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?”


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.


Choosing to Walk the Way of the Cross

Our website is mad at us, so today’s sermon can’t be heard on the Christ Church website, but you can read it here.

There is a bumper sticker on my car that pokes fun at those 26.2 marathon stickers.  It reads “0.0, I don’t run.”  That sticker used to be true.  It is still true that I don’t like running, but because of some behind-the-scenes-finagling by my wife, I now run for thirty minutes a few days a week with my friend Tony Smith.  Running is a choice that I have to make.  Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, when my alarm goes off at 5am, I have to choose to get out of bed.  Having an accountability partner helps me make that choice.  I don’t want to let Tony down.  I don’t want him to have to run in the cold all by himself.  So, I choose to get out of bed, get bundled up, and go.  On any given day, it would be so much easier just to stay in bed, but in the long term, choosing to run is the better choice.

Running is good for my physical health, and so, by choosing to engage in the practice of jogging, I am making strides toward a better me.  The same is true for the life of faith as well.  We have to choose to engage in the practices of Christian formation.  We choose to get up on Sunday and come to church.  We choose to open a two-thousand-year-old book and try to understand it.  We choose to take time to pray.  We choose to take part in works of service for the betterment of our neighbor.  The motivation, more often than not, doesn’t come from within, but depends on accountability partners with whom we commit to take part in these practices that will help us grow in our relationship with God.  At any given moment, it might seem easier to skip saying grace or to sleep in on Sunday morning or to not bother with the Bible, but in the long run, choosing an active faith is the better choice.

As we heard in both the Gospel at the Liturgy of the Palms and in the Passion Gospel, during the final week of Jesus’ life, he had several opportunities to choose a different, seemingly easier path.  As the week began, the crowd was whipped up into a frenzy.  With shouts of “hosanna,” they threw down palm branches as a symbol of their honor and respect for Jesus and they proclaimed their hope that he might be the long-awaited King who would come to overthrow their Roman oppressors and restore the throne of David.  In that moment, Jesus had a choice to make.  It would have been easy to pull together a rag-tag army that, alongside his ability to perform miracles and raise the dead, could have easily marched into the heart of the city and thrown Pilate and his soldiers out on their tails.  With one, short sermon, he could have stirred the crowd into an emotional whirlwind and sent an angry mob to ransack the court of the Pharisees, stripping them of their religious power and authority.  At that moment, it might have seemed like using the might of his arm was the easier option, but in the long run, Jesus chose the better course.  It wasn’t that Jesus wasn’t tempted.  Mark tells us that he entered the Temple and took a good long look at all his options, but thankfully, he chose to return to Bethany and retire for the evening.

Our second Gospel lesson for today opens a few days of intense debate with the religious powers-that-be later.  As the final days of Holy Week unfold before our eyes, we see Jesus making almost constant choices to walk toward the cross, toward his death, toward our redemption.  Still basking in the royal parade from a few days earlier, Jesus had a choice to make in the house of Simon the leper.  Kings were anointed at their coronation.  As the crowd grumbled about the woman’s wasteful gift, Jesus could have affirmed his kingship and unleashed the revolution, but instead, he chose to see it as a precursor of his death that would usher in the good news of God’s salvation.

Again and again, Jesus made the choice to walk toward the cross.  On the night before he died, Jesus and his disciples made their way to a garden called Gethsemane.  There, he prayed that he might be able to choose a different path.  “Abba, Father, take this cup from me; yet, not what is my will, but yours.”  As Judas and a crowd of thugs approached and the crowds begin to scatter, Jesus didn’t shy away from what was coming.  Despite his prayer moments earlier, he chose to walk toward the mob and offer himself for arrest.   When the Council couldn’t find two stories that match, Jesus could have chosen to continue to remain silent, but in the end, it was his own confession of “I am,” that sealed his fate.  As Pilate peppered him with questions, Jesus could have chosen any number of ways to get out of the situation he was in, but he chose to remain silent, much to Pilate’s amazement.  Even on the cross, Jesus had a choice.  As the crowds mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself.  Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe,” Jesus could have come down from the cross and walked away unscathed, but instead he chose to stay there, to suffer, and to die.  There were dozens of opportunities for him to choose an easier path, but again and again, Jesus chose to walk the way of the cross.

