Don’t Worry? – a mid-week reflection

Today, the Church remembers Catherine of Siena, who died on this date in the year 1380.

Let us pray.

Everlasting God, you so kindled the flame of holy love in the heart of blessed Catherine of Siena, as she meditated on the passion of your Son our Savior, that she devoted her life to the poor and the sick, and to the peace and unity of the Church: Grant that we also may share in the mystery of Christ’s death, and rejoice in the revelation of his glory; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Gospel lesson appointed for today is select verses from Luke chapter twelve.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”


Whether it is coming from Bobby McFerrin or Jesus of Nazareth, “Don’t worry, be happy” is easier said than done.  In what feels like the 10th year of Coronatide, I found myself getting viscerally angry at Jesus for these “words of comfort” to his disciples.  As usual, Biblical texts taken out of context can be detrimental to your health.  What seems like simple platitudes from our Lord are actually part of a much larger teaching by Jesus on the dangers of following him long-term.  See, a crowd of many thousands had started to follow Jesus.  The crowd was so large that, in order to hear him teach, they had begun to press in so close that some were being trampled.  As Jesus looked at the crowd, he realized that many of them were there for the wrong reasons – thinking they had hitched their wagons to the next King of Israel and looking forward to a life on easy street.

The first time Jesus tells his disciples, and by extension the crowd, not to worry, he does so in the context of dying for their faith.  “Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.  But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell.”  After the parable of the rich fool, who after a bountiful harvest built bigger barns rather than sharing his largesse and died that very night, Jesus continues with this series of warnings not to worry about earthly things, but rather, to remain focused on the greater things of the Kingdom of God.

Catherine of Siena was born in 1347 as the twenty-third or twenty-fourth child of her mother, Lapa and father, Giacomo.  One of a set of twins, Catherine’s sister, Giovanna died shortly after birth.  In all, her parents lost just under half of their 25 children at a young age.  Catherine’s first few years were spent under the fear of the black plague that killed upwards of 200 million people in Europe between 1347 and 1353.  As the plague came to an end, Catherine and a brother went to visit one of their married older sisters, and on the way home, at the age of five or six, she had a vision of Jesus seated in heaven with Peter, Paul, and John.  By the age of seven, she vowed to give her life to God.  For the majority of her life, Catherine lived under her own strict rule of life.  As a third order nun, she did not live in the monastery with her sisters, but remained at her family home.  Rather than enjoy the comforts of her family’s relatively well-to-do lifestyle, she was constantly giving away all of her food and clothing.  Her only meal most days was the bread and wine of the Eucharist.  Amidst all of this, she also found herself in the middle of not one, but two controversies involving competing Popes.

If anyone had reason to be prone to worry, Catherine of Siena did, and yet, she always chose the harder path.  Whether it was becoming a nurse so that she could treat lepers or nearly being assassinated in a riot after the death of her friend, Pope Gregory the eleventh, Catherine set her hope on Christ, and found reason to have faith.

Maybe Jesus has a point.  We have very little to do with the rain or sun or the yield of the harvest.  Ours is not to worry about how much toilet paper gets produced in a week, but only to give thanks when the Kroger shelves are stocked and to share of our abundance when we come across a 24 pack in all its glory.

Time Out to Give Thanks

Advent 1 and the full rush of the Christmas season may already be upon us, but in a world where JC Penny’s is so desperate for cash that they’re opening at 2pm on Thanksgiving Day, it seems appropriate that this blog, only barely resuscitated from a long layoff, pauses to reflect on Thanksgiving, one of only two secular holidays that is given Major Feast status in our Book of Common Prayer.  Not to get too deep into it, but the tradition of recognizing some kind of harvest festival pre-dates the Christian Way by millennia.  According to Marion Hatchett, in our tradition, a means of giving thanks for God’s provision first appeared in the 1662 Book, and was upgraded to a votive, complete with propers in 1928.  The 1979 Book is the first time it is listed among the Major Feasts (the same pattern from 28 to 79 is true for the other secular feast, Independence Day).  As usual, I’ve digressed.

