What does abundance look like?

In 2010, the marketing team for DirecTV was hitting on all cylinders.  Back in those heady days, before Millennials ruined television with their tiny home, young-eyes-can-see-a-cell-phone-screen-streaming, cable cutting ways the war for our cable dollar between DirecTV, Dish Network, and your local cable monopoly was at an all time high, and TV ads where where the most compelling battles were waged.  One campaign, which was particularly ridiculous was the “Opulence, I haz it” ad in which a Russian sounding man strolled the gilded hallways of his mansion, surrounded by beautiful Russian looking models, soliloquizing on the joys of thrifty opulence and kissing a tiny giraffe.  Here, watch it for yourself.

I hate to admit it, but for the last seven years, anytime I hear Jesus talk about “abundant life,” my first thought is the “Opulence, I haz it” guy.  He, and the people from whom he stands in as a caricature, are, I’m afraid to say, the prevailing cultural image of “abundant life” for 21st century Americans.  Is this what Jesus had in mind when he told the Pharisees that he came to bring life abundant?

Of course not.

So, what does abundant life look like?  I think we find our answer in the idealistic narrative of the early Jerusalem Church in Sunday’s lesson from Acts.  After the mass conversion of 3,000 on Pentecost Day, those who were left behind in Jerusalem got about the business of being the Church.  They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  The first thing to note is that abundant living in Christ is only done in community.  There is no I in church, and the only way we can truly live out our Christian vocation is through the pattern of regular gathering with other disciples.

It is in those gathering where we can teach one another, enjoy one another’s company, share meals (real and symbolic), and pray for the needs of the world.  Like owning a tiny toy giraffe, abundant life can be messy at times.  Human beings being what we are, relationships aren’t always perfect.  In three chapters’ time, the perfect community described by Luke in Acts 2 will be torn apart by the fear of scarcity and lies of Ananias and Sapphira.  Rifts happen, and we have to work at forgiveness and reconciliation, but there again, those things can only happen when we are committed to being together: to living in community.

As the Church began to expand beyond Jerusalem, the importance of Christians meeting together with regularity grew exponentially.  The young Church needed to develop leaders, needed to work out what discipleship looked like, needed to understand what difference Jesus really made in their lives, and the only way to accomplish those things was to be together, to pray together, to learn together, to break bread together, and to celebrate God’ grace together.

What is abundant life?  Do I haz opulence?  I have faith, and I have community, so I must be pretty darn close.

Sermon: Have you heard the Good News?

After some website delays, you can now listen to the audio on the Christ Church website, or read along here.


Do you remember the first time you heard the Good News that God loves you?  Having basically grown up in the church, I can’t identify the precise moment when I first heard those words, but I do have early memories.  I remember one Vacation Bible School: the theme was some sort of undersea adventure, and inside a giant blown up plastic tube that was painted to look like the ocean, we sang “Jesus loves me, this I know.”  I remember another VBS, sitting the pews at St. Thomas Episcopal Church singing, “If I were a butterfly,” and thanking God for “making me me.”  I remember Sunday school classes and sermons and confirmation classes that all, in their own way, showed me the love of God.  I also remember those stories, sermons, and lessons that reminded me of God’s judgment as well.  I remember the story of Adam and Eve: how they had eaten of the tree of good and evil and were punished.  I remember hearing the story of Noah: how God had become so disappointed with the world that God decided to start over by flooding it, killing nearly every living thing.  Some of those stories are difficult for us adults to understand, let alone children, but they, like the numerous stories of God’s love, are important for us to hear.  The fullness of God’s story is a story of God’s hope for a full and perfect relationship with humankind, our ongoing ability to screw that up spectacularly, the repercussions of broken relationship, and God’s loving work to restore the hope of a full and perfect relationship.

It is right in the middle of that ongoing pattern that we find ourselves in the lesson from the Acts of the Apostles this Third Sunday of Easter.  Each Easter season, instead of reading from the Hebrew Bible, we read selections from Acts.  In Year A, we spend three weeks on Peter’s Pentecost sermon.  Last week, it was a pretty in-depth exegetical study of the prophet Joel.  This week we hear a summation of Peter’s sermon and the crux of salvation history.  Because of God’s passionate desire for right relationship, God the Father sent God the Son in the person of Jesus.  Although humanity killed Jesus, God raised him to his rightful place as Lord and Messiah.  Peter preached this sermon to a fairly significant crowd.  It was the Day of Pentecost, a Jewish festival that occurs fifty days after the Passover during which they remember the gift of the Law and offer God the first fruits of the grain harvest.  Jerusalem was teeming with spiritual tourists.  Jews from around the known world were gathered to offer their first fruits in hopes of a successful harvest when the city was brought into confusion by a loud noise like a rushing wind, and a cacophony of voices, each speaking in a different language.  Every visitor for blocks heard the Good News of God’s mighty acts in their own native tongue.  Thousands packed in tightly around the disciples’ house to see what was happening.