As Holy Week begins for us, we too have to choose.  We can leave this place, having heard the Passion Gospel, comfortable that we’ve experienced all we need to in preparation for Easter.  We could, very easily, sit comfortably amidst another busy week and not engage in the work of spiritual disciple and formation.  But that is not what we prayed for today.  Instead, our prayer for this Palm Sunday is that God might grant us grace to walk the way of the cross with Jesus.  Ultimately, it is a choice that each of us will have to make.  Each day, about noon, we will have to decide if we want to give up our lunch hour to hear the story of Jesus’ walk toward the cross.  On Thursday, each of us will have to decide if we want to engage in the uncomfortable practice of foot washing, our annual reminder that Jesus’ commandment to love one another requires us to get up and do something.  Several of you will make the choice to lose a few hours of sleep, keeping watch in the chapel and giving thanks for the choice that Jesus made on our behalf.  This is a week all about making choices for an active, engaged faith.  It may seem like the easier option is to just stay home, but in the long run, as we choose to walk the way of the cross together, we will be blessed to find it none other than the way of life and of peace.  Amen.

A growing list


There is a well worn trope, whenever the 10 Commandments come around, for the preacher to stand before her/his congregation and say, “I must confess that I have violated one of the ten commandments.”  Their congregation gets itchy, assuming, of course, that it is the adultery or stealing bit, but then everybody gets a laugh when the preachers says, “I’m not great at keeping the Sabbath.”  Every time the 10 Commandments comes around, I think of the sermons I have heard start in just that way, and I chuckle while I roll my eyes.

This year, as I read the Commandments that God gave to Moses, the basic tenants of living in the Kingdom of God, I realized that I think my list of 10 Commandment failures is growing.  The Sabbath is nigh on impossible in 21st century America, but I am probably guilty of my fair share of coveting as well.  If Jesus is right, and holding anger against a brother or sister is equivalent to murder, well, I’ve probably done that too.  This might be the most popular sin in the social media culture in which we live.  Above all else, however, I know that my chief sin is the sin of idolatry.  In that way, I guess I’m more Pauline than I’ve ever realized as the entire Letter to the Romans deals with the human proclivity toward idolatry.

Anyway, this isn’t a post about Romans, but rather a realization that there are so many things in this world that would be a god in my life.  My to-do list is high on that list.  My desire to make things right.  My wish that others would live by the same set of rules that I try to live by (I’m looking at you people who park in the fire lane at the grocery store and clog up the flow of traffic in an already to small parking lot).  Wanting to be liked, to do my job well.  Excellence.  Me.

It being Lent, when 10 Commandments week rolls around, it seems like a good opportunity to do this sort of self-examination, so long as repentance follows shortly thereafter.  That’ll be my prayer this week.  For you as well as myself.  That the 10 Commandments might give us a chance to reflect on the ways in which we fall short of God’s dream, to seek forgiveness, and to move forward in a new way, eschewing idolatry and covetousness and seeking Sabbath and God’s refreshment.

A Jesus Precept – take up your cross

Due to technical difficulties with our website, today’s sermon can’t be heard on the Christ Church website yet, so you’ll have to read on.


