Guest Sermon – With God’s Help

Today was Senior Sunday at Christ Church in Bowling Green.  One of our high school seniors, Braxton, offered the homily at 10am.  Here’s the text.


First I want to thank Father Steve and Ms Karen for the opportunity to speak on behalf of the youth and graduating seniors today. It is truly an honor-it doesn’t mean I didn’t procrastinate on it, but it truly is an honor.

As I think about the lessons for today I am reminded that the disciples had to wait for Gods instruction on what to do and where to go. Can you imagine having to wait for information?!?  How lucky are we today that we have Google for any answer. You can Google for a career path , but you can’t Google to find what’s in your heart. Our faith and our church teaches us to care for ourselves and our salvation, to care for others, and to care for our land and nation.  But how do we do that? What is our purpose? Our passion? Steve Jobs says “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice”. We have to listen to that inner voice. The voice that guides us  that tells us the The will of God. Whatever you do, it always helps to have a plan. If you are going to build a business, one of the first things you need to do is to get together a business plan.  You lay out your strategy you intend to follow. You find that plan and then you follow that plan if you want to be a success. I can relate to this with my years of football at SWHS. A coach has a game plan. In fact, they get very intricate with that. They have all of the plays laid out. They know exactly where they are going. They know what the offense is going to do. What the defense is going to do. A large degree of success by an athletic team can be determined by the coach’s game plan.

This is the same for life. whatever path you choose , it always helps to have a plan. God has a wonderful plan for your life, The will of God”. When you see that phrase in the Bible it is talking about God’s plan. God’s purpose. God’s plan. What God has intended for you. The very greatest life you could ever live is a life lived according to the plan of God. If you can find the plan of God, His will, and if you will follow His will in your life, then indeed you will have a successful life.

We are a success-oriented society. Some people think that if they can ever get to the point that they can be the CEO of a successful company they will have succeeded . Others view success as having financial stability. Or perhaps success is excelling in your particular field. If you try to be THE best or one of the best of all of the people in your field, then you’re going to be a success.

In recent weeks after Easter we leaned that Jesus had recently physically left the disciples after the resurrection, departing to heaven with the promise of the Spirit’s coming and a mission of witness to be fulfilled. They had been charged to remain in Jerusalem for this day and they would be covered in power of God. They would  be called to witness to Jesus. This was their mission-the purpose of their calling. They were to witness to Christ Jesus before the nations far and near.

They were hardly prepared for such a grand task. They certainly did not feel prepared but their faith in God gave them what they needed to go places and do things they never could have imagined. That is were we are today. Are we ready to go into the word on our own merits? Leaning on the faith we have grown up knowing, What Father Steve, Ms Karen, Deacon Kellie have taught us and what we practice in EYC God will help us to become the successful people were meant to be.

Today is a day of celebration. We are celebrating the success of graduates and their achievements. We have studied, and completed coursework to arrive at this time of recognition of our efforts and achievements. We pause to celebrate our preparation and beginning to  a new phase of life. Graduation is not an endpoint. It is a beginning. it is a launching pad-commencement into the new stage of life beyond the one we just completed.  It is hard for me to associate our graduation with a beginning. It seems much more natural to consider it the closing of a chapter in life. Graduation is a celebration of the threshold-the turning of a page into our new lives. I pray that you continually hear, listen, and follow Gods will in your life. I wish you all success on each of your journeys and may you always be successful. Amen.

 

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Guest Post – The Practice of Love

259a24_cbc7ecea06e44a36b456769c60f922eemv2The Rev. Kellie Mysinger serves as Deacon at Christ Church.  Her sermon today, “The Practice of Love,” was one of the most important sermons that I’ve heard.  Due to some technical issues, the audio in the nave at 10 AM wasn’t great.  With Deacon Kellie’s permission, I’m posting the text of her sermon so that as many people as possible can experience this powerful word.


This week as I prepared for today’s sermon, I thought about the difference between book knowledge and practical knowledge. As someone who has always loved reading, school, and classes of all kinds, I have built up ample book knowledge on a decent number of different topics. Sit me down in front of the television to watch an episode of Jeopardy!, and I can come up with correct responses in a pretty broad range of categories – sometimes even surprising myself when I can pull a word or name or phrase out of my head. What I am much less able to do, however, is to take that hodgepodge of information and actually use it in any practical way. Since I’ve never actually tried out for Jeopardy! and can’t claim any winnings for getting responses right from my couch, all I do with much of the things I know is retain the title that my husband has given me as the “Fount of Useless Information.”

