how they fit together as a word of prayer to God.  The absolution, which is more a prayer on behalf of all those gathered, is a helpful reminder that God’s desire is not to punish us wicked sinners, but rather, that God’s greatest hope is that we all might be restored to right relationship.  The smudge of ash upon my forehead, and the reminder that I came from and will return to dust, gives me the chance to recall my own mortality – something I would otherwise only do when I got onto an airplane.  It is a beautiful liturgy, filled with imagery and action that point us to our need for forgiveness and God’s amazing grace, but above it all, I adore the invitation to a holy Lent.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.

As I spoke these words at 7:15 this morning, this week’s Acts 8 Blogforce question in conjunction with the Good Book Club immediately came to mind.  There, in the midst of the Ash Wednesday liturgy, I was reminded of why I read the Bible, and, more importantly, why I should.  Truth be told, I mostly study the Bible.  Four times a week, I sit down and read the lessons appointed for the following Sunday, looking for something to reflect upon, something to dig into, something to study.  About every other week, I spend hours diving even further into it.  I read commentaries, do word studies, and sit and stare into space, listening for God’s voice, over and above the monkey chatter in my brain, for a word to speak on Sunday.  So much of my engagement in the Scriptures is to study and mediate, that I sometimes forget to just read the Bible.

The gift of the Good Book Club, for me, is the opportunity to just read the Bible.  I have already so enjoyed just reading about the birth of John the Baptist, the Magnificat, and the Nativity of our Lord.  No looking for the kernel of truth.  No seeking a sermon hook.  No getting lost down the rabbit hole of a Greek verb.  Just reading the story, the greatest story every told, of God’s great love for creation.  To what end do I read the Scriptures?  Well, at least for the next three months, it will simply be to hear God’s love story, yet again.


Blog Force Participant

Where is Galilee? – An Acts 8 BLOGFORCE Challenge

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“And now, go quickly and tell his disciples he has been raised from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.” – Mt 28:7 (NLT)

I get to go to Galilee for at least an hour every week.  Sure, there are some weeks where I spend most of my time “out there,” the reality of full-time ordained ministry is that I sit at a desk a lot more than I thought I would.  But even when the week has nothing but study, sermon prep, and administration to offer, I know that at 9am on Thursday morning, I’ll enter the Galilee that is Mrs. Davis’ Kindergarten class.

Now in its seventh year, Saint Paul’s has been providing volunteers to support the work at Foley Elementary School.  When we began our work there, the free and reduced lunch rate, a key poverty indicator, was at 72%.  Now it is 80%.  Four years into the program, FES had its first minority majority kindergarten class, but Alabama’s draconian immigration policy has changed that (some).  I took a two year hiatus after the teacher in my classroom left to raise here babies, but boy am I glad to be back, seeing the face of Jesus in each child, in the grandmother who volunteers alongside me, and, most especially, in Mrs. Davis.

I know that FES is Galilee because that’s where I find Jesus.  I find Jesus in the caring hearts of every teacher, janitor, nutrition specialist, and administrator who give of themselves to ensure that every child knows that they are loved by someone.  I find Jesus in the kids who find joy in learning, who are reading well above grade level, and who carry the same privileges as me.  I find Jesus in the child who had never held a crayon before the first day of Kindergarten, who can’t tell an “A” from a “Z” or the color purple from the number nine.  I find Jesus in the simple act of playing Chutes and Ladders knowing that learning to count to 6, or 10, of 100 might help one child break the cycle of poverty.

Rarely do I wear my collar there.  Seldom to we talk about what I do.  I’ve probably never mentioned Jesus to one of these children, but I’m certain that they’ve experienced God’s love in the person of Jesus Christ because he’s met me in Galilee, just as he has promised.

The Resurrection Question – #Acts8 BLOGFORCE

The Acts 8 Moment is asking candidates for Executive Council to answer one question ahead of General Convention.  While not in the business of endorsing candidates, the Acts 8 Moment (full disclosure – I serve on the steering committee) is interested in proclaiming resurrection, and therefore is asking each candidate for no more than 350 words on this question:

How will you share your love of Jesus inside and outside the church, and how must the church change in order to be more effective at proclaiming resurrection?