Earlier this week, my family had the opportunity to do something that we hadn’t done in a long time: We piled onto the couch and enjoyed a movie together.  Thanks to the magic of Red Box, we were able to swing by Walgreens and rent a copy of the movie Wonder, which is an adaptation of a novel by the same name, written by R. J. Palacio.  It tells the story of Augie Pullman, a fifth-grade boy who was born with a rare, genetic defect, known as Treacher Collins syndrome, that left his face disfigured.  After twenty-seven surgeries and years of homeschooling, Auggie’s parents enrolled him in a mainstream prep school to begin junior high.  The movie, and the novel, tell the story of that year.  The movie organizes itself in a few different ways.  It switches perspective among several of the major characters.  It jumps across the high points of the calendar from summer vacation, through Halloween, Christmas, spring play season, and graduation.  It also uses Auggie’s homeroom teacher, Mr. Browne, to carry time forward.  Each month, Mr. Browne unveils a new precept for the class to consider.  Precepts he explains, are rules about really important things.  They are words to live by.  For Mr. Browne’s students, each precept is a core value that defines their common life.  The school year begins with a quote from Wayne Dyer, “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”  It ends with a quote from a song by the Polyphonic Spree, “Just follow the day and reach for the sun.”

I’ve preached a lot recently about our core values as they are expressed in our mission statement, but as I watched Wonder and thought about Mr. Browne’s precepts, I’ve began to think more and more about my personal core values.  What are the rules by which I want to live my life?  For those of us who claim to be disciples, fundamental to answering these questions is trying to come to understand the precepts of Jesus.  The Bible is full of rules about really important things.  The Old Testament has the forbidden fruit, the 10 Commandments, and the 613 Laws of the Torah. The New Testament includes laundry lists of moral teaching in Paul’s letters.  Even in the teachings of Jesus, we can find all sorts of rules that seem as important as they are impossible to live by.  How do we distill it down?  Where do we look for the core teachings?  It seems reasonable to set our sights on a few highlights by looking for some moments where Jesus’ teaching seems to stand out.  Last Sunday, for example, we heard Mark’s interpretation of Jesus’ first sermon.  It seems to reason that this inaugural address would serve as a precept for the ministry of Jesus.  “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.”  To be a disciple means to repent, to change direction away from following the ways of the kingdom of this world and toward the ways of the kingdom of God.

Our Gospel lesson for today is another one of those highpoint moments in the life and ministry of Jesus from which we can learn some of the core values of kingdom living.  Jesus and his disciples are on a corporate retreat in the mountain town of Caesarea Philippi.  After a flurry of activity, they’ve gone on retreat to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday ministry and to take stock of where things are.  Here, Jesus invites his disciples to reflect on what they have seen and heard.  “Who do people say that I am?” he asks.  “John the Baptist,” they reply, “and others say Elijah or another one of the prophets.”  Like any good retreat leader, Jesus presses them further, “But who do you say that I am?”  Peter is quick to answer, “You are the Messiah.”

In Mark’s Gospel, this is the first and only time that Jesus is called the Messiah in a positive way.  During his trial, the High Priest will ask Jesus accusingly, “Are you the Messiah?”  Later, while Jesus is being crucified, the crowds mock him, shouting, “Let the Messiah come down from the cross.”  It is only here, while on retreat in the resort town of Caesarea Philippi that Jesus’ disciples call him the Messiah, and so it is here that Jesus takes the opportunity to help them better understand what that means.  While they might have images of riding into Jerusalem with an army, ready to overthrow the Romans and reform the Temple system, Jesus is quick to let them know that being the Messiah of God means something very different.  He will be rejected by the religious powers that be, undergo great suffering, and ultimately, be killed.  But, on the third day, he will rise again.  Following Peter’s rebuke, Jesus offers a core values sermon, as a reminder of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, for not only his closest disciples, but the crowd that had followed them even on retreat.

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  This is certainly not the vision of discipleship that people like Peter were hoping for, but it is what Jesus has had in mind from the very beginning.  It is, I believe, the most important precept of the Christian faith.  Following Jesus means setting aside our own desires, no matter how noble they may seem, in order to bring about the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.  Following Jesus means taking up our cross and following in his way.  Contrary to common usage, the crosses we bear aren’t the minor inconveniences of life, but the cross is the very means by which we lose our lives.  Our faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the one who has come to restore all of humanity to right relationship, is the cross we are invited to carry.  It means giving up everything for the will of God. It means laying down our lives for the betterment of the other. The cross we bear is not a difficult part of life that God gives us, but our whole life given back to God. Just as Jesus will carry his own cross to his execution, so too do we carry ours, laying down our lives for the sake of the kingdom, so that today and every day, we too might know the resurrected life.