There, amidst an increasingly raucous crowd, Peter shared the Good News of God’s love.  They were cut to the heart by his message.  They had never heard such preaching.  Sure, like many generations before them, the crowd gathered had hoped for the Messiah.  They had prayed that God would restore the fortunes of Zion.  They longed to find right relationship with God, but few of them really expected anything to change.  Yet here, on this Pentecost Day, something was different.  This word from Peter was like a word straight from God’s own lips.  This word was both judgment and love.  It cut them to the very core, and they pleaded with Peter and the rest, “Brothers, what should we do?”

As it turns out, the proper response to God’s love is actually quite simple: “repent and be baptized.”  Repent is a ten-cent church word that has lost much of its meaning over time.  After years of only hearing it from television preachers and street corner evangelists, repentance has come to mean something like “feeling guilty because you’re a wretched mess of a sinner,” but that isn’t exactly what Peter meant when he told the crowd to metanoio.  The first step toward right relationship with God is to change your mind, to change your direction, to change your focus, and ultimately, to change your actions.  That’s what repentance is all about.  It has very little to do with feeling guilty or sad, and everything to do with turning away from the old life of sin and turning toward life eternal in right relationship with God.  You can feel sorry for doing something, and go right on doing it.  What God desires is a transformed life.  “After that,” Peter says, “then you should be baptized in the name of Jesus so that your sins can be washed away and receive the promised gift of the Holy Spirit.”  That’s it.  Repent and be baptized.  Eventually, this two fold action of repentance and baptism was made symbolic in the baptismal liturgy itself.  Immediately before being immersed, the new Christians would face west, the direction of the sunset and gathering darkness, and be asked three times to renounce Satan and the forces of evil.  They would then turn to face east, the direction of the sun rise and the return of the light of the world, and three times would proclaim their faith in Jesus Christ.  To this day, the liturgy for Holy Baptism mirrors that ancient rite, which makes today is a perfect day for a baptism.

Our newest Christian is Christopher James Chaffin [who will be baptized at 10 o’clock this morning]. He isn’t even two months old yet, but I’d be willing to bet that he has already heard the Good News that God loves him more times than we can count.  He’s experienced the love of God through the care of his parents, Justin and Jamie, and his siblings Meredith and Benjamin, his extended family, and the people of Christ Church.  In a few minutes, [it’ll happen at the later service, but you still have a part in this] we will join with his parents and Godparents in promising that we will do all in our power to support Christopher in his life in Christ.  We, the people of Christ Church, on behalf of all Christians, will promise to make sure Christopher knows that God loves him both in word and action.

There isn’t much that a less than two-month old baby gets to decide on his own.  His days are basically made up of automatic bodily functions and being carried from one place to another.  He is not in need of repentance… yet.  Likewise, there isn’t much sin that needs to be washed away from Christopher… yet.  But it will come.  When Christopher does begin trying to walk in his own path, it’ll be his family: nuclear, extended, and church that will be here to remind him of the right pathway to God.

What will come true today is the final promise of Peter to the crowd gathered to hear that Pentecost sermon.  Christopher James Chaffin will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit this morning.  The Spirit will work alongside the rest of us to remind him of God’s unending love.  The Spirit will convict him when he begins to stray the wrong way.  The Spirit will help him to repent by making right choices and walking toward God’s love.  And the Spirit will do the work of fulfilling our prayer for Christopher this day, that he might be given “an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love [God], and the gift of joy and wonder in all [God’s] works.”

Some of us are blessed to remember the first time we heard the Good News that God loves us, but for many of us, that news has been a part of our lives since before we ever existed.  Christopher Chaffin is blessed in knowing God’s love every day of his life, and we are blessed to be a part of sharing that love with him.  He won’t always do the right thing.  God’s redemption story will be just as true for him as it is for me and you, but in the end, the only truth that really matters is that God loves him, God loves you, and God wants to be in perfect relationship with all of us.  So, repent, remember your baptism, receive the forgiveness of sins, and lean into the gift of the Spirit for discernment, courage, love, joy, and wonder.  Amen.