Sharing the love of Jesus is my full-time job, not just because I happen to be ordained, but because I am a baptized member of the Body of Christ.  As a disciple of Jesus, among the many demands that makes on my life, I am called to share the Good News of God’s saving love in word and deed.  As a member of the Executive Council, I would have the unique privilege of working alongside some of the best minds in the Church to encourage the lifting up the gifts of every member toward the goal of bringing the whole world to know of the saving embrace of Jesus.  I would continue to use my blog, Draughting Theology, to help committed disciples, both lay and ordained, engage the Scriptures in that place where those holy words meet everyday life.  In my ministry context, I would continue to reach out to the underserved in my community, particularly lifting up the voice of the more than 70% of students in our public schools that live in poverty.  The world is hungry for love, and there is no love like that of the God of all Creation.

With that in mind, my suggestion to the Church is simply this: in order to proclaim resurrection, you must know and embrace your own story.  The author of the First Letter of Peter admonishes his audience to “always be ready to give an account for the hope that lies within.”  Whether we find ourselves seeking after marriage equality, prison reform, educational enrichment, or holiness of life, we need to be prepared to answer the inevitable question, “why?”  Why do we do the things we do?  Because God’s love is so compelling that I can’t help but share it with the whole world.  For you, sharing the love of God might mean picketing for immigration reform, while for others it is opening a soup kitchen.  No matter the manifestation, the saving love of God shown in the resurrected Jesus must always under-gird the work of the Church and her members.

Our Aim is to Please

Back in March, The Acts 8 Moment did a BLOGFORCE series on the mission of the Church beginning at the congregational level and moving upward through the diocese to the church-wide structure.  In her final post in the series, my friend and co-conspirator, Susan Brown Snook pointed out a distinct difference in understanding when it comes to the telos of Christianity. On the one hand was The Rt. Rev. Stacy Sauls, COO of The Episcopal Church, who said that the mission of the Church was “to serve the poor and create servants of the poor.”  On the other hands was the Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, who suggested this as the mission of the Church: “First, the church exists to worship God in Jesus Christ. Second, the Church exists to make new disciples of Jesus Christ. Everything else is decoration. Some of it may be very necessary, useful, or wonderful decoration – but it’s decoration.”

It seems to me that these two definitions show the crux of the problem with the Church today.  Bishop Sauls has a good and noble mission, but it is merely a small part of the much larger Gospel of Jesus to which Archbishop Welby seems to be calling us.

This conversation comes to mind for several reasons.  First, I heard Bishop Sauls speak over the weekend and was reminded of his somewhat myopic view of the Gospel.  More importantly, I read the lesson from 2 Corinthians appointed for Sunday and was immediately drawn to Paul’s understanding of the goal of the Christian life.

“We make it our aim to please [God].”

Caring for the poor certainly pleases God.  There can be no doubt about that, but there is much more that we can do to please God in this life.  The authors of “A Memorial to the Church,” a list on which I’m proud to be listed, gave us several suggestions including daily prayer, Bible study, corporate worship, giving to the Kingdom, evangelism, discipleship, and, of course, service to the least and the lost.

This too is not an exhaustive list.  If our aim is to please God, then everything we do is a means to that end.  Pleasing God is a lot about the religious life, but it is also a lot about everyday life.  Pleasing God means treating the cashier at the Piggly Wiggly or the server at Big Daddy’s or the service tech at Bebo’s with the respect due every human being.  Pleasing God means keeping your word and refusing to engage in improper business practices.  Pleasing God means forgiving that jackass that cut you off on the interstate.  Pleasing God is a full-time job, as you well know, but the rewards are most certainly worth it.  As the Psalmist writes:

“The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, and shall spread abroad like a cedar of Lebanon.”

The Spirit of Evangelism – A Pentecost Sermon

You can listen to my Pentecost sermon on the Saint Paul’s website, or read on.

Today begins a new season in the life of the Church.  The Day of Pentecost marks the mid-point in the Church year.  From Advent 1 until the Sunday after the Ascension, we were in the Season of Jesus’ life and ministry.  We’ll spend the rest of the year in the Season of the Church, learning how to be disciples of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.  This year, Pentecost happens to fall on a weekend that marks several other season changes.  School ended on Friday and tomorrow is Memorial Day, so today is also our unofficial transition into summer.  It also happens to be my last Sunday before a three month sabbatical: a season of rest, renewal, and refreshment.  Moments of transition call for discernment, and on a day with so much transition happening here, I can’t help but think that maybe we too should be taking some time to discern what God has in mind for Saint Paul’s.  Specifically, I find myself wondering, what is there in the lessons appointed for this day of transition that might help us better understand who God is calling us to be?