Denying ourselves and taking up our cross means standing up for what we believe in.  It means living into the fullness of our baptismal vows.  It means loving our neighbor, even when it is unpopular.  It means opening our doors to strangers who might make us feel uncomfortable.  It means sharing our resources of time, talent, and treasure to share the love of God with a world that desperately needs it.  And, it means, coming to grips with the reality that the adversary is standing at every turn, inviting us to doubt God’s never-failing love, to fear the unknown, and to question God’s goodness.  Nobody, certainly not even Jesus himself, said following Jesus would be easy.  We who claim to be his disciples should be well aware of that, but Jesus does go on to promise that those who lose their lives for his sake, and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it.

The penultimate precept in Mr. Browne’s class is attributed to Anglican Priest and co-founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley.  It reads, “do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.”  That’s taking up your cross and following Jesus.  We don’t get to pick to whom we will share God’s love.  We don’t get to pick when or where or even necessarily how.  Our job, as disciples of Jesus, is simply to use the gifts entrusted to our care to build up the Kingdom and spread the love of God today and every day of our lives.  Amen.

Worship, Learn, AND Serve – a sermon

Today’s sermon can be heard on the Christ Church website, or you can read it below.

I’m not sure why, but recently, it seems I have been engaged in more than my fair share of conversations about our mission and vision.  It was just a few weeks ago that I based an entire sermon on our mission statement, so I don’t really want to rehash all of it here, but this week, I realized something that I feel I need to share with you.  After more than six months of living with and speaking aloud our mission statement, I came to the realization that it is strung together with an “and” and not an “or.”  We are a community of Christ’s servants who seek to worship God with joy and wonder, learn and grow together, AND radiate God’s love to all.  This means that in addition to our mission being a statement about who we are as a community, I think it also serves as a call for each of us as individuals.  It isn’t that some are over here doing the worship bit, while others worry about learning and growing, and still others are in the kitchen radiating God’s love.  Rather, we are each called to engage in all three areas of mission and ministry here at Christ Church.  Worship is the proper response to God’s grace.  Being a disciple literally means being a student of the teachings of God.  The fullness of our life in Christ is exemplified in the ministry of service, reaching out and radiating God’s love to all.  Sure, each of us is maybe better equipped to fulfill one part of this mission than the others, but the truth of the matter is that all are called to serve God by way of worship, discipleship, and outreach.

In my experience, it is most difficult to convince people to engage in the outreach component of the life of faith.  We get showing up for worship, and most of us enjoy learning about God, but for some reason, many have been convinced that the call to serve is reserved for a small group who are particularly gifted in some way.  “Oh, I can’t cook.”  “I couldn’t possibly help with Room in the Inn.”  “I wouldn’t know what to say if I visited someone in the hospital.”  Most members of most congregations are quite content to write checks so that somebody else can radiate God’s love on their behalf.  Here at Christ Church, however, we are not “or” Christians.  We are “and” Christians.  Our Gospel lesson for today makes it clear that following Jesus requires us, all of us, to serve.

This story immediately follows last week’s lesson about Jesus healing a demon possessed man in the Synagogue at Capernaum.  As the crowd buzzed with excitement about the authority of Jesus’ teaching and his ability to cast out demons, Jesus and his disciples retired to Simon Peter’s house for the evening.  Upon arriving there, the group was made aware that Simon Peter’s mother-in-law had taken ill.  The substantial news coverage of the number of people who have died from the flu this year might remind us that a fever isn’t as innocuous as we have come to believe.  In a world before antibiotics, Peter’s mother-in-law’s fever could very well have been a death sentence.  At the very least, and like every other illness and demon possession in Marks’ Gospel, her fever had rendered her as good as dead by keeping her from the fullness of her ministry and setting her outside of her relationships.