In my congregation, Thanksgiving Day will be the last celebration of the Eucharist in Year C.  The Gospel lesson appointed comes from John 6 and is well suited to our consumerist culture that requires retail employees to eat Thanksgiving breakfast with their families because they have to work a 12-hour shift beginning at noon so a store full of more crap that nobody needs can open at 2 (Ask me my unpopular hot take on election day as a national holiday sometime).  Jesus, having just fed the multitudes sent his disciples to the other side of the lake while he prayed.  In the middle of the night, Jesus met the boat by walking across the lake, much to the disciples amazement.

The lesson opens with the crowd, having run around the lakeshore to find where Jesus and his disciples had gone asking him, essentially, “how’d you get here?”  Jesus, always quick with a non-sequitur replies by wondering aloud about the crowds motivation.  Did they come seeking him out because he had fed them?  Was it because of the miracles?  No, Jesus suggests, those things, while powerful and indicative of the work God was doing in the world wouldn’t sustain them.  What the crowd really came to find was “food that endures for eternal life.”

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To use a crude metaphor that is from before my time, the Kool-Aid that Americans have guzzled down willingly is that we don’t have enough and more will make us happy.  This theology of scarcity, coupled with the political cult of the zero-sum game has created a scenario in which millions of Americans will rush out on a day that is set aside, by both secular and religious authorities, to give thanks for all that we have, to buy, buy, buy more, more, more.  We are addicted to food that perishes, and the system is quite happy to keep us buying more, paying sales tax, interest, and late fees, until the weight of debt crushes us all.

This Thanksgiving, reject the narrative of “not enough.”  Take the day, the whole day, to stop feeding the addiction to food that perishes, and give thanks to God for the abundance that you already have.  Feasting on food that endures to eternal life will do good for your soul.

Giving Thanks

Due to the nature of parish ministry and the hamster wheel of Sunday services, the sermon prep for Thanksgiving Day, a Major Feast that is supposed to be “regularly observed” in the Episcopal Church, but for which I will not get fussy because I know we don’t “regularly observe” all the Major Feasts here, often gets short shrift.  So, here I am, on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, sitting my study in a closed Parish Office, giving on the first real thought to what I might say tomorrow at 10 am.  As I read through the lessons appointed for Thanksgiving, a theme comes quickly to the fore.  It seems that the lectionary folk would have us notice that there is a dichotomy between worry and thankfulness.

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The prophet Joel writes to the people of Israel after an invasion of locusts.  Now, whether this book is really about bugs or about a nation invading their Palestinian homeland, I’ll let the reader decide, but either way, what comes in the wake of either invasion is, most commonly, fear.  The destruction of crops or buildings and the real threat to livelihood and life lead the people of Israel to the point of anxiety and worry.  And what does the prophet Joel say to them?  Well, he says what every person who speaks on behalf of God says to an anxious people, “Do not fear.”

The same holds true of Jesus.  As he looks out upon a crowd of people who are victims of the rat race, he sees the worry in their faces.  First century Jews, most of whom were from families relying on subsistence tradesmen for survival, were always on the verge of economic disaster.  There was a real and present fear of hunger around every corner.  But Jesus, somehow without platitude, but rather real conviction, can look out on faces wrinkled with distress and say, “Don’t worry, God’s got this.”

For 21st century American Christians, living in a Pinterest world, on the day we turn our focus to the perfect Instagram worthy Thanksgiving table, it would behoove us to listen to Joel and to Jesus.  Worry is the antithesis of thanksgiving.  If our lives our lived only wondering where the next things is going to come from, we are never able to live with a spirit of thanksgiving in the moment.  So, I urge you, dear reader, to not worry.  Don’t fret about the right homily, the perfect centerpiece, or the ideal moisture content in your turducken.  Instead, be grateful for the moment, for the relationships, for the food, and for our God who is ever present and the giver of every good gift.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Why We Pause to Give Thanks

My Thanksgiving Sermon can be heard on the Christ Church website, or read right here.