In remembrance of me

2017-04-14 07.53.42

There are a lot of ways to understand what is happening in the Eucharist.  Transubstantiation, Transignification, Real Presence, Memorialism, Receptionism, and the list goes on.  This theological murkiness has occurred, in part, because Jesus wasn’t all that specific in what he meant when he said, “this is my body,” “this is my blood,” and “do this in remembrance of me.”  Depending on one’s tradition, one or more of these phrases (or even the words within them) can be given undue influence.

In our Gospel lesson for Sunday, as well as the Collect for Easter 3, we are put to mind that, for Luke, the common meal of Christians, commonly called the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, Holy Communion, and the Great Thanksgiving, among other options, is about anamnesis: the remembering of an event based on past experience.  Cleopas and the unnamed disciples recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread because four days earlier, they had seen him do the exact same thing.  Not that blessing and breaking bread was uncommon in 1st century Jewish life, but that this blessing, this breaking, was different.  It was the blessing of their Rabbi, now their risen Lord, who had commanded them to break bread and share the cup in remembrance of him.

Two thousand years removed from that first Last Supper, we who are people of broken bread don’t have the recollection of the past event to draw on for ourselves.  What we do have, however, is the unbroken history of bread being broken from a Thursday evening in first century Jerusalem all the way up to today.  Our remembrance, our anamnesis, is based on the shared experience of generations of believers.  We remember because we have been told the story by those who have been told the story… by those who lived the story.  When we pray that our eyes might be open, we are asking God to tap us into the ongoing unveiling of the story, that we might take our place in remembering and sharing the good news of the risen Lord.

Maundy Thursday 2017 – The Church’s Petrine Moment

Before I get too deep here – a joke for you to keep in mind as you read this post.  What’s the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist?

You can negotiate with a terrorist.

christ-washing-the-feet

Peter gives Jesus a pass on the foot stuff

“You will never wash my feet.”

How long must those words have hung in the air?  Peter, Jesus’ most petulant disciple, again springs into the limelight on Maundy Thursday as once more he directly challenges the will of his teacher and friend.  The first disciple to name Jesus as the Messiah, you would think he might be more willing to go along with what Jesus asks of him, but for whatever reason, Peter is constantly fighting with Jesus like my four year-old fights with me.

Jesus is undeterred.  Here is the line in the sand.  “Foot washing is a part of this discipleship thing, and unless I wash your feet, you will have no part with me.”  This is, to be very clear, a non-negotiable.  Jesus is modeling for his disciples, which includes us, what it means to be a servant leader.  “I have given you an example to follow.  Do as I have done to you.”

“I don’t really like washing feet.”

“It doesn’t mean what it did in the first century.”

Of late, some clergy have taken on the role of Peter when it comes to Maundy Thursday, choosing to skip the foot washing (n.b. I know it is an optional rite) or somewhat inexplicably choosing to wash hands instead of feet (Honestly, just take the rubrically allowed path and don’t do it at all).  As I reflect on my own discomfort with feet, with touching feet, and with slathering on hand sanitizer, but still feeling like I’m celebrating the Eucharist with feet covered hands, I know, in my heart of hearts, that I’d rather not do it.  Like Peter, I’d like to say, “I’ll never wash feet,” but Jesus didn’t let Peter get away with it, and I doubt if he’ll let me either.

The very fact that the washing of feet is so awkward and strange is the reason we should do it.  Ignoring for a moment that Jesus said, “do as I have done for you,” every Episcopal Church in the land should be washing feet tonight because it is a part of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.  Discipleship calls us out of our comfort zones, it asks us to talk to our neighbors about Jesus, to get up early on Sunday and come to worship, to donate time during the week to serve our neighbors, to give sacrificially of our money for the Kingdom, and it is all summed up in one terrifically uncomfortable act on Maundy Thursday.  When we wash feet, we take our part with Jesus who shows us what it means to walk the hard road to redemption.

Called to Go, but where?

You can listen to this sermon on the Christ Church website, or read it below.