Truth be told, I don’t think today is just a day of transition for a couple hundred Episcopalians in Foley, Alabama.  I think that the whole world is in a season of transition.  My former Systematic Theology professor, the late Bishop Mark Dyer, observed that every five hundred years or so, the Church undergoes a giant rummage sale, and we are living in the midst of one.[1]  As with any rummage sale, it isn’t that everything is up for grabs – that’s called an estate sale – but rather the Church is trying to figure out what is worth keeping and what we might be willing to give up.  If we think about it, it is actually pretty unsurprising that institutions, which are made by and for people, tend to collect things, just like people do. About every 5 centuries the attic, garage, basement, and a storage shed or two become so packed with the unnecessary stuff that something must be done.  A return to the essentials begins and the difficult discussions about what is really needed take place.

Inevitably, the conversation about what is essential will creep its way back through history to find what was kept after the last great rummage sale.  That will take us to the lessons learned in the Great Reformation: sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, and soli Deo Gloria; only Scripture, Faith, Grace, and Christ, and always to the glory of God.  These are good mottos, which have served the Church well for a long time, but the temptation to return to our roots can’t stop in the 1500s.  We’ll have to look deeper into the archives to find what it is that God would have us be about.  As we do, eventually we’ll find ourselves smack dab in the middle of the first great rummage sale, sitting with the disciples on the Day of Pentecost trying to discern out what to do next.  They’ve been gathered together for 10 straight days, waiting and praying for the Spirit to come, when suddenly, the Spirit arrives with power and might.  We can learn a lot about what is essential for disciples of Jesus by looking carefully at what happens on the Day of Pentecost.  And what happens on the Day of Pentecost?  The Gospel is proclaimed.

It all starts in that upper room with a cacophony of sound.  There is the whoosh of a mighty wind, the crackling of flames, and the sound of 120 voices all speaking in foreign languages as the Spirit gave them the ability.  Here’s one of those places where the easy to read modern translations fall short of what’s really going on.  The King James Bible get a little closer, saying that “the Spirit gave them utterance.”  The Greek word translated as ability or utterance is thirteen letters long and I can’t pronounce it.  What’s important about it is that it isn’t the word used for common speech.  That’s an easy word to pronounce, “lego.”  This word carries the deeper meaning that the words being spoken are of divine origin.  The 120 remaining disciples were all speaking different languages, but they were all saying the same thing, and what they were saying came from God.  Seven verses later, we find out that the divine utterance is telling of “the mighty acts of God,” the Good News of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In the midst of all the confusion, as some sneer that this is nothing more than the incoherent ramblings of a group of drunks, Peter steps forward to speak.  The same thirteen letter Greek word used to describe what the 120 did is used to describe the sermon that Peter gives.  He spoke a divine utterance to the crowd of more than 3,000.  If we’re still confused about what is essential for Spirit filled disciples of Jesus, Peter clarifies it for us in the words of the prophet Joel, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughter shall prophesy, and you young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.  Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”

When the Spirit comes, people prophesy.  They don’t read palms or predict the future, but they proclaim the message of God.  They tell God’s story.  They share the Good News.  They evangelize.  The primary thing that Spirit filled disciples of Jesus should be about is sharing the Gospel.  Unfortunately, we Episcopalians haven’t been good at sharing our faith for a very long time.  Last week, we received confirmation of this sad truth from two different sources.  Pew Research Center, a leading voice in religious demographic studies published a report that shows the portion of the population claiming to be Christian has dropped from 78.4% in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014.  That’s a 10% drop in only seven years.  Mainline Protestants: Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists and the like, lost nearly 19% of their membership over those same seven years![2]  Within days of the Pew Research report, the Report of the State of the [Episcopal] Church was published in preparation for General Convention.  While the authors of that text found things to be hopeful about; the staggering number for me was that the Average Sunday Attendance in the average Episcopal Church fell 4.5% in just one year![3]  The call to be a people who are committed to evangelism can no longer be ignored.  It is, whether we like it or not, the primary work of disciples.

My goal during my sabbatical is to write the thesis for my Doctor of Ministry degree.  In that paper, I will argue that The Episcopal Church is well suited to meet the needs of a post-rummage sale America, but if we can’t tell people about how Jesus makes a difference in our lives, we are doomed.  We prayed this morning that the gift of the Holy Spirit might be spread throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, but many of us don’t even know what the Gospel is, let alone how to share it. As I leave you for the summer with the challenge to share the Good News, I’ll give you the best summation of the Gospel that I know, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever puts their trust in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  Indeed, God did not send his Son to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

The Gospel is the story of God’s love being made flesh in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  That love changed the world by changing the hearts of human beings.  That love will compel us to do good works, to seek justice for all people, and when we sin to repent, seek forgiveness, and return to the Lord.  In this time of great transition, we are being called to share that Good News in Foley, throughout south Alabama, and even to the ends of the earth.  Pour out your Spirit upon us, O Lord, and open our lips to share the Gospel of your love.  Amen.