Here I feel the need to pause to make mention of how this text has been used very poorly in the past.  Too often, the healing of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law has been told as a story that was meant to “keep women in their place” by highlighting that her ministry was a ministry of service.  Some translations say that after she was healed she “began to wait on them” or “prepared a meal for them,” and while that was the traditional role of women in first century Palestine, what Mark describes happening is of much deeper significance.

First, we should note that Jesus did not heal Peter’s mother-in-law in the same way he healed many in the crowd later that evening.  In the Greek, Jesus did something far greater than heal her.  Jesus raised her up.  It is the same word John uses to describe what happened to Lazarus.  It is the same word that Mark will later use to describe the resurrection of Jesus on that first Easter Day.  What Jesus did for her was far more powerful than the many healings he would do that evening.  He turned her weakness into strength.  He raised her from her as-good-as-deadness and restored her to fullness.  It didn’t take her any time at all to recuperate. Immediately she got up and served them.

As I noted just a moment ago, it is upon this word “serve” that plenty of bad theology has been built.  Rather than being a proof-text for why women shouldn’t be ordained or preach or teach in seminaries, what Mark is actually saying here is that she ministered to them.  The Greek word translated as “serve” is diakonai, from which we get the word Deacon.  It could be said that Peter’s mother-in-law was the first Deacon in the Christian Way.  Well before Philip, Stephen, and the rest, she was set apart in a ministry of table service and support.  Rather than a text that can be used to subjugate the call of women into ministry, this story seems to be an invitation to see women as fully part of the Gospel work from the very beginning.

Even more important is how Mark uses this word elsewhere in his Gospel.  While Jesus was in the wilderness being tempted by the Devil after his baptism by John, Mark says that Angels waited (diakonai) on him. When Jesus was crucified, Mark tells us that all his male disciples fled.  Judas turned him over to the Temple Authorities, Peter denied him three times, and the other ten were nowhere to be found.  Yet, in that moment of pain and sadness, several women were there.  Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, are named, but there were others.   These were the women, Mark tells us, who had accompanied Jesus as disciples while he was in Galilee, and who had provided for him, served him, ministered to him, diakonai’d for him, along the way.  It is not unreasonable to think that, even though her son-in-law had failed his Lord that day, maybe Simon Peter’s mother-in-law was still there, supporting Jesus in prayer and grief.

Finally, Jesus even uses diakonai to describe his own ministry in Mark 10:45.  My New Testament Professor, John Yieh, called this verse the key to understanding Mark’s Gospel.  “For the Son of Man came not to be served (diakonai), but to serve (diakonai) and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  For those who follow Jesus, service (diakonai) is the basic building block of discipleship.  Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, then, is not healed simply to fulfil her role as a 1st century woman or to serve as the exemplar of what women are called to be in the church, but in being raised up to serve, she is the first true disciple of Jesus Christ.

Jesus healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law from her fevered bondage in order that she might live fully into her identity as a disciple through loving service.  We who have been set free from our bondage to sin are called to the same.  We are called to worship by acknowledging the holiness of God in word, song, and sacrament.  We are called to learn and grow by engaging in practices of discipleship and Christian formation so that we can deepen our relationship with God through Christ.  AND, we are called to serve, diakonai, by working for justice and peace; by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and welcoming the stranger; and by visiting the sick and imprisoned.  We may not perform the same sort of miracles that Jesus did, but we can serve with the same goal in mind: joining with God in restoring all people to right relationship with God and with one another and living into the abundant life of grace.  Ultimately, we worship, we learn, AND we serve because it is who God calls us to be in Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Amazed by Authority

I’ve written a couple of times on the topic of authority, but it seems to be a popular one in the Gospels.  Sunday’s lesson is bookended by it.  In the Synagogue, the crowds were first astounded by Jesus’ teaching, for he taught as one with authority.  Then, after he heals the man with the evil spirit, they are amazed (a different Greek word, btw), again because of the authority with which Jesus both taught and acted.  This shouldn’t surprise us.  I don’t mean we shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus had such authority, though if we believe him to be the Son of God, we shouldn’t be.  What shouldn’t surprise us in this story is the reaction of the crowd.