My former Bishop once shared with me that every call story has two parts: the call to leave and the call to where.  At the time, I didn’t really understand what he was talking about.  It was the fall of 2015, I had just finished a sabbatical, and the Pankey family was quite happy in Foley, Alabama, thank you very much.  Soon after those words, Keith and I had one of our quartly-ish planning days wherein we would leave the office behind, take our Bibles and our Prayer Books, and spend several hours listening for the Spirit.  As the day unfolded, we began to realize that God was calling us to try something new.  It was time for me to stretch my leadership wings a bit.  Just a few days earlier, I had heard that the Vicar of a small mission church up the road was going to give up driving an hour each way on Sunday morning as a gift to himself for his ninetieth birthday.  We prepared a plan to present to the bishop in which I would continue to serve Saint Paul’s three-quarter time and be named Vicar at Saint John’s for the other quarter.  Bishop Kendrick was excited about the possibility, but by the time he could check out the details, St. John’s had already invited another retired priest to fill their Sunday void.

As spring rolled around, Keith and I went back to the drawing board.  We were still praying for what God had in store for us next, and for the first time in nine years, there was nothing.  We decided to keep listening.  In mid-April, while attending a Gathering of Leaders conference, I received my answer.  It was time to go.  I had no idea where I would end up, but I knew that the time had come.  I also knew that I wanted to have complete control over the where question.  I began to scour the Office of Transition Ministry website for neat places to live.  The South Carolina coast sounded nice.  The Mississippi Gulf Coast wouldn’t be bad.  I might have even settled for the mountains of Colorado, when in June while at Sewanee for my last set of summer classes, fellow DMin student and friend, Paul Canady, the Rector of Christ Church, New Bern, where our own Cortney Dale serves as the Associate, sent me a Facebook message with a link to your parish profile that read, “I’m just going to put this right here for you… it’s got some good things going for it. Downside, of course, is that’s it’s not near the ocean.”  I clicked the link, read for a minute and decided that moving from the Gulf Coast to Bowling Green was not in my plans.  Less than 24 hours later, Elise Johnstone, Canon to the Ordinary across the border in Lexington approached me in the hall of the School of Theology and said, “It isn’t in my diocese, but there is a great church in Bowling Green, Kentucky that you should take a look at.  Solid budget, University town, and Amy speaks highly of the people.”

The Holy Spirit has her ways, and getting the point across that I am not in charge of either the when or the where was made abundantly clear to me during 2016.  I am not the first person to learn this lesson.  In fact, the call to go without having an answer to the where question has been a part of God’s plan for salvation since Adam and Even first ate of the forbidden tree.  In our Old Testament lesson for this morning we heard one of the many call stories in scripture that involve God inviting someone to go without a final destination.  As my friend Nurya Love Parish paraphrased the story, “God says to Abram, ‘Leave behind everything familiar, and go to the land I will show you.’ Not the land God has shown Abram.  Abram has to leave before he knows where he is headed.”[1]  All of salvation history hinges on Abram’s willingness to leave everything he knows behind and begin a journey to some unknown land that God has promised.

Abraham was faithful and “it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”  Abraham’s faithfulness to the call of God to go without an answer to the where is, to Paul’s mind, the premier example of the life of faith.  Moreover, the promise of God that is fulfilled in Abraham’s willingness to leave everything he knows behind is a promise to bless not just Abraham and his family, but the whole world.  Indeed, all the families of the earth will be blessed through Abraham.  Again and again, disciples are called to go.  Sometimes, like in my case, it is the call of God to a professional minister to pick up and move, but more often, the call to go without knowing where it will lead comes to the average Christian sitting in the pews on a Sunday morning.  These are the calls of regular disciples to go out and be a blessing to the world.  Whether it is local work with the homeless, the outcast, or those in prison; or international service to bring clean water, education, or healthcare to those in need, God has a call to go for every disciple.  God has a plan to bless the world one person at a time through each of us who call Jesus Christ Lord.  If we are willing to listen, and more so, willing to take the risk and GO, each of us can experience the blessing of Abraham; the blessing of following God’s call to go and be a blessing to someone else.

This is easier said than done, to be sure, which is why the story of Nicodemus is paired up with Abraham.  Nicodemus wants to be faithful to the call of God to follow Jesus.  He feels a pull to this Rabbi who is “from God,” but he just can’t commit.  He can’t give up all the comforts that come with his position of power as a Pharisee and leader of the Jews to follow the call to go without having some idea as to where it is all headed.  And so, he finds Jesus under the safety of darkness.  In the shadows of doubt and fear, Nicodemus knows he can meet Jesus on his own terms.  In the safety of the night, he can get his questions answered without his fellow Pharisees finding out.  Nicodemus wants to follow Jesus, but he wants total control over how it’ll take place.

