The Way of Love

One of the difficulties I had with not actually attending General Convention this year is that, when you aren’t immersed in it 24-hours a day for the 58 days it lasts (a small exaggeration), it can be hard to keep up with everything that is happening.  For example, the worship was scheduled for 5:15 in the evening.  This usually meant that something else was happening here, and I couldn’t tune in to hear some of the most gifted preachers in the church share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I’ll try to catch up, as I am able, but it is slow going. I have, only now, finally found my to Presiding Bishop Curry’s opening sermon on The Way of Love.

I got there by way of the weekly email from Forward Movement, which invited me to engage in the Way of Love, a seven-part way of life to which the Presiding Bishop is calling all Episcopalians.  Over on the Way of Love page, there is a nice, three-minute video introducing the seven practices, but inexplicably, there is no way share that video on blogs or social media.  You’ll have to click this link.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait.

Welcome back!  I hope you enjoyed hearing from the PB about the seven practices of:

  1. Turn
  2. Learn
  3. Pray
  4. Worship
  5. Bless
  6. Go
  7. Rest

My digging into the Way of Love is timely, as it seems that all seven points are represented in some way in Sunday’s Gospel lesson.  The disciples are freshly back from their first missionary journey where they have listened to Jesus’ call to go, taken what they have learned, and blessed the many villages to which they have travelled.  In response to their success, Jesus orders them to rest, but when he sees the crowds desperate for more, he turns his attention to them, prays for their healing, and in turn, the crowds will worship Jesus.

way_of_love_primary_graphic_1

As disciples of Jesus, each of us are called to follow a similar model for our own lives of faith.  As you heard in the Presiding Bishop’s short video, we are invited to turn our lives toward the Kingdom of God, to learn from the teachings of Jesus, to pray for hearts that are open to love, to worship God who is the giver of all good gifts, to take those gifts and bless others as we go into the world with the love of God in our hearts and on our lips, and then to return for rest, in order to be empowered to do it all again.

There is much to learn in the Gospels about this life of faith, but I commend to you this seven-fold model for a way of life.  Following Jesus into the world in the Way of Love will, without a doubt, bring us ever closer to the Kingdom of God.

What does hospitality look like?

epsicopal_church_welcomes_you_2

How true is this slogan?

While being far from universally true, many Episcopal Church, and many congregations of other denominations as well, think of themselves as welcoming communities.  At the very least, they have ushers who will hand you a bulletin, signs that tell you where the bathrooms are, and at least one person who is willing to take a risk by reaching out a hand and saying, “Hi, I’m Steve, are you new here?”  The stark truth, however, is that most congregations that think of themselves as welcoming are actually only friendly at best.  That is, they are really good at making sure longtime members feel welcomed every Sunday, but the newcomer ends up being nothing more than a blip on the radar as she passes by the closed conversation circles at coffee hour and slips out the back door.

It can be hard to hear that what you thought was welcoming is nothing more than friendliness.  When one’s self-perception comes into question, it can lead to all kinds of distress, anxiety, and frustration.  I hear it here at Christ Church, as their Interim Rector, the Search Committee, and the good folks at Holy Cow! were quick to realize that they weren’t nearly as welcoming as they thought they were.  It can really sting to hear these words out loud, and to their credit, they’ve taken it to heart.  A Hospitality Team began to work diligently on the hard task of making a cultural shift from closed off friendliness to open armed hospitality.  We aren’t there yet, but progress is certainly being made.

One of the fundamental questions we have to ask in this process is “what does hospitality look like?”  Specifically, how does it differ from simply being friendly?  In Sunday’s Gospel lesson, Jesus doesn’t give us much to work with, but he does offer us a quick glimpse into a core feature of hospitality when he tells the twelve that “whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple– truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”  Offering hospitality doesn’t mean a grand buffet every Sunday.  It doesn’t require a Starbucks, a Welcome Center, or even trained volunteers.  The key aspect of hospitality is the ability and willingness to notice the other.

One cannot offer a cup of cold water to someone that remains invisible.  In order to know that a person is in need of water, coffee, or even a simple handshake requires that they first be seen, and seen not as an interloper or a passerby, but as a human being, made in the image of God, who deserves to experience God’s love in this place.  Being hospitable means having one’s eyes open and one’s head on a swivel to see the family searching for the nursery, the man wondering where the restroom is, or the woman unsure of which door to use to enter the church.  Being hospitable means recognizing the person in the next pew who can’t figure out why there is an S in front of the next hymn or what the heck a Sanctus is.  Being hospitable means seeing another, discerning their need, and, in the model of Jesus, having compassion on them, i.e. actually doing something to alleviate the need.  It doesn’t require heroics, but rather, hospitality is about inviting the other to experience fully the little things that make church a comfortable place, thereby experiencing the love of God, the grace of Jesus, and the refreshment of the Holy Spirit.

Go, have no fear, take risks, and share the Good News – a sermon

You can hear this sermon on the Christ Church website, or read it here.