[1] Tickle, The Great Emergence, 16.

[2] http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/

[3] https://extranet.generalconvention.org/staff/files/download/12702.pdf

A Memorial to the Church

I am a firm believer in the future vitality of The Episcopal Church.  I have to be.  I’m 35 years old and looking at another 30 years of ordained ministry.  I’d also like the Pension Fund to still exist when I retire someday.  I’ve got two daughters and I’m committed to raising them in the knowledge and love of the Lord.  I’m even spending the bulk of my sabbatical time this summer exploring what The Episcopal Church has that makes us special and what we might need to tweak to ensure that the current religious climate isn’t one of crisis, but an opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus Christ for generations to come.  All of these reasons, and many more, are why I am thrilled to join Susan Brown SnookScott GunnTom FergusonFrank LogueBrendan O’Sullivan-Hale, and Adam Trambley in presenting “A Memorial to the Church” along with several enacting resolutions calling on The Episcopal Church gathered at the 78th General Convention to proclaim resurrection by to acting with boldness to proclaim the gospel in some very specific ways.  The Memorial has six points, which I’ve repeated here with some brief commentary.

  • Engage creatively, openly, and prayerfully in reading the signs of the times and discerning the particular ways God is speaking to the Episcopal Church now.  This means moving beyond politics as usual.  It means letting go of our long-standing arguments over any number of things that are adiaphora to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It means listening to the culture and looking for signs of God already at work in the world.
  • Pray, read the scriptures, and listen deeply for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in electing a new Presiding Bishop and other leaders, in entering into creative initiatives for the spread of the kingdom, and in restructuring the church for mission.  As a democratically governed church, we assume that the Holy Spirit is at work in the election process: from Bishops to Standing Committees to Vestries.  This is true of our senior leadership as well.  The Presiding Bishop, President of the House of Deputies, and Members of Executive Council will work to enact the vision set forth by General Convention.  If they are not willing to risk creatively for the spread of the Good News, then we have already failed.
  • Fund evangelism initiatives extravagantly: training laborers to go into the harvest to revitalize existing congregations and plant new ones; forming networks and educational offerings to train and deploy church planters and revitalizers who will follow Jesus into all kinds of neighborhoods; and creating training opportunities for bilingual and bi-cultural ministry. It is no secret that ministry happens at the local level.  Unfortunately, many local congregations are too worried about keeping the lights on to think about mission and evangelism.  It is our hope that General Convention will put its money where its mouth is and set aside upwards of $10 million to plant and revitalize congregations.
  • Release our hold on buildings, structures, comfortable habits, egos, and conflicts that do not serve the church well.  In order to move into the future, some of the past must be left behind.  This is not new in the life of the Church, but even thought we’ve done it before, change is never easy.
  • Remove obstacles embedded in current structures, however formerly useful or well-meaning, that hinder new and creative mission and evangelism initiatives.  There is much in our current structures that started out as very useful tools for ministry, but as the world is changing right before our very eyes, we have to look honestly and critically at every level of structure and ask “Is this supporting the work of the Church or could these resources be better used elsewhere?”
  • Refocus our energies from building up a large, centralized, expensive, hierarchical church-wide structure, to networking and supporting mission at the local level, where we all may learn how to follow Jesus into all of our neighborhoods.  Jesus commissioned his disciples to “go and make disciples” and they immediately sat down in a committee meeting to discern how to do it.  Two thousand years later, we have committees, commissions, agencies, and boards asking the same question.  While they aren’t inherently bad, CCABs do tend to be self-perpetuating with ever expanding budgets.  Let’s turn our focus back on the Great Commission and find ways to work together to help unveil the Kingdom of God here on earth.

I hope you will take a couple of minutes to read our Memorial in its entirety.  If you’d like to join the movement by adding your name, simply email endorse@episcopalresurrection.org with your full name and whether you are a Bishop, deputy, alternate deputy, or better yet, a supportive Episcopalian.  Above all, please pray for the Church, for her leaders: Katharine, our Presiding Bishop, Gay, the President of the House of Deputies, the House of Bishops, and the House of Deputies; and for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that we might have the courage and wisdom to move forward with boldness to the glory of God.