Book knowledge of a subject is knowledge of the principles and ideas of the subject rather than of the way the principles are put into practice. This is knowledge gathered from reading or lectures. When you have this theoretical knowledge of a subject, you can recite the definitions of key terms and concepts and explain how things should relate within a particular system or subject. Practical knowledge, on the other hand, is specific understanding you gain through experience. There are some things that can only be learned through doing. Where theory is often taught in the ideal of a vacuum, the practical is learned through the reality of life. Practical knowledge can often lead to a deeper understanding of a concept through the act of doing or through personal experience, and gaining practical knowledge can be a messy and unpredictable process, as the actual is almost always more complicated than the ideal.

I started thinking about the difference between these two types of knowledge after reading the 12th chapter of Mark, including verses that come before our passage this morning, and listening to a few recent interviews with Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. The reading we heard this morning from Mark is a pretty familiar one to most churchgoers, and one that just about everyone would describe as the story of the Widow’s Mite. As I read the passage, I noticed that despite the fact we most commonly associate this story with the widow, most of what Jesus talks about focuses not on the widow, but on the actions of the scribes and the wealthy people who come together in the temple.

Jesus is teaching and sparring with religious leaders about many different topics. Prior to our text this morning, one of the scribes quizzes Jesus about which of the commandments is most important. Jesus replies that the most important command is to love the Lord God with all your heart, mind, and strength, and the second is to love others as much as you love yourself. The scribe says that Jesus has answered correctly and goes on to affirm that nothing at all is more important than these commandments. It seems both Jesus and the scribe agree on the definition of what is most important for believers to do – love God and love  neighbor.

Jump ahead to what Jesus teaches in our reading today. He warns his listeners to beware of the scribes who conspicuously walk around, looking for respect and perks, praying showy prayers, all the while cheating widows out of their houses. Their actions are all about self – their reputations and comfort and power – and they either ignore or take advantage of those who are weak and vulnerable. The scribes, who are the teachers of the Law, whose member just affirmed in his interaction with Jesus the supreme importance of loving God and neighbor over all else, may be well versed in the theoretical knowledge of love but their actions show they have much to learn about the practice of putting this love to work in their everyday lives.

The wealthy who are coming into the temple, contributing large sums into the treasury, are not lauded by Jesus for their actions either. Although the monetary amounts the people are giving may be large and might be used to assist people living in poverty, Jesus points out that for the givers the amounts don’t reflect any particular generosity or special faithfulness. In our text Jesus references their giving out of their abundance, and in other translations, Jesus describes the donations of the rich as “something they’ll never miss” or something they “didn’t need.” Giving away property that doesn’t really cost the giver anything or being willing to offer something that doesn’t require any meaningful sacrifice or effort is not an action to be praised. These gifts might fulfill social or religious obligations, but for Jesus they are not examples of responding to the command to love.

So what does it look like to love God and love neighbor? This is a question posed in different ways to Bishop Michael Curry in several interviews this week as he talked about a book he has written called “The Power of Love.” In one interview, Bishop Curry was asked to describe the kind of love he has written, spoken, and preached about, which is the love that is taught by Jesus. He described this love not as simply sentimental love, but as an “unselfish, selfless way of living that actually seeks the good and well-being of others, even something above our own self interest.” This kind of loving, selfless living is what has the capacity to change things for the good, said Bishop Curry. In another interview, the interviewer tried pressing Bishop Curry for specific examples of what loving action would look like in this or that particular situation, and Bishop Curry kept pointing back to the need to approach every encounter, every opportunity by seeking to act out of that loving concern for the good of other people – in the selfless, sacrificial way that Jesus embodies.

As I listened to Bishop Curry, I found myself frustrated, as I sometimes do when I hear Jesus’ words, because I want more tangible, specific instructions for how exactly I go about loving God and loving my neighbor. I know the book answer, but I am not always confident I know what shape that should take when I’m trying to live each day in response to this call to love. That is where practical experience comes in. At some point, talking about love and reading about God and neighbor needs to turn into practicing this love. And as with any other kind of practical learning, it’s going to be messier and more unpredictable in reality than it is in theory, and to be the love that Jesus teaches, it’s going to require something of us as we struggle to make the needs and the well-being of others our focus and our concern.

Each of us has opportunities every day to practice the love of Jesus. It might be reaching out to family members or friends in crisis. It could be stepping in or speaking up when you notice someone being treated  unfairly. You might be faced with a choice about whether or not to commit your time to working with a group that serves people in need. There may be issues at your workplace, at school, or in the community where you identify problems or crises causing hardship or pain.