It was pointed out to me after last Sunday that thanks to a couple of baptisms and Vacation Bible School, I had escaped a pretty difficult Gospel passage for another three years.  Without thinking, I laughingly agreed, and gave the old “phew” sign.  Monday morning, I realized that I had breathed a sigh of relief just a little too soon.  Unfortunately for me, the Lectionary has split Jesus’ warning into three sections, the toughest of which we hear this morning.  If you’ll recall from last week, Jesus’ ministry has become increasingly successful.  He toured many of the cities and villages of Israel, proclaiming that the Kingdom of God has come near, and the crowds continued to grow.  As Jesus looked at the throngs of hurting and helpless people who were following him, his heart was broken.  They were like sheep without a shepherd, and Jesus knew that for every one that had heard his message, there were hundreds of others who had yet to hear the Good News.

So, Jesus called together the twelve and commissioned them to go: cast out demons, cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and proclaim that the Kingdom of heaven has come near.  Before they departed on their evangelistic expedition, Jesus offered a word of caution.  Well, actually, it’s more like eight hundred words of caution.  The task will not be easy.  There are plenty of people who do not want the Jesus Movement to take off, and many of them are in positions of power.  “You will be brought before councils, flogged in the synagogue, and dragged before governors and kings,” Jesus told them in last week’s Gospel, “but don’t worry, the Spirit will give you the words you need.”  “You will be hated by friends and family alike,” Jesus goes on to warn them, “but with God’s help, you will endure.”  His rhetoric heats up in this week’s passage.  Jesus reminds the disciples that “out there” they are calling him Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that is, Satan himself.  “What do you think it will be like for you,” Jesus asks, “as you take my message and help it to spread.”

Consistently throughout these dire warnings about the struggle that is to come, Jesus pauses to offer the word that God always offers in moments of anxiety and struggle, “Have no fear.”  The work will not be easy.  There will be pain.  There will be broken relationships.  There will be rumors and innuendo.  There might even be a call to die, but despite all that, Jesus says, “have no fear, for even if they kill your body, they cannot touch your soul… Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

When Jesus talked about giving up one’s life and that “one’s foes will be members of one’s own household,” he was dead serious.  To give up one’s faith in the Jewish tradition and follow Jesus was akin to walking away from one’s family.  The same was true of Pagan Gentiles who converted.  In a world where men followed in the family business and sons took care of their aging parents, this was a significant issue.  To disrupt the religious, political, and economic status quo was the threaten the stability of the whole region, and governments are not fond of instability.  It was not safe to be a disciple of Jesus.  In fact, for the first three hundred or so years of Christianity, there was an almost constant, real threat of death, and so these words of comfort were of crucial importance.

Hearing a similar chunk of Matthew 10, this Thursday, the Church remembered Saint Alban, the first British Christian for whom we have a name.  Alban lived just outside of modern day London during the third century.  He was a pagan when he met a priest who was fleeing the most recent wave of Roman persecution.  For reasons that will forever be unknown, Alban decided to hide the priest in his home.  For several days, they had nothing to do but talk with each other.  Over time, Alban was so impressed by the faith of the priest, that he became a Christian.  When soldiers got word that the priest was hiding at Alban’s home, they came to arrest him, but Alban quickly donned the priest’s cloak and gave himself up instead.  Alban was tortured in hopes that he would renounce his faith, but when he withstood the flogging with patience and joy, the judge ordered him beheaded.

martyrdom

As Alban and his executioners made their way to the hill where he was to be killed, they came upon a fast-flowing river.  The bridge was so clogged with onlookers that the execution party couldn’t cross the river, but the excited new convert was so ready to lose his life for the sake of the Gospel that he “raised his eyes to heaven and the river dried up.”  The first executioner, amazed by the miracle, put down his sword and offered to be killed in Alban’s place.  Ultimately, both men were beheaded atop a hill that now bears his name.  Legend has it that as he made the fatal blow, the second executioner’s eyes popped out and dropped to the ground along with Alban’s head, which then rolled down the hill and a spring of fresh water burst forth from the ground at its final resting place.  Martyrdom stories tend to get embellished over time, but even if all the details aren’t exactly true, the reality is that for Alban and thousands of others like him, following Jesus in those early days of Christianity was a life-threatening endeavor that they willingly took on buoyed by the assurance of Jesus in passages like this one.

From the comfort of our mortgage free building that sits in the heart of the Bible Belt, and is filled with relatively comfortable, middle class, “mainline” American Christians, this message doesn’t have the same impact.  In fact, it can be downright difficult to begin to make sense of it.  When I hear these warnings about persecution, I can’t help but wonder if I can even consider myself a disciple.  Life as a 21st century American Christian just seems too easy.  What are we to do with a text like this?   I think the answer is two-fold.  First, these words from Jesus should call to mind the millions of Christians outside of our safe little American bubble who face the threat of death every day.  These words from Jesus remind us to pray with fervor for the Coptic Christians in Egypt and Iraq, for Anglicans in Sudan, and for Christians around the globe who are under the real threat of violence for their faith in Jesus.