True authority is so rare in this world.  It is true today.  One need only to look at Washington, DC or Frankfort, KY to see that many who claim to be leaders lack any real authority.  It was, it seems, equally true in Palestine in the first century.  It is also true that people are hungry for leaders who have true authority.


My favorite definition of authority comes from the Rev. Dr. Craig Koester, Vice President of Academic Affairs at Luther Seminary.  In a commentary on the “all authority” passage in Matthew 28, Koester defines authority as “followability.”  Many people follow many leaders because they have to.  Plenty of governments, businesses, and even churches operate this way.  Someone is in a position of authority because of a job title, and others follow because they say so.  In the case of the authority of Jesus, it seems clear that people followed him not because they had to, but because they wanted to.  People were drawn to Jesus not because he was born in the right place or studied at the right school or was the son of the High Priest, but because God had poured out on him the gifts that are necessary to bring people along.

One of the things we don’t like to talk about in the church very much is this type of real authority.  In the name of the cult of nice, we don’t put much stock in followability when it comes to raising up leaders, both lay and ordained.  I can’t help but wonder if we do this to our own detriment.  The Gospel writers were not afraid to name the authority of Jesus.  Jesus, as he commissioned his disciples to be apostles, was not afraid to name their authority.  As the Church seeks leaders, we ought not be afraid to seek those who have that natural followability, the true authority that comes with giftedness rather than position and education.

Living into our calling – a sermon

Today’s sermon can be heard on the Christ Church website, or you can read it here.

Christ Episcopal Church is a community of Christ’s servants who seek to worship God with joy and wonder, learn and grow together, and radiate God’s love to all.  This is how we describe ourselves.  It is also who we believe God has called us to be in this time.  As many of you will recall, this mission statement was developed out of a series of community conversations in which more than one-hundred-fifty members of Christ Church turned out to reflect on the same three questions.  What keeps you coming back to Christ Church?  When have you experienced Christ Church at its best?  And, What additional programs or activities would you like to see added over the next three to five years to help us more fully share the love of God with each other, our community, and the world?  Your Vestry took the notes from these gatherings and in prayerful conversation, tried to discern what themes and images seemed to come to the fore.  Three areas of ministry came into focus: worship, discipleship, and outreach, and from there, our mission statement was born.

Mission Statement Slide

Now, mission statements are, more often than not, absolutely useless.  They get printed on letterhead and published on websites, and are never thought of again.  Many are made up simply of buzzwords and vague ideals, leaving them to be nothing more than drivel taking up space on a hard drive somewhere.  We didn’t want our mission statement to fall into the abyss, and so the vestry completed its retreat by setting three vision goals to help us more fully live into who we say we are and who we think God is calling us to be.  Each ministry area mentioned in the mission statement got a goal.  For worship, our goal is to explore opportunities to enhance our worship of God.  In discipleship, we hope to broaden participation in Christian formation.  In outreach, we want to reestablish the Outreach Ministry Team.  That was August.  It is safe to say that while I believe our mission statement continues to stay at the forefront of our minds, our work toward implementing these goals has been very slow going for a variety of reasons.

Earlier this week, I wrote a blogpost entitled “Motive, Means, and Opportunity.”  In it, I reflected on what I have learned from years of watching cop shows, which has, as you might imagine, made me something of an expert in criminal investigations.  With my keen eye, I never fail to have no clue who committed the crime, while Cassie usually has it figured out before the first commercial break.  One thing I have pieced together is that for an investigation to prove something beyond a reasonable doubt, the detectives must show motive, means, and opportunity.  Motive is, of course, the reason a crime was committed.  Means is the ability to do the crime.  Opportunity requires it be proved that the suspect was present at the scene during the time in which the crime was committed.