I am very much a creature of habit, which makes services like this one hard on me.  Christmas Eve is by far the hardest.  It is the church’s equivalent of a Super Bowl, but it can fall on any day of the week, and instead of services at 8 and 10am, they come at 5 and 11pm.  It’s hard on a Type-A personality, but I digress.  I’m very much used to having a week to prepare a sermon.  I have a routine that works for me, and I don’t do well with change, even when it is my own doing.  There were a few moments this week when I asked myself, “Self, why are you doing this? What’s the point of putting all the effort into a Thanksgiving Day service when it isn’t a part of the collective history of Christ Church?”  Maybe you ask yourself similar questions this morning.  “Do I really have time, with everything that I need to cook today to go to church?  Why didn’t Steve schedule this for last night?  Why are we here?”

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Why are we here?  It is a valid question.  It is a question that we should probably ask ourselves every time we come to church.  Are we here to get our ticket punched?  Are we here to feel better about ourselves?  Are we here to see and be seen?  Are we here to hear great music? A good sermon? To be nourished by the body and blood of Jesus?  Why are we here?  Our Gospel lesson this morning asks this question in reverse.  Why didn’t the other nine lepers return to give thanks?  What caused the single leper to return?  Why was he there?  Why did he turn back?

On Thanksgiving Day, I’m particularly drawn to two reasons we might show up to give thanks; two reasons that the tenth leper turned back and gave thanks.  The first is precisely because it is inconvenient.  Today is one of the busiest days of the year.  Turkeys take a long time to cook.  Oven space is maxed out with stuffing, dressing, or filling (depending on what part of the country you are from), green bean casseroles, baked yams, and pies of all varieties.  Family and friends are traveling from parts unknown, and the lucky among us have scheduled two or three dinners today.  The Macy’s Parade is going on as we speak, and children everywhere are eagerly awaiting Santa’s arrival on 34th Street.  Why, in the midst of all of that would we come to church?  Because it is in the midst of life, no matter how hectic it may be, that we are invited to stop and give thanks.  If we didn’t pause for a few moments to give thanks to God, what would be the point of having a day called Thanksgiving?  It is because of the busyness of today that we are intentional about slowing down and giving thanks.

The hecticness of life isn’t the story of the tenth leper, however.  The other nine were following Jesus’ directions.  He had told them to go and show themselves to the priests in order to be declared clean.  The context tells us that must have been Jews.  They knew that with clean skin and the right sacrifice, they could rejoin the community, and so they took off running in order to be restored to right relationship as quickly as possible.  But this tenth leper, he wasn’t Jewish.  No matter how many times he showed himself to the priests and no matter how many sparrows were offered as a sacrifice, this man would never be allowed into the community.  He was an outsider as a leper, and he would remain an outsider even after he was healed.  This man returned to give thanks to Jesus because he had nowhere else to go.

This morning, as we gather to make Eucharist, the Greek word meaning “to give thanks,” we are here for many different reasons.  Some of you are here because it is important for you to take time in the midst of the details to pause and give thanks.  Some of you are here because you are here every time the doors are open.  Some of you might be here because you have nowhere else to turn.  No matter what the reason is for being here, it is good that we are here to spend a few moments giving thanks to God for the many gifts God has entrusted to our care.  I give thanks to God for your presence here this morning, even if you’ve been asking yourself, “why are we here?”  Amen.

Good Stewards – a homily

Stewardship gets a bad rap these days.  So often, when we talk of stewardship in the church we mean it only as “the way we spend our money.”  More specifically, we mean that stewardship is “giving money to the church,” and while the gifting of the first fruits of our labors to God is important for the church and for our own spiritual wellness, the reality is that we are called to be stewards not only of our money, but of all the gifts that God has given us: the gift of speech, the gift of compassion, the gift of intellect, the gift of prayer, even the very gift of life – the list goes on and on.  This call to be good stewards of all that God has entrusted to our care is made abundantly clear in the first letter of Peter; a letter written to encourage the fledgling church in Asia Minor in the face of persecution.  For a church that was still very much without a structure, this letter would serve as an important reminder to hold fast to the faith.  In the short passage we heard read this afternoon, the letter was also intended to encourage the followers of Jesus to be good stewards of their gifts for the up-building of the kingdom.

“Serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies…”  Throughout generations, these words have encouraged disciples of Jesus to be steadfast in their ministry despite ongoing hardship, which is why they were selected as the New Testament lesson on this day that the Episcopal Church sets aside to remember four strong women who were unafraid to use the gifts that God had given them despite societal pressure and persecution.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Amelia Jenks Bloomer, both members of Trinity Episcopal Church in Seneca Falls, New York dedicated their lives to the rights of women in the late 19th century.