Secondly, I think these words of warning should inspire us to evangelistic action.  In a country where there is no actual threat to our faith, but where the face of Christianity is often closed-minded, abusive, or worse yet, a self-seeking get-rich-quick scheme, to not speak God’s word of love for the world God created is to fail to live up to the expectations Jesus has for us.  Instead of choosing to love father and mother more than Jesus, many Episcopalians have decided to love polite society or our own comfort more than him.  When we choose the easy route, we fail to take up our cross and follow him.  When we ignore the call to proclaim the Kingdom of God in word and deed, we deny Christ before others, and, tough as it might be to hear, Jesus promises that he will deny us in the same way.

If it weren’t for the faithfulness of those early disciples, who withstood persecution and proclaimed Jesus Christ as Lord, we wouldn’t be here today.  It is our responsibility, then, as committed, albeit comfortable, disciples of Jesus, to continue to share the Good News that the kingdom of heaven has come near, to share a message of God’s love and grace in a world that hears mostly of God’s anger and vengeance, and to show that following Jesus doesn’t mean condemning those who are different from us, but rather, embracing the reality that God loves everyone, no exceptions.  In a world full of vitriol and strife, the message of hope, grace, and love that we have to offer is too important not to share.  So, go, have no fear, take a risk, and tell out the Good News that the kingdom of heaven has come near.  Amen.

Doing Your Homework

“All Sundays of the year are feasts of our Lord Jesus Christ.  In addition to the dated days listed above, only the following feasts, appointed on fixed days, take precedence of a Sunday:

  • The Holy Name [Jan 1]
  • The Presentation [Feb 2]
  • The Transfiguration [Aug 6]”
    (BCP, pg. 16)

It is with those words that Episcopal Priests around the globe (we are an international church, you’ll recall, just look at the location of the House of Bishop’s meetings), went on a two week scramble.  More than one of my clerical Facebook friends commented last week that after nearing the end of an Epiphany 4A sermon on the Beatitudes, they realized that the Major Feast of The Presentation was actually their assigned lectionary texts for Sunday.  While they ended up with the difficult task of writing two sermons in a week, the rest of us will have our trouble this week as we jump back into the season of Epiphany and find ourselves already in the middle of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

We get to deal with “You are the salt of the earth…” without having first heard Jesus say, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” or “Blessed are those who mourn” or even “Blessed are the meek.”  It isn’t a huge deal to miss out on the beatitudes, but to me, there is already a problem in having to deal with the Sermon on the Mount in sound bytes.  The whole reinterpretation of the Law of Moses is important, and to cut it up into bite sized morsels takes a big chunk of its shock value away.  Add to that missing the first 12 verses, and, at least in my opinion, we have a problem.

So, my advice this week, at least for preachers in The Episcopal Church, is to do your homework.  See the bigger picture.  Maybe read Matthew 5:1-20 this Sunday.  In someway, help your congregation become a member of the crowd sitting on the mountainside.  Help them enter the scene because the quirkyness of the church calendar has plopped them down midstream.

 

Evangelism?!?! Again?!?!

*Every once in a while, I feel the need to write a snarky post. I started this one at 11:12am. It’s 8:21pm, and snark is what you’ll get.*

These Collects are killing me! Don’t get me wrong, I love the Collects of the Church Year. If I ever find myself as a solo priest somewhere (please God, no), I might even spend a year preaching and teaching on them; I love them that much, but c’mon this back to back thing is pretty dirty pool. Two weeks in a row telling us how to live our lives? I mean, didn’t discipleship go out of style in the 1960s?

At least last Sunday’s Collect had some wiggle room. We prayed that being “illumined in Word and Sacrament” we might go forth to shine the light of Christ that he might be “known, worshiped, and obeyed” in every corner of the globe. The wise preacher took their cue from the Presiding Bishop’s Christmas Letter and dove right into the book of made up quotes by the saints and told his congregation, “Saint Francis is famous for saying, ‘preach the Gospel at all times, when necessary use words.” He then went on to say that we are called not to feel guilty about not sharing our faith, but instead to just love our neighbor, which is so much easier. Members left feeling good that they give to the Red Cross and that the Church is no different than the Rotary Club, and everybody slept easily Sunday night.

Little do they know what awaits them this Sunday. The Prayer Book goes from preaching to meddling this week, suggesting, rather boldy, that perhaps we have to actually tell people about Jesus in addition to feeding the hungry and clothing the naked.

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Maybe there is more to being a Christian than writing checks and felling good about ourselves. Perhaps there is even more than making meals for the hungry on Thanksgiving or building houses for those in substandard living situations or finding shelter for the homeless. Maybe we are really called to share our story, to actually open our mouths and tell people about how Jesus came to change the world. I know that even I’m not the best at this. I get nervous. Sometimes, I get tired of fielding religion-based guilt in social events, and I wish I could tell people I was the assistant manager at the Corningware store instead of saying, “I’m a priest.” But that’s not what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. No, being a disciple means being willing to share the Good News of God’s great love for us.

Give me grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call to proclaim the Good News, and if you have some to spare, help me not be a jerk about it. Amen.