Jesus’ answers to Nicodemus’ questions seem like a series of non sequiturs, but in reality, they are a continuation of the call of Abraham.  God is calling Nicodemus to give up all control, to leave everything he knows behind and follow Jesus to an unknown destination.  “You must be born again,” Jesus says, “the birth you have is one of power, prestige, and privilege, but you have to give all that up to follow me.  You have to get out of the darkness and into the light.  You have to be willing to risk everything to be my disciple.  You have to be comfortable riding the wind of the Spirit that goes wherever she chooses.”  Nicodemus couldn’t do it, at least not yet.  Later on in John’s Gospel, we’ll hear stories of his growing faith.  He stands up for Jesus, albeit somewhat tepidly, when the Pharisees begin to plot for his arrest.  After Jesus’ death, it is Nicodemus who helps Joseph of Arimathea bury Jesus’ body; bringing with him nearly one-hundred pounds of spices.

While it never does seem like Nicodemus can fully commit to following God’s call to go, we can take some solace in his struggle.  None of us is the perfect disciple.  None of us is always able to drop everything and go.  Each of us, from time to time, will want to have our say in how the when and where questions gets answered.  We all go astray from the will of God occasionally, but God’s grace is strong enough to overcome our doubts.  God didn’t give up on Nicodemus when he disappeared back into the night.  God continued to call him, continued to challenge him to give up control, continued to try to pour out blessings through him, and God does the same for each of us.  Every time we go astray, God beckons us to return.  Every time we cling to safety, God calls us to go.  Every time our faith fails, God forgives, and invites us to try again.  And when we do answer the call to go, God makes us to be his blessing in the world.  Every call has two parts: the call to go and the call to where: righteousness is found in our willingness to leave the safety of what we know to go to what we don’t know in order to be God’s blessing to a world that desperately needs it.  Amen.

[1] https://www.christiancentury.org/article/march-12-second-sunday-lent

Don’t Feel Holy, Be Holy – a homily

UPDATE: This sermon can be heard over on the Christ Church website.


One of the outreach ministries that I was most proud of during my time in Foley was the role Saint Paul’s played in Family Promise of Baldwin County.  Family Promise is a part of the Interfaith Hospitality Network, a national network that began in New York and seeks to help homeless families get back on the path to stable living conditions.  In Baldwin County, we were one of fourteen churches that opened our doors four weeks out of the year to host homeless families over night while their children attended school and parents worked or found jobs and learned how to make a budget, plan for the future, and save up enough for the deposits required to restart the housing search.  For two weeks at a time, we would provide safe and private sleeping quarters, a hot dinner, and the makings for breakfast and lunch to as many as twenty people spread across four families.  They would arrive on campus at about 5pm and leave often before the sun came up so that their kids could get to school on time.

Somewhere during the many years I made announcements to drum up volunteers and let people know that we had guests on campus, I realized a problem with my language.  I would stand up on the Sunday Family Promise was scheduled to arrive and say something like, “when you see our guests on campus, please be sure to make them feel welcomed.”  I realized at some point that making them feel welcomed really wasn’t what I was hoping for.  No, what I really meant to say was “make sure you welcome them.”  Notice the difference?  Making someone feel welcomed is easily done superficially.  A smile and a “hello” is enough to make someone “feel welcomed,” but to actually welcome a stranger takes a lot more work.  It requires a change within ourselves.  In order to welcome someone else into my space and my life means that I have to make room for them, for all of them, the good and the bad, and the many ways in which welcoming them will change me.  More than making them simply feel welcomed, I hoped that they were welcomed fully into the life and ministry of Saint Paul’s.

I think that difference is what Jesus is trying to make clear in this difficult passage appointed for Ash Wednesday.  As we prepare to put on an outward symbol of our piety, we hear Jesus clearly asking us to check our motivations.  Do we put on the cross of ashes in order to feel like we have done the work of repentance?  Do we keep these ashes on when we leave this holy place so that we can look like we are holy?  Or, do the ashes mean something more?  Jesus didn’t have Ash Wednesday to use as an example, but in his age, as in ours, there were plenty of religious practices that people could bend to their own devices.