Right now, we as a church are in the midst of practicing how to love our neighbors as we work with people experiencing homelessness who have sought shelter on our grounds. This is a messy process, both literally and figuratively, as we work to build mutual relationships with people who are struggling and vulnerable, and as we try to help them find ways to more stable and secure situations. Navigating the various issues, I have often wanted a handbook with specific instructions as to how, exactly we meet the needs of everyone involved, both the people seeking shelter and members of the congregation, when often times the sets of concerns are not the same. I must also admit, I’ve been tempted to make having neat, clean outdoor spaces, cleared of people and their belongings the only priority, but to accomplish that immediately would require that we run  people off, most of whom currently have no safe place to go. Our problem would be solved, but the serious problems of our neighbors would remain. So, instead, we as a church, through the efforts of staff and congregation members, are working intentionally with people sheltering here to establish effective boundaries and norms of behavior while also trying to find ways we can support them in securing better situations.

This week, when I was wrestling with my own frustration about the energy I and others have been expending on dealing with the litany of problems occurring outside, I had a chance to talk with someone who has been staying on the property. This person shared that this place has been somewhere they feel safe, and they wanted the church to know how much they appreciated being able to stay during a difficult time. The person went on to say with a big smile how pleased they were that last Sunday they were able to give two dollars to add to the church’s offering in thanksgiving for this kindness. It wasn’t much, the person said, but it was important to them to give the gift. After spending much of the week reading about Jesus making sure his disciples notice a poor widow giving her last two copper coins, this got my attention and reaffirmed for me the continued call to share Christ’s love with our neighbor. It is not a quick process as we struggle with making the needs and well-being of others our focus and our concern, but I do believe that practicing this kind of care is what we are called to do as we follow Jesus.

As we each look for the strength, courage, and guidance to navigate  the many challenging situations we face, it is an extra blessing to have a baptism this morning. When Indie Blake is baptized today (at the 10am service), we will rejoice with her and her family as she is reborn into new life in Christ. Baptism gives us all an opportunity to remember our own baptismal covenant, which includes our promises to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourself and to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. These are promises we make initially based on our theoretical knowledge of what these words mean, and as we live our lives in Christ we, and the many people we encounter, come to experience the wonderful fullness of these promises in action. As we pray that Indie throughout her life will have an inquiring and discerning heart and the courage to will and to persevere, we join with her in praying for ourselves as well, knowing that at all times and in all places and in all circumstances we do these things with God’s help.

There is a prayer I came across multiple times this week that I’d like to share. I feel this Franciscan Benediction expresses the many challenges we face and the hopes we share as we strive to live our lives in loving faithfulness.     Let us pray.

 

May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that we may live deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that we may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done.

Amen.

Polly Hewitt’s Elevator Pitch

This afternoon, I received an email from a Twitter friend named Polly Hewitt. Attached was her elevator pitch that shows the depth of her longstanding, if not always perfect, love of The Episcopal Church.


This is a love story. I am a third-generation Episcopalian. My identity as a human being and a believer was shaped by the gracious exuberance of the ‘50s “Golden Age” church. I was confirmed in a lace doily and white gloves, proud to finally take my place at the Communion rail. Fifty years later, I still know every word of Morning Prayer, and cannot say the glorious General Confession without tearing up. In the ‘60s, I learned that the Episcopal Church was capable of taking bold stands on important social issues and stood side-by-side with my clergy at anti-war rallies. Later, as an adult, I also learned that my beloved church was far from perfect. I witnessed first-hand the “manifold sins and wickedness” of institutional power. I also experienced many moments of transcendent beauty and grace in the company of exceptional, thoughtful people. Now in middle age, I feel like I am in a long-term marriage with the Episcopal Church: wistful for our youthful days, companionable, sometimes cranky and a bit restless. Over the years, we’ve had our trial separations, but somehow, we always find our way back to each other. And here’s the best part – I know dozens of these Episcopal love stories. The details are different, but the core narrative is always the same. This imperfect institution – with its challenging liturgy, respect for reason, and commitment to social justice – was the perfect place to encounter God. For this, my heart is unfeignedly thankful.


 

John Talbert’s Elevator Pitch

John doesn’t have a blog or a Facebook Page and he doesn’t Tweet, so I’m posting his beautiful elevator pitch here at DT.  I’ll post yours too, if you’d like, just email it to me steve at saintpaulsfoley dot com


Hi. I’d like to know your name, and I’d like you to know mine, but before I ask – I’d like to tell you why. This might be my only chance to ask you, to learn a bit about you, and think about the kind of impact we could have on each other – and on other people around us, you know – if we worked together.

You see, I’m part of a team that’s made up of all kinds of people from all kinds of places – so many places that we’ve all never met in the same space, even though we all work together. We believe that the work we do is great enough and broad enough that everyone we meet has an import role in doing it. That’s why we meet new people, like you – and share our name.

Our team has leaders, even national leaders – but everyone knows we are equally important, and no matter what skills we have to bring to the team, that there is good work for us to do, important work – that is right for us to do.

We all follow the example of one man, who showed us a long time ago the best way to meet new people, and he even started some of the work that we are still doing – and taught others how to know what kind of work we should be doing. His name is Jesus Christ, and my team is called the Episcopal Church.