I found myself coming back to that post again and again this week, especially as I thought about today’s annual meeting, our Mission Statement, and the lessons appointed for this morning.  As I’ve thought more about it, I’ve become convinced that it isn’t just crimes that require motive, means, and opportunity, but everything we do comes down to these three things.  Take, for example, the story of Jonah.  This morning, we only hear a small piece of a larger story that is all about motive, means, and opportunity.  God first came to the great prophet near the city of Joppa.  God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, an Assyrian city, to declare God’s judgment upon them.  It seems reasonable to assume that Jonah had the means to perform this important task.  He was most likely already a trusted prophet of God.  He had shared difficult news of God’s judgment before.  And even if he wasn’t, in stories of faith like these, God’s grace ensures qualification.  Even if Jonah had never before spoken a word from God, simply in being called, Jonah was made qualified.

It is also clear that Jonah had the opportunity to preach the message God had given him.  As the story unfolds, we hear that, clearly, Jonah did not have another, more pressing matter, to attend to.  Jonah could have easily made his way to Nineveh to proclaim the message of God’s judgment upon that evil and violent city.  Jonah had the means and the opportunity to follow God’s call.  What Jonah lacked was motivation.  Immediately upon receiving the word from the Lord, Jonah made his way onto a boat sailing in the opposite direction.  Even with God providing the means and the opportunity, the very human part of following God’s call is the motive.  Jonah didn’t want to bother with Nineveh because he knew that God was compassionate, and that God would show mercy even upon a city that was the enemy of Israel.  So, Jonah fled.  God pursued Jonah; creating a massive storm that threatened to destroy the boat.  When the crew threw Jonah overboard, God appointed a fish to swallow and protect Jonah.  Three days later, Jonah was returned to dry land, and God once again called him to go to Nineveh to proclaim judgment.  Jonah relented, made the prophecy of God.  Just as Jonah had suspected, the people of Nineveh repented, and God forgave them their sins.  When Jonah finally put motive, means, and opportunity together, the will of God that all people might be restored to right relationship with God and one another came into being.

Everything we do requires motive, means, and opportunity, even our mission and vision here at Christ Church.  As of Thursday evening, with Becca’s ordination to the priesthood, and for the first time in several years, Christ Episcopal Church is fully equipped with means and opportunity.  We are fully staffed, more so than ever before in fact, with two priests, a deacon, and four lay employees.  Our 2018 budget of more than three-quarters of a million dollars is within seven-hundredths of one percent of being balanced.  Your willingness to offer your gifts of time and talent mean that we are well equipped to meet whatever challenges God might place before us.  We have the means.

In the late 1980s, the members of Christ Church made the decision to embrace fully what it meant to be a downtown church.  Being a downtown congregation, whether it is in Foley, Alabama, Chicago, Illinois, or Bowling Green, Kentucky means that the opportunities for ministry are endless.  Seven blocks in that direction is Dishman McGinnis Elementary School, where every child receives free breakfast and lunch, and dozens still wait on a list, hoping to be assigned a mentor.  Seven blocks the other way are hundreds of middle-class and upper-middle-class families whose lives are so busy, they can’t figure out how to eat dinner together or even begin to imagine finding time to come to church.  With Western’s Campus only few blocks away, we hear clearly a call to serve its students, faculty, and staff.  Across the street, many of our neighbors living in the Towers are barely hanging on to the first rung of the American Dream, while right next door, the homeless line up, waiting to warm up in the library when it opens this afternoon.  Opportunity abounds.

As we heard in Becca’s ordination service, priests are called to care alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor.  We can’t do it alone.  Instead, I see my job as the Rector of Christ Church to be one of motivator, encourager, and cheerleader.  With great means and plenty of opportunity, the coming year will be one of growing motivation to live into our mission, to attain our goals, and, above all, to spread the Good News of God’s salvation for all people.  As I wrote in my annual report, “with a full staff, a healthy budget, and an empowered and excited membership, there is no telling what God might have in mind for us.”  I look forward to continuing the journey God has planned for us as we worship with joy and wonder, learn and grow together, and radiate God’s love to all in 2018.  May God bless us in this work.  Amen.