“When you give alms,” Jesus says, “don’t give alms so that others can see how much you give and how generous you are.  Don’t give alms so you can feel holy or seem compassionate.  Give alms because God wants to bless the poor through your generosity.  If you are giving in order to feel good about yourself, that’s all the reward you’ll get, but if you are giving in order to make a difference in the world, your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

“When you pray,” Jesus says, “don’t make it look like you are praying by standing in the marketplace wearing long, fancy robes and saying beautiful and flowery words, but pray as if your life depended on it.  If you pray in order to feel good about yourself, that’s all the reward you’ll get, but if you pray in order to make a difference in the world, your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

“When you fast,” Jesus says, “don’t just make it look like you are fasting so that you can gain the respect of the crowd.[1]  Don’t fast so you can feel like you’ve done what you are supposed to do.  Instead, actually fast, so that you can gain a deeper relationship with God.  If you fast in order to feel good about yourself, that’s all the reward you’ll get, but if you fast in order to make a difference in the world, your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

“When you attend an Ash Wednesday service,” we might add, “don’t wear your ashes so others can see that you went to church and are therefore that much holier than they are.  Wear your ashes as a reminder of your mortality, your sinfulness, and your total dependence on God.   If you wear your ashes in order to feel good about yourself, that’s all the reward you’ll get, but if you wear these ashes in order to make a difference in yourself and a difference in the world; If you wear these ashes as a reminder that this Lent, and every day of your life, is a chance to join with God in the up-building of the Kingdom, then your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

It is too easy to make someone feel welcome or to make yourself feel holy.  The harder work comes when we risk change by actually welcoming the stranger and engaging in the hard work of discipleship.  As we begin this Lenten season of intentionality, don’t just look like you are fasting, but really fast, don’t just look penitential, but really repent, don’t just look like you are praying or reading the Bible, but really do it.  It’s risky, scary even, to really take on these discipleship practices.  They will change you.  They will change how you see the world, but in taking that risk, you will find yourself closer to God, and I can assure you, there is no greater reward than that.  This Lent, don’t settle for feeling holy, but rather, be holy.  Amen.

[1] Nurya Love Parish, “Sunday’s Coming” Christian Century weekly email, 2/27/2017.

Practicing Piety in a Pluralistic Society

You’ll have to pardon the alliterative and rhyming nature of this post title, but it just came so easily, I couldn’t help but use it.  As I try to get back in the saddle of blogging after a week long bout with writer’s block, I’m also feeling the strong pressure of another busy week.  While preparing to make the move from Associate Rector at a Pastoral-Leaning-Pastoral/Program size congregation to Rector of a Program-Leaning-Pastoral/Program size congregation, there were many who warned me of the busyness that would come, and boy weren’t they kidding.  Some of it is startup stuff: meeting parish leaders, attending programs events, learning names, etc., some of it is just the pace of play in a congregation that should really have two priests working alongside a rock-solid lay staff, but a lot of it is just the way things work when you are the first phone call and the last desk upon which the buck stops.  I’m enjoying the work, please don’t get me wrong, but I’m learning that there will always be more to do than hours in the day.

Having gotten that trademarked Long Steve Pankey Aside out of the way, here’s my point.  In the midst of the busyness of life, we are staring down the barrel of a season that invites us to slow down.  Lent will be upon us in two short days.  Ash Wednesday, though quite late this year, is here.  As I work on preparing my homily for one of my favorite services of the year, I am reminded of the last time it fell on the same day as my wedding anniversary.  It was March 1, 2006, and I was in my middler year of seminary.  SHW and I planned to go out for Indian after the Ash Wednesday service in my Field Ed parish, and we struggled quite a bit about the right thing to do.  Would the staff at the restaurant think we were mocking their culture if we came in with black dots on our foreheads (my Rector was keen on the Blob)?

ash-crosses-620

Added to that concern, was the reality that in the Gospel lesson appointed for every Ash Wednesday, Jesus makes a clear injunction against showy acts of piety.  It seems that Jesus would have us return to our seats and immediately remove the ashen smudge from our foreheads.  What is a faithful disciple to do about practicing their piety in a pluralistic society?  The more I’ve thought about this in the eleven years since that last March 1 Ash Wednesday, the more I’m beginning to think that maybe none of us should be afraid of being faithful to our faith tradition.  In the same way we shouldn’t be fearful or self-righteous about a Muslim woman wearing a hijab or a Sikh wearing a turban, neither should we be fearful about wearing the ashen cross on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday.  Rather than asking anyone to water down their own faith tradition, we should honor the other just as we are faithful to our own.

With two kids in tow, we probably won’t be going out for Indian this year, but the question will remain every Ash Wednesday.  Will you wear your cross this Wednesday?