I’m John, What’s your name?


 

 

Guest Post – You Have Been Called

I feel that I need to explain that I have 3 baptisms this Sunday and so my reflections on this week’s readings are filtered through that lens.

I am first struck by the reading from Matthew – it is almost 2 separate passages and reflects 3 of the themes from Matthew – Jesus as the fulfillment of the promises made in the OT, the communal nature of his ministry, and his mission focus. I seem to be caught up in the idea of community and how that affects our mission to the world. As we baptize these three children into the Body of Christ, I’m wondering what that means for them, what that means for the Church, and what that means for the world. For Christians, Church ought to be our community in which we learn how to be disciples. When it works well it is a place where we learn (or remember) how to pray, to laugh, work and share. It ought to be where we learn our story and how to participate in the ongoing chapters of our story, and it ought to be where we share a world view different than that of our society or culture. Church is where we ought to receive our sustenance to travel down our road that is not necessarily culturally “correct,” a place where we find companions for our journey – where we hold up one another during times of doubt, pain, and joy. Somewhere this week I read a comparison of the church to Noah’s ark and I really like that image of being safely – albeit roughly at times – carried through chaos.

Jonathan Marlowe on Theolog, the blog site of the Christian Century, reminded me of Rowan Williams remark that when we get to heaven, God will not ask us why we weren’t more like one of the saints, but God will ask us why we weren’t more fully ourselves. Living into who we were meant to be is risky and scary business. But it is not a journey we ought to have to take alone, and it ought, also, to be one that is full of the same kind of excitement, thrill, and joy that any adventure is.

Jesus sought out the four who are called in this reading. The fishermen followed Jesus because they were looking for more – they wanted a larger story than daily fishing. We come to church – we follow Jesus – because we, too, are looking for more. And yet….we fight the urge to change – the call to do our lives differently, but it is what we truly desire – to be so awakened that we know we must live our lives differently. We are looking to be reborn. We want to be brave enough to leave our old lives and take up the new. We want to be energized, excited, sure, overwhelmed, secure, loved enough to dare to follow Jesus – to be our own truest selves. What if Jesus were to come to each of us and call us to follow him – call us by our names?

That is what the church, in the name of Jesus, does at our baptism. And yet I am reminded of a book entitled Mighty Stories, Powerful Rituals. Do we still think of our stories as mighty? Do we still find our rituals powerful?

Guest Post – Here is the Lamb of God

A huge thank you to my dear friend Candyce for guest posting a couple of times over the next several days. With diocesan requirements and ordination in a week, I’m feeling swamped. She has been so kind as to offer some reflections that will add a great voice to this blog. Enjoy her work.

“Here is the Lamb of God” – spoken not once, but twice in this reading from John. It’s easiest for me to read over this – I’ve heard it most of my life – Jesus is the Lamb of God, but what does it mean to us and what did it mean to John and to the people of 1st Century Israel?

I need to put in a disclaimer here. I am reading N.T. Wright’s Simply Christian on the recommendation of Phall (and I thank him immensely). The book has me thinking about how I put scripture into the context of God and the world. Also, I have just finished the first two parts of this 3 part book and so I may not have all the pieces of the puzzle just yet. But Wright talks about how we “see” the relationship between God/heaven and humanity/earth and gives us three options. The third is the one that Bishop Wright embraces and it sees that heaven and earth are separate, but have places where they meet and overlap. Early in our story, he says, we found this overlap in the Torah – the way we were to enact our part in the covenant. Later – after the rescue from Egypt – it was the Temple – the place that was built to house God when God came to earth. And finally – or the last that we know at this point in time – this union came in the form of Jesus Christ and – as we are baptized into the body of Christ – to us.

So now, how does the Lamb of God image fit into this picture?

We’ve all heard that Jesus was the first born, spotless lamb sacrificed for our sins – replacing the Passover lamb that saved the lives of the Jews in Egypt.

This idea of sacrifice has made me stop and think about what sacrifice may have meant – throughout Jewish history, at the time of Christ, and how it fits into our current ideas of God, church, and culture. According to The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology sacrifice has been part of religion from its beginnings and that there has never been one, unified concept of its efficacy. So if we look at sacrifice from the point of view of the intersection of heaven and earth, then no matter what its justification it was performed at those places and times when we were most trying to invite or experience that union of holy and secular. Christ, as the Lamb of God, I believe then, could be just that intersection. Who would not follow the one who was the union of heaven and earth?

What an invitation that is!! It was a remarkable invitation to those in Jesus’ time – Andrew and the unnamed disciples in Sunday’s reading, but it is also an amazing invitation to each one of us. Do we think of our relationship with God through Jesus as just such a union? Do we realize that we’ve been linked to this union in our baptism? Do we live out such intimacy?