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Elizabeth Cady Stanton

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Amelia Bloomer

Stanton used her gift of language to write a commentary on the Greek New Testament, focusing on the way in which certain passages of Paul were used to keep women from ordained ministry.  Bloomer used her ability to write to engage in newspaper and pamphlet debates with members of the clergy over dress codes which kept women subordinate and put them in real physical danger.  She argued that “The same Power that brought the slave out of bondage will, in his own good time and way, bring about the emancipation of women, and make her equal in power and dominion that she was in the beginning.”  Stanton and Bloomer, both white women, used their gifts to bring about social change for women, which ultimately led in 1920 to 19th Amendment and the right to vote.  Sojourner Truth and Harriet Ross Tubman, both black women, born into slavery, used their gifts to bring about freedom for African Americans.

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Sojourner Truth

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Harriett Ross Tubman

Sojourner Truth was given the name Isabella at birth, and spent the first 28 years of her life as a slave, sold from household to household and given a new last name each time she was purchased by a new master.  She escaped from slavery, and began serving homeless women in New York City.  At age 46, she heard God call her to the life of a travelling preacher.  Despite the fact that Sojourner Truth had never learned to read or write, she used her gifts of charismatic presence, wit, and wisdom to share her message of God’s freedom for slaves and women throughout the country.

After two decades of severe treatment and beatings, Harriet Ross Tubman escaped slavery at the age of 24.  She returned to Maryland at least 19 times between 1851 and 1861, freeing more than 300 slaves and leading them to safety in Canada.  When the Civil War began, Tubman joined the Union Army as a cook and a nurse.  The gifts she honed leading slaves to freedom were put to use as a spy and a scout, and because of her ability to lead, she became the first woman to lead troops into military action when 300 black troops joined her on an expedition to free over 750 slaves.

Stanton, Bloomer, Truth, and Tubman each had gifts from God, and each were willing to use them to bring about God’s dream of freedom and dignity for every human being.  May God grant us the wisdom to discern our gifts and the courage to use them to bring about his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen.

Happy Thanksgetting!?!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

An Aiden of Lindesfarne Moment

Since my sabbatical came to an end yesterday (I promise I’ll stop talking about it soon), and with one last evening in the sports doldrums upon us (The US Open begins today), I decided to do some reading for work and cracked open my new copy of Susan Brown Snook’s God Gave the Growth, a guide to church planting in The Episcopal Church.  I’m only a few chapters in, but, as expected, I’m finding Susan’s book to be insightful and well worth a read.  Of particular note is her willingness to strike a balance between the call to social justice and evangelism, “The church must make new disciples if we plan to do social justice work, help the poor, or transform unjust structures of society.  This is long-term work, and it will requite generations of disciples to do it” (13).

With that still rattling around in my mind, I opened up Morning Prayer on the Forward Movement website and read with great joy the collect for the feast of Aiden of Lindesfarne.

O Loving God, you called your servant Aidan from the peace of a cloister to reestablish the Christian mission in northern England, and endowed him with gentleness, simplicity, and strength: Grant that we, following his example, may use what you have given us for the relief of human need, and may persevere in commending the saving Gospel of our Redeemer Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

I like my saints ruggedly handsome, thank you very much.

As a monastic, a missionary, and an evangelist, Aiden spent his life rebuilding the church in Northumbria through a combination of preaching the Good News and showing what it meant by feeding the hungry, caring for the widows, and loving his neighbor.  In so doing, Aiden lived a life worthy of the Epistle of James, from which we hear these words this week, “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?”

Faith without works is dead, James tells us.  In the same way, social justice without the Gospel is hollow and the Gospel without love is false.  As disciples of Jesus we are called to follow all of his teachings: caring for the least and seeking out the lost, but in the hyper-political world in which we live, many have forgotten to live in this tension.  Perhaps we need an Aiden of Lindesfarne Moment; a reminder of the fullness of God’s call to Go!  Go, and make disciples.  Go, and feed the hungry.  Go, and share the Good News in